At some point during their careers, professionals in the public health field might wonder, “Is an MPH worth it?” A Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is a graduate-level academic credential that can allow individuals to pursue advanced job opportunities and enjoy more lucrative earning potential. However, time and financial resources are required to earn a graduate degree. Here’s a look at what to consider as you decide whether to pursue an MPH degree.
Taking a Closer Look at Public Health
Whereas doctors and nurses work one-on-one with patients, public health professionals work to protect the well-being of entire groups of people. These groups might be as small as a rural community or neighborhood or as large as a region or nation.
The public health field emphasizes the prevention of both diseases and injuries. To that end, education and health promotion are vital. The field is also concerned with the timely detection of and response to public health problems, such as infectious disease outbreaks.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an MPH?
The time it takes to earn a graduate degree can factor into the decision of whether to return to school. This specific timeline looks slightly different for every learner, depending on the university and program they choose and their preferred schedule. It also depends on where the learner is in their academic journey.
For instance, students who are just beginning their post-secondary education will need to earn a bachelor’s degree before they can apply to an MPH program. The standard timeframe for earning a bachelor’s degree in any field is four years of full-time study.
However, students may take slightly longer to graduate if they need to attend school on a part-time basis while working. The completion timeline can also be affected if students need to take a medical leave of absence during their studies.
It’s also possible to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in public health in less than four years. Students who wish to accelerate their studies may choose to take summer classes or even extra courses during the regular school year. It may also be possible to transfer Advanced Placement (AP) credits, college-level credits earned during high school, to the university.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public health, students may choose to either apply to an MPH program immediately or to enter the workforce and return to school later. Learners who immediately move on to an MPH program may be more likely to attend full-time. It usually takes about two years of full-time study to earn an MPH.
Individuals who first enter the workforce in an entry-level public health position and then return to school may be more likely to study on a part-time basis. This is because they may prefer to continue working while attending evening and online classes to pursue their degree. Such students may need three or more years to graduate with an MPH degree.
Although this might seem like a long time, the time required to complete an MPH is short when compared to the average length of a person’s career. Assuming that an individual enters the professional workforce at about age 22 and retires at about age 65, they spend about 43 years in their career. In comparison, making a two- or three-year investment for an MPH degree is not an insurmountable challenge, and doing so can make a career in public health more rewarding.
Is a Master’s in Public Health Worth It?
Learners who return to school to earn a graduate degree understand that doing so involves a significant investment of time and money. However, the results — and the journey — are well worth the investment for many people. When considering the answer to the question, “Is an MPH worth it?,” it’s necessary to reflect upon the benefits one may enjoy after earning this degree, such as the following:
- More job opportunities – Professionals with an MPH are well-qualified to apply to advanced roles. They may pursue promotions within their current healthcare organization or seek higher-level opportunities elsewhere. Some of these opportunities, such as working as an epidemiologist, require a master’s degree.
- Compensatory advantages – No university can guarantee that graduates will earn higher salaries once they earn a master’s degree; however, in general, professionals with graduate-level credentials tend to be better compensated than those who only hold a bachelor’s degree. This means that, while returning to school requires a financial commitment, it can also lead to more lucrative opportunities.
- Personal accomplishment – Many professionals view earning a graduate-level degree as a laudable achievement — it’s something they can be proud of. Earning an MPH can also confer professional recognition and credibility.
- Community impact – Healthcare professionals who acquire advanced knowledge and skills are better equipped to affect their communities than those who do not. By earning an MPH, professionals gain the potential to positively influence the groups they serve.
In short, no one but you can determine whether returning to school is the right choice for you. However, the answer to the question, “Is an MPH worth it?” is most definitely “Yes.”
What Can You Do With a Graduate-level Public Health Degree?
One of the main reasons healthcare professionals choose to return to school to earn an MPH is that earning this credential opens up numerous job possibilities. With an MPH degree, graduates might choose to pursue a career as an epidemiologist, a health informatics specialist or a health services manager, to name a few.
Individuals interested in researching new and evolving diseases (and protecting the public from them) should consider this career. Epidemiologists also investigate patterns of injuries and their causes. Their research is used to influence public health policies and develop community health education programs.
An epidemiologist is a health data specialist. They are responsible for collecting and analyzing various data sets to identify issues. For example, an epidemiologist may investigate whether a particular group of people is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer or how wearing motorcycle helmets affects rider safety. Epidemiologists often specialize in a particular area of public health, such as genetic epidemiology, environmental health, maternal health or mental health.
It’s an excellent time to consider becoming an epidemiologist, as the The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for epidemiologists to increase by about 30% from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as average, accounting for an estimated increase of 2,300 jobs in the field.1
Health Informatics Specialist
Those with a strong interest in healthcare information technology (IT) may wish to consider earning an MPH in order to pursue a career as a health informatics specialist. Health informatics is the application of IT to the healthcare field. The goal of a health informatics specialist is to apply technology and data management to improve patient care and healthcare delivery efficiency.
Broadly speaking, a health informatics specialist handles the collection, storage, management, analysis and reporting of all data within a healthcare system, such as patient medical records. They might implement new technological platforms and train healthcare providers in their use, establish hospital policies and procedures related to health IT or conduct analyses to identify trends and patterns in the collected data.
Health Services Manager
A health services manager, also known as a clinical manager or medical services manager, is responsible for overseeing a hospital department, an entire hospital or a healthcare clinic. Their goal is to improve the quality of patient care and the efficiency with which the healthcare organization delivers that care. They might also manage the finances of the department or hospital, handle staffing issues, develop departmental objectives and serve as a public face of the healthcare organization.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for medical and health services managers to increase by about 32% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 133,200 jobs in the field.2
Wherever your career takes you, you can build a solid academic foundation for success at Grand Canyon University. The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions is pleased to offer the Master of Public Health degree program, which is designed to deliver a complete framework for addressing modern public health challenges while maintaining a strong sense of professional ethics. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn how to become a graduate student at GCU.
1COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 202o, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Epidemiologists, retrieved on 06/02/22.
2COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical and Health Services Managers
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.