Roundup of study programs for a career in global health

A health extension worker at a mobile health and nutrition team site in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Photo by: UNICEF Ethiopia / 2019 / Mersha / CC BY-NC-ND

Global health requires expertise on a huge range of issues — from sexual and reproductive health to Ebola response. In addition to medical staff, the sector needs experts in advocacy, policy, programming, research, and data collection.

Pursuing a master’s can help you develop these skills, as well as build knowledge in specialty areas such as nutrition, environmental health, or disease prevention.

Going back to school can be a huge expense, but many universities now have part-time study options to allow students to continue working, as well as offering financial aid and scholarships. In addition to academic requirements and previous work or volunteer experience, most schools also require applicants to demonstrate proficiency in English through the IELTS or TOEFL tests.

How important is a master's degree to your global dev career?

Donors are driving demand for graduate-level qualifications in development but this isn't an option for everyone. Is there a way around it?

Interested in working in global health? Here’s a roundup of master’s programs to help you advance in your career, as well as free online courses for professionals looking to learn more about specific areas of the sector. There are many more health-related masters out there — this list highlights just some of the most well-recognized programs available.

United States

Master of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland
The MPH is designed to provide students with a broad-based education in the areas of population health and disease, as well as training to work on a variety of public health issues.

Delivered: Students can design their program as onsite, online, or a mix. Full-time and part-time students can choose from hundreds of online or onsite courses.
Duration: Full-time, 11-month course; or online/part-time course over two to three years.
Entry requirements: Applicants must have a minimum of two years of full-time, post-baccalaureate, health-related work experience.
Areas of study: All MPH graduates will demonstrate public health competencies that are informed by the critical disciplines in public health, as well as cross-cutting and emerging public health areas. The key competencies include: biostatistics; epidemiology; social and behavioral determinants of health; management sciences; public health problem-solving; computer applications; demography; environmental health; biological sciences; and public health policy.
Did you know? 32% of MPH graduates work with hospitals or health care providers; 24% in academic institutions; 16% with foundations or nonprofits; 15% in governments; and 13% in consulting.

Master of Science in Global Health, Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.
The program is based on an interdisciplinary and development-oriented approach to global health, with a strong focus on quantitative, qualitative, and applied social sector research in lower-income countries. It is a multidisciplinary program, taught across different campuses, schools, and institutes at Georgetown University.

Delivered: On-campus, except the field research module.
Duration: The full-time program takes 13 months. The part-time program, which can be customized, takes about two years.
Entry requirements: Baccalaureate degree; GRE scores are not required.
Areas of study: Students take core public health courses, such as epidemiology, biostatistics, qualitative research methods, health economics, and health systems. They can then pick concentrations, such as disease prevention and control, health finance, urban health, reproductive health, and health policy. Students must also complete a three-month field placement with a health research or policy center in a low- or middle-income country.
Did you know? The program operates with a small cohort with approximately 25 students. Georgetown University also offers an Executive Master in Health Services Administration, which is entirely online.

Master of Public Health, Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers two variants of the degree — a 45-credit version and a 65-credit version. The school’s new curriculum aims to instill “T-shaped” competencies, providing deep knowledge in a specialty area, along with knowledge needed to work across many disciplines and fields of inquiry.

Delivered: On-campus; however the epidemiology module is both online and on campus.
Duration: The 45-credit program can be completed in one year as a full-time student. The 65-credit program can be completed in three semesters with a summer practicum experience between the second and third semester. Part-time options are available to some students.
Entry requirements: For the 45-credit MPH, individuals must already hold a graduate degree or be current medical or dental students who have completed their primary year; or have at least five years of relevant work experience in public health or a related field. The course can also be pursued as part of a dual degree. The 65-credit program is for individuals with a minimum of two years of post-baccalaureate work experience in a relevant public health field.
Areas of study: For the 45-credit program, students must choose to specialize in one of the following: clinical effectiveness; epidemiology; global health; health and social behavior; health management; health policy; occupational and environmental health; quantitative methods. Students enrolling in the 65-credit program can choose to specialize in the following: health and social behaviors; health management; health policy; and nutrition.
Did you know?
Of the 391 MPH students enrolled in the 2018-2019 class, 68% were U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and 32% were international students coming from 37 different countries.

Master of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Students of this program attend live, weekly classes led by UNC faculty in their interactive online campus and collaborate with peers located across the nation.

Delivered: Online.
Duration: It will typically take two years for a full-time residential student to complete the MPH. It is also offered part time.
Entry requirements: To apply, prospective students must have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. The Gillings School uses the GRE as one piece of information to evaluate applicants. However, there are some research or professional doctoral degrees that can be used to waive the GRE requirement.
Areas of study: Applied epidemiology; environmental health solutions; global health; health behavior; health equity, social justice, and human rights; health policy; leadership in practice; maternal, child, and family health; nutrition; nutrition with registered dietitian training; population health for clinicians; public health data science.
Did you know? The program currently offers four concentrations: leadership in practice; health policy; nutrition; MPH/registered dietician.

Master of Public Health, University of Washington
Seattle, Washington
Students gain core public health skills in research, analytic methods, proposal development, management, implementation science, health metrics and evaluation, and a deeper understanding of the social, economic, and political determinants of health.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: Full time, two years.
Entry requirements: The minimum equivalent of a four-year baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited college or university in the United States or its equivalent from a foreign institution or a Bologna bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 180 European Credit Transfer System credits. A master’s degree, a doctoral degree, or a professional degree from a regionally accredited college or university in the U.S. or its equivalent from a foreign institution is also acceptable. Generally, students must also have earned at least a 3.0 GPA for the last 90 graded quarter credits or 60 graded semester credits.
Areas of study: Beginning in fall 2020, all MPH students in the School of Public Health will be required to complete six courses that make up the MPH common core curriculum. These are: fundamentals of public health; analytical skills for public health I and II; determinants of health; implementing public health interventions; and public health practice. These courses should be completed in the first year to allow students to pursue practicum and thesis opportunities in the second year.
Did you know? The program takes a collaborative, cohort-based approach with just 30-35 new students annually. Approximately one-third of students are from overseas.


Master of Public Health, University of Bristol
Bristol, United Kingdom
The program is designed to prepare students to move into roles such as consultant in public health, director of public health, strategic director of health charities, public health government policy advisors, and lecturers.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: One year, full time; or two or three years part-time.
Entry requirements: A minimum of an upper second-class honors degree in a relevant subject including, but not limited to, medicine, veterinary science, dentistry, pharmacy, biological sciences, statistics, geography, politics, psychology, and social sciences. Preference is given to candidates who have demonstrated an interest in public health through work experience, volunteering, or research, as well as to students with excellent academic results.
Areas of study: Students must complete mandatory courses, such as essentials of public health and health improvement; introduction to epidemiology and statistics; research methods; evaluation of public health interventions; public health in practice and health protection; environmental, chemical and radiological hazards; and occupational health. Completion of a dissertation is also mandatory.
Did you know? Bristol was named best place to live in Britain by the Sunday Times in 2017

Master of Science in Public Health for Development, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
London, United Kingdom
This program aims to equip students with the skills to appreciate and analyze the state of public health in low- and middle-income countries and to design and evaluate actions to address public health concerns.

Delivered: On-campus.
One year, full time; or two years if done half time or as split study.
Entry requirements: The program requires a second-class honors degree from a U.K. university or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard in a relevant subject. Additionally, successful candidates are expected to have lived in a lower-income country and worked in activities related to public health for a minimum of two years.
Areas of study: Students must complete compulsory modules in extended epidemiology; health policy, process and power; introduction to health economics; principles of social research; statistics for epidemiology; and population health. Students can then choose to develop research skills in statistics and epidemiology; qualitative methods; health policy; or health economics. They may also choose to develop a specialist public health focus such as vector control; maternal and newborn health; sexual and reproductive health; or water, sanitation, and health.
Did you know? There are approximately 50 students on the program each year. Graduates go on to work with organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the U.N. Development Programme, the World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Marie Stopes International.

Master in Global Health, Karolinska Institutet
Stockholm, Sweden
The degree combines expertise and knowledge in six disciplines: biomedicine; health economics; epidemiology; political science; demography; and environmental sciences.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: One year, full time.
Entry requirements: A bachelor’s degree or a professional degree equivalent is required.
Areas of study: This program provides students with an overview of global health and prepares them for working with research groups and using research methodology. The first part of the degree provides an overview of global health, while the second part looks in more detail at different areas of global health such as: sexual and reproductive health; health policy, management, and economics; natural emergencies; and conflicts. The third part consists of a research project in Sweden or in a low- or middle-income country.
Did you know? Of the eight Swedish citizens who have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, five have graduated from Karolinska Institutet.

Asia and Africa

Master in Science Public Health, RCSI and UCD Malaysia
Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Designed for those looking to pursue local or international careers, this degree program involves modules and research projects focused particularly on public health issues.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: One year, full time.
Entry requirements: Bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.50.
Areas of study: Biostatistics; fundamentals of epidemiology; applied research methods and data management; infectious disease epidemiology; chronic disease epidemiology; international health; principles of management, health economics and health policy; health promotion; environmental science and health; family health; and occupational health for public health professionals. Students must also complete a graduate teaching assistant module and a dissertation.
Did you know?
The RCSI and USD Malaysia Campus was established and is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and University College Dublin.

Master in Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, South Africa
This program aims to develop public health practitioners who will play a leadership role, develop expertise in at least one area of public health, develop a thorough understanding of the health care system and public health problems, and develop critical and analytical thinking skills.

Delivered: On-campus
Duration: Part-time block program offered over three years; or full time over two years.
Entry requirements: The program requires a bachelor’s degree of at least four years duration in dental science, medicine, surgery, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physiotherapy, or science (with honors), or a Bachelor of Arts or Sciences with honors in psychology or sociology, social work, or another field with relevance to public health.
Areas of study: Students must complete the following core courses: health and society; health measurement; designing effective public health programs; maternal and child health; rural health; social and behavior change communication; and occupational health. Students must also pick one additional elective course, which is determined by their field of specialization.
Did you know? The university is ranked the second best in Africa. It was originally founded as a school of mining and is located in a region more abundant in gold than anywhere else in the world.

Master of Public Health, University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa
The program is designed for individuals from a range of educational and professional backgrounds, including health and health care, sciences and engineering, law, education, and social sciences and humanities. It aims to provide students with the knowledge and skills to contribute to improving health and health care in South Africa and the region.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: Coursework is completed during 12-18 months for full-time students, 24-48 months for part-time students.
Entry requirements: A four-year bachelor's degree or three-year bachelor's degree with honors or equivalent; evidence of adequate quantitative skills; demonstrated interest and/ or experience in public health research or practice.
Areas of study: Students can specialize in general public health; health systems; epidemiology and biostatistics; social and behavioral sciences; health economics; and environmental health. They must also complete a “mini-dissertation.”
Did you know? University of Cape Town is ranked the best in Africa. Approximately 50% to 60% of MPH students are South African citizens or permanent residents. Applications from suitable candidates from other sub-Saharan African countries are encouraged and a number of places are reserved for students from low- and middle-income countries.

Free courses

Looking to learn more about a specific area of global health? Check out these online courses.

Coursera offers a range of health-related courses, including Global Health: An Interdisciplinary Overview; Global Health and Humanitarianism; The Challenges of Global Health; Understanding and Strengthening Health Systems; and Epidemics, Pandemics and Outbreaks.

Edx provides online courses in Fundamentals of Advocacy in Health Policy, Innovating in Health Care, and Health Informatics Technology in Population Healthcare Analytics.

The World Health Organization also offers a number of free online courses covering topics such as measuring health disparities and understanding evidence-based health care.

Update, August 19, 2019: This article has been updated to clarify that Johns Hopkins University’s Master of Public Health can be designed as onsite, online, or a mix.

Update, August 21, 2019: This article has been updated to clarify the London School of Hygiene programs.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.