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Professional Degree Policies

GCAC-700-M Doctor of Public Health Degree Requirements

Purpose: to set the minimum requirements for obtaining a Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.) degree.

Academic Goal: to ensure that students pursuing the Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.) have sufficient academic training and assessment to be able to apply evidence-based practice and leadership in the public health sector.

Scope: all graduate students in a Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.) degree program.



The Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.) degree is a professional degree that provides advanced public health education and training to prepare its graduates for evidence-based practice and leadership in the application of translational science and implementation of research findings. It allows graduates to pursue career opportunities in the federal, state, and local government, as well as in the non-profit, academic, and private sectors.



Professional Doctoral Degree Program: an integrated program of study combined with understanding of research literature to support application of knowledge to practice at the highest level, culminating in a project, portfolio, or performance that demonstrates expertise in professional practice. Students successfully completing a professional doctoral degree program are awarded the appropriate doctoral degree; professional doctoral degrees at Penn State include D.Ed., D.M.A., D.N.P., and Dr.P.H.

Research Doctoral Degree Program: an integrated program of study combined with investigation of a significant problem, question, or issue in the discipline, culminating in the completion of an original scholarly contribution (in the form of a dissertation) that expands the frontiers of knowledge. Students successfully completing a research doctoral degree program are awarded Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

Policy Statement

  1. Dr.P.H. students must complete a minimum of 60 credits of course work beyond a master’s degree, the majority of which are 500- and 800-level courses, specifically:
    1. 24 credits in prescribed, core classroom-based courses
    2. 21 credits in elective courses, including:
      1. 9 credits of track elective courses
      2. 12 credits of general (cognate) elective courses
    3. 15 additional credits, including:
      1. 6 credits of Advanced Field Experience
      2. 9 credits of Integrative Doctoral Research
  2. Residency requirements -- The Doctor of Public Health requires 24 core credits to be taken in residence as a registered student engaged in academic work at the Hershey and Harrisburg campuses.
  3. Admissions -- Applicants must have a graduate (e.g., master’s) or advanced professional (e.g., M.D.) degree. Applicants without a Master of Public Health or related degree may be required to take core courses to ensure a firm foundation in the five discipline-specific M.P.H. competency domains. Students will be advised of any additional required core courses upon receipt of the Dr.P.H. program acceptance letter.
  4. Comprehensive Examination--Upon completing all core and most cognate coursework, Dr.P.H. students will take comprehensive exams to ensure they meet Dr.P.H. core and track program competencies. Comprehensive exams will be overseen and evaluated by students’ doctoral committee.
  5. Integrative Doctoral Research--Dr.P.H. students will be required to complete two major components for their Dr.P.H. integrative experience: two publishable-quality manuscripts and a doctoral portfolio.
    1. With guidance from their doctoral adviser and doctoral committee, students will develop two manuscripts that comprehensively address, generate, and/or interpret and evaluate knowledge applicable to public health practice. Manuscripts are encouraged to be of an applied nature and must demonstrate students’ abilities to conduct independent research on a contemporary public health issue. Students will demonstrate the application of advanced public health practice skills and knowledge in the design and execution of a scholarly project, the analysis and interpretation of the findings, and the application of the new knowledge to advance public health practice. This work should contribute to the evidence base of public health practice, be of publishable quality, and demonstrate critical thinking and rigorous analytic strategies.
    2. Throughout their doctoral program, students will develop a doctoral portfolio that will document how Dr.P.H. courses, advanced field experience, other experiential learning, and self-knowledge has informed their leadership style and approach to integrating evidence-based research into public health practice. Components of the portfolio may include, but are not limited to, research (e.g., publications, conference presentations), teaching (academic and non-academic, community-based teaching), and field and other service learning experiences. Portfolios will require reflection on in-class and out-of-class experiences and demonstrate students’ broad public health knowledge, specialized knowledge, translation of this knowledge into evidence-based public health practice, and leadership style.
    3. Integrative Doctoral Research will demonstrate the following competencies: data and analysis, communication, systems thinking, leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving. Written and oral presentation of this work will be required.

Revision History

Adapted from the Graduate Bulletin: June 2018

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