Graduate Certificate Programs in Public Health
Public health graduate certificate programs offer advanced instruction in the principles and practices of public health. These programs are designed to provide training to early- and mid-career professionals who hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree and who want to cultivate the knowledge and proficiencies required to work in the field of public health without the commitment of time and resources that master’s in public health programs require. They are also a good option for professionals who are already working in the field who would like to gain advanced skills and knowledge. Typically, public health graduate certificate programs are comprised of a relatively small cluster of graduate courses – four, five, or six courses is common – that can be completed in one year or less, although completion time varies by program, by school, and by the number of courses a student takes per term.
Public Health Explained
Public health encompasses a range of functions in which social scientists, medical professionals, healthcare administrators, and clinical researchers work together to identify and confront biological, environmental, and behavioral causes of disease and illness. In addition, public health involves community outreach and health communication efforts designed to educate the public about various risk factors, and the creation and implementation of population health programs, interventions, and initiatives that promote wellness and reduce the incidence of preventable diseases and illnesses.
Work in the field of public health is data-driven and requires a command of quantitative and qualitative research and analysis methods. In particular, public health professionals rely on the tools of biostatistics and the principles of epidemiology to measure the incidence and distribution of disease and illness, classify causal factors, and coordinate responses to population health issues and crises with government officials, medical practitioners, employers, community leaders, and others. To do so effectively requires a clear understanding of healthcare systems and their relationship to the communities they serve, as well as the ability to communicate scientific findings and statistical data to the public.
Identifying and Classifying Public Health Graduate Certificate Programs
There are various areas of specialization within the field of public health and thus various types of graduate certificate programs in public health, including general public health programs and programs that focus on one or more specializations in the field. Students who are interested in preparing for a career in public health through a graduate certificate program can choose from among graduate certificate programs in public health, environmental health, occupational health, global health, epidemiology, maternal and child health, gerontology, and more.
Programs of these types are typically offered through schools and departments of public health, medicine, and health sciences. Many schools of public health seek voluntary accreditation by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), an independent accreditation agency recognized by the US Department of Education. While CEPH accredits master’s programs in public health, many certificate programs are made up of courses that are offered as part of a master’s program. Therefore, schools that are accredited meet CEPH’s standards for education in public health. This is just one of the many factors students should consider while researching programs.
Graduate certificate programs in public health include coursework in topics and functions that are central to the practice of public health, such as healthcare policy design and implementation, community health, environmental and social factors in human health, and the science of epidemiology. Courses in these programs also emphasize practical applications of public health principles to address contemporary local, national, and international health challenges. The following are some of the formal designations for graduate certificate programs that provide practical training in public health:
- Graduate Certificate in Community-Based Public Health
- Graduate Certificate in Environmental and Occupational Health
- Graduate Certificate in Epidemiology for Public Health Professionals
- Graduate Certificate in Global Health
- Graduate Certificate in Public Health
- Graduate Certificate in Public Health Advocacy
- Graduate Certificate in Public Health Economics
- Graduate Certificate in Public Health Informatics
While admissions requirements for these programs vary by school, by definition a graduate certificate program requires applicants to have completed their undergraduate education and earned a bachelor’s degree. Some programs may also require applicants to have one or two years of experience in a healthcare field and/or an undergraduate degree in biology, health sciences, or a related field. Finally, individuals who hold a master’s degree are also eligible for post-baccalaureate graduate certificate programs in public health, and there are a limited number of public health graduate certificate programs that are designed specifically for students who have already completed a master’s degree. These programs are commonly referred to as post-master’s (or post-graduate) certificate programs in public health rather than post-baccalaureate certificate programs in public health.
Public Health Graduate Certificate Courses
Most graduate certificate programs in public health, regardless of their formal designation, have two or three core courses that teach students about the American healthcare system, quantitative methods in public health, epidemiology principles, and the design and implementation of public health initiatives. In addition to this general training, some programs give students the opportunity to focus on a specific area within public health, such as toxicology, occupational safety, environmental health, public health administration, maternal and child health, and other areas, as noted in the section above.
A survey of public health graduate certificate program curricula reveals that the types of courses commonly offered by these programs include:
- Biostatistics/Quantitative Methods for Public Health – The application of statistical methods in public health research design and in the collection and analysis of public health data.
- Principles of Epidemiology – The study of the distribution patterns of disease and illness, the conditions from which disease and illness arise in defined populations, and the identification of risk factors for disease and illness as a basis for preventative healthcare programs.
- Public Health Leadership & Management – Communication tools and strategies for organizing public health programs and initiatives, and methods for constructively engaging with members of a community, government officials, and other healthcare professionals in order to further public health goals.
- Population Health – The concept of approaching health problems, healthcare outcomes, and the provision of healthcare services from a community perspective in order to reduce the incidence of illness and disease across a defined population group.
- The American Healthcare System – An examination of the major facets of the US healthcare system, the ethics of healthcare, and the laws and regulations pertaining to healthcare in America.
- Principles of Environmental Health – An examination of environmental factors that impact population health, including problems associated with industrialization and development, and common physical, chemical, and biological agents of environmental contamination that are correlated with illness and disease.
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Public Health
Online programs utilize web-based platforms and applications commonly referred to as learning management systems (LMSs) to deliver coursework and instruction to students located anywhere with a secure Internet connection. This technology allows colleges and universities to offer graduate certificate programs in public health to a broader range of students than campus-based programs (especially for students who do not live near a school’s campus and who would otherwise have limited specialization options), and to do so in a format that generally provides more convenience and flexibility.
Students in an online public health graduate certificate program take all or most of their required coursework online, using the program’s LMS to view lectures, participate in online discussion groups, submit assignments, and contact instructors. However, not all online programs are alike. Some programs utilize synchronous online instruction, which takes place in real time and requires students to log on to a program’s LMS for lectures and other instructional presentations at specific times during the week (one or two live sessions per week is common). Other programs rely solely on asynchronous instruction, which does not have a real-time component and allows students to view lectures and instructional modules at their convenience, 24-7.
While programs that use asynchronous instruction offer more flexibility than programs that incorporate required synchronous sessions, asynchronous instruction requires more self-discipline from students as it is a less structured learning environment. Conversely, synchronous instruction offers less flexibility but provides students with more structure that more closely resembles a traditional campus-based program where students interact with professors and classmates on a weekly basis through videoconferencing.
Note: All online programs have asynchronous components, and some programs that mainly utilize asynchronous instruction may have optional synchronous sessions that are recorded for students who cannot attend.
In addition, some online programs hold a limited number of campus-based sessions that students are required to attend in person. Campus visits can be a valuable addition to an online program, as they give students an opportunity to meet face-to-face with instructors and fellow classmates and provide learning opportunities that may be difficult to replicate online. However, most online graduate certificate programs in public health do not require campus visits, and programs that require students to attend more than two or three campus sessions are typically designated as blended or hybrid programs, which represents another option for those interested in earning a graduate certificate in public health.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificates in Public Health
The following schools offer fully online graduate certificate programs in public health that are indicative of the types of programs currently available from accredited, non-profit colleges and universities:
The University of Iowa’s CEPH-accredited College of Public Health offers an 18-credit Graduate Certificate in Public Health program that can be completed entirely online or through campus-based instruction. The program is designed for students who have some experience in public health, although a bachelor’s degree and a minimum cumulative undergraduate grade point average of 2.75 on a four-point scale are the primary admissions requirements. Students in the program must complete six courses and can do so in one year by taking two courses per term. These courses include: Introduction to Public Health; Introduction to Biostatistics; Introduction to Health Promotion & Disease Prevention; Principles of Epidemiology; Introduction to the U.S. Healthcare System; and Global Environmental Health. Visit the College of Public Health’s website at public-health.uiowa.edu to learn more.
Johns Hopkins University’s (JHU) CEPH-accredited Bloomberg School of Public Health offers several graduate certificate programs in public health, including a Graduate Certificate in Environmental and Occupational Health program that can be completed entirely online. The program requires students to complete 18 credits of graduate coursework, including three core requirements: Principles of Environmental Health; Fundamentals of Occupational Health; and Public Health Toxicology. In addition, students must choose two or three courses from among the program’s six concentrations: Sustainability/Climate Change; Food Systems/Water; Occupational Hygiene/Safety/Occupational Health; Health Security/Infectious Diseases; Environmental Law/Environmental Justice; and Toxicology/Physiology/Molecular Mechanisms. Visit JHU’s Bloomberg School of Public Health website at www.jhsph.edu to learn more.
Georgia State University’s School of Health, which has CEPH accreditation, offers an Online Graduate Certificate in Public Health program. The program requires students to complete 16 credits of graduate coursework, including three core courses: Epidemiology for Public Health; Fundamentals of Biostatistics; and Fundamentals of Health Systems, Leadership, & Policy. Students in the program can then choose two public health electives from among the online courses in public health offered by Georgia State. Visit GSU’s School of Health at publichealth.gsu.edu to learn more.
Drexel University offers two fully online graduate certificate programs through its Dornsife School of Public Health (also CEPH-accredited): a Graduate Certificate in Global Health program; and a Graduate Certificate in Public Health program. The Global Health program requires the completion of 15 credits of coursework, while the Public Health program requires 19 credits. The Global Health program includes coursework in: Public Health Ethics; Global Health Ethics; Monitoring & Evaluation in Global Health Programs & Advocacy; Outcomes & Assessment of Community Health & Prevention; Overview of Issues in Global Health; and Health Systems Policy Analysis. Courses required in the Public Health certificate program include: Introduction to Biostatistics; Introduction to Epidemiology; Qualitative Data & Mixed Methods Analysis; and Public Health Foundations & Systems I & II. Students in the Public Health program can then select one elective from among courses in Perinatal Epidemiology, LGBT Health Disparities, Maternal & Child Health, and other specializations. Visit Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health at www.online.drexel.edu to learn more.
More Graduate Certificates in Public Health
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