Experiences with MPH degrees...would you recommend one?
December 20, 2014 12:53 PM   Subscribe

I've been thinking about an MPH (Master's of Public Health), but I'd like to hear about others' experiences. How did you decide on an MPH? How was it getting employment? Are you satisfied with how it's worked out career-wise? Anything else I should know - is there a "bubble" of grads, for instance? Thanks!
posted by Seeking Direction to Education (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is not at all my field; however, my friends in the field were just recently talking about how there is a bubble of grads and this degree does not make sense now.

About 10 years ago or so this degree may have been valuable, but currently no so much. I've heard it's far more valuable to have some type of clinical degree leading to a license to practice medicine, whether it be PA, NP, MD, etc. FWIW I am in the greater DC area.
posted by seesom at 2:16 PM on December 20, 2014

I was giving serious thought to getting my MPH myself until very recently. I'm not going to pursue it, because I can't afford more school or not to be working at this point.

But the professor who taught the Health Disparities class I just took this fall semester was very encouraging. She very emphatically said this is a very good time for MPHs, and that there are and will be loads of jobs. She works in the field herself--she's not some theorist stuck in academia--so I trust her opinion.
posted by primate moon at 3:34 PM on December 20, 2014

I finished a closely related degree in 2010; it's been a really good choice for me and (going off Facebook/LinkedIn anecdata) my classmates.

It's a pretty broad degree, though, and not necessarily the best or only one, depending on what you want to do with it--for example, are you more interested in epidemiology? Healthcare financing? Disaster management? Access disparities? etc.
posted by jameaterblues at 5:31 PM on December 20, 2014

I see people in policy departments and running some rather interesting projects who are employed. But I'm am MSW and not an MPH. It seems to be data heavy from my standpoint but very important work.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:38 PM on December 20, 2014

I got my MPH about 20 years ago. I got it because I discovered that I really liked public health and community health planning. I've had a bunch of great jobs, including working for the local health department and a variety of non-profits. I work in policy and advocacy from a public health perspective now and love my job. Zero regrets about the degree. I did get it as a joint MPH-MPP degree, which I strongly recommend for anyone who wants to do policy work; the MPP is a much better preparation for policy. I can't speak to current hiring and job opportunities.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:44 PM on December 20, 2014

Eh, I haven't felt as though mine really was worth the money, but if you can afford to take an entry-level job after graduation and go to a school that provides good internship-type opportunities during school, it may make more sense. I was alreasy working more or less in the field so it was kind of a nicety for me. It's a broad field; see if you can get some experience and/or in-depth informational interviews to start forming some of idea of where you would want to go with it.
posted by lakeroon at 8:44 PM on December 20, 2014

I got an MPH in 2013. This is a really difficult question to answer because the career prospects of a person with an MPH vary immensely. First off, the institutions where people with an MPH work and job roles they take on vary a great deal. Some of my classmates work for public health departments, some for academic institutions, some for not-for-profits, some for consulting firms, and some for hospitals, insurance companies or other private health organization. They do research, policy analysis, statistical computing, intervention design, project managements, program evaluation, and other things. The markets for these different kinds of institutions and roles are distinct, so it is difficult to generalize. I think my classmates who studied biostatistics or health care administration had the easiest time finding jobs. Those interested in working in community health for non-profits had the hardest time and perhaps those interested in research and policy analysis were intermediate in terms of job prospects. Some of my classmates got jobs before graduating (I did), some took many months to find work (they tended to have certain limitations, like living in a remote place).

I have been very pleased with my MPH. I decided to get it because I had done a little public health work and felt I needed more skills to advance. It worked out well. That said, people can get entry-level jobs in public health without an MPH. I would venture that my classmates who had some experience got more out of the program and had better prospects for finding a job afterward. If you don't already have a background in public health, it would also smart to be sure that you are really interested in this field before committing lots of time and money towards a degree. If you do find satisfying work, then you can judge for yourself whether you need an MPH to advance. Also, several of the most prestigious MPH programs (like Harvard and Johns Hopkins) won't take anyone without either another terminal degree (like an MD) or a substantial background in the field.

Two other notes: 1) You probably already know this, but public health work is rarely lucrative. When I say the job market is relatively good, I mean that it is not too hard to find a job. Public health folk are not sought after or showered with money like computer science graduates, by any means. 2) For me, the most enriching experience was my practicum experience, which most two-year programs require in the summer between the first and second years. Knowing what kind of work you want to do before you start planning that experience in the fall and winter of your first year is extremely helpful.
posted by reren at 9:13 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Background: I got an MPH in Health Behavior/Health Education from the University of Michigan in 1997.

How I decided: Got waitlisted for medical school, needed something to do until I could reapply, never ended up reapplying to medical schools. It's really turned out to be my vocation and I love the great variety of work I've gotten to do since. As for that HB/HE concentration -- if I had it to do over, or I were recommending a field of study to someone sufficiently analytically-minded, I might have gone for Biostatistics, Epidemiology, or possibly Health Management & Policy. What can I say, I was a psychology undergrad and HB/HE seemed the best fit. I also had taken statistics in undergrad, which qualified me not to take it again in grad school, but I kind of wish I had.

Getting employed: It took me only 2-3 months out of school to get a job, but that was back in the halcyon days of the Clinton era. I've been employed continuously since then. I do think employability may depend on your concentration and (not to be too elitist) the prestige of the school you graduate from. Michigan's pretty consistently ranked as a top 5 school, and from what I can tell, the preparation you get from a top program does make a difference in your competence starting out in the field. I am also fairly sure that it was a significant factor in landing me my first job, which I applied for with no networking connection to it. (By the way, when I matriculated to the MPH program at Michigan, there was a mix of people with "real-world" experience and those fresh out of undergrad, like myself; I think this is still the case there today, but can't speak to whether it is true for Harvard et al.) But again, these days I might recommend pursuing a more technical/data-driven concentration for an easier time finding employment, unless you specifically want to get into wellness and prevention. If you do, then I suggest obtaining and maintaining a health education certification, such as CHES or a subspecialty. I have not, but I have carved out a somewhat unusual career not involving a lot of traditional direct health education. A Project Management certification might not go amiss either.

Career satisfaction: Huge. I originally applied to medical school with the somewhat vague and idealistic sense that I wanted to help people. I feel like I have a much greater chance to impact people's lives through population health than I would as a doctor caring for individual patients. Also, I am employed in a large, vertically-integrated non-profit health system, and having close contact with healthcare over the years has convinced me I wouldn't have been happy working as a physician in the American health system these past 15-plus years. I've worked in my current position for 11 years, and in two different non-profits prior to that. I've gotten to use a wide range of skills on a variety of different tasks, including developing educational materials, providing technical assistance, coordinating research, writing grants, influencing policy, assisting with advocacy, doing program planning and evaluation, presenting at professional conferences, working with data and metrics... I could go on. It's been great.

Anything else: Can't speak to the "bubble of grads" question; I haven't been seriously in the job market for some years now. I'd be prepared for getting any job out of grad school to be a slow process. That kind of thing also depends on whether you can relocate, and/or what areas you're willing to live in. The good news is, healthcare is recognizing the value of wellness and population health, so a degree like an MPH does make you fairly marketable in one of the more burgeoning fields in the country. Not as marketable as a nursing degree, perhaps, but the two degrees also demand somewhat different perspectives and preferences.

Hope this is helpful -- I wish you the best in making this decision.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 11:31 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I graduated with an MPH in 2009.

How I decided: I had always been interested in health and nutrition, but wasn't interested in a medical degree. My MPH concentration is Community Health Education and if I were to do it all over again, I would have gone for something more numbers based like Epidemiology or Biostatistics. I think you also have think about what kind of work you want to do after your MPH and choose the school/program based on that. Some programs are more research oriented, others have a focus on international health, etc.

Employment: I didn't have a lot of experience actually doing public health work when I graduated, so I decided to do the Peace Corps. Doing Peace Corps led me into the International Development field where I currently work. I'm really glad I got the MPH. I don't necessarily need the MPH to do my job, but I wouldn't have qualified for the job without a Master's degree and my work is partially health-related.
posted by Lingasol at 5:47 PM on December 22, 2014

Just to clarify about the need for prior work experience when applying for an MPH: certain programs at certain schools have this requirement, but many (probably most) don't. I believe Harvard and Johns Hopkins require experience or another terminal degree to apply to the MPH program, but there are MS and MSPH programs that others are eligible for.
posted by reren at 5:15 PM on December 30, 2014

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