Master of public health degrees: Which program do I choose?

MPH (Master of Public Health) degrees can open up a variety of doors and career opportunities, both locally and internationally in the public and Global Health fields. But knowing which MPH program can be overwhelming! Here are 4 factors to consider:

1. Think about what you want to do with an MPH

Before applying to MPH programs, it’s important to understand what Public Health and Global Health is, what it means to you, and how an MPH degree will help get you closer to achieving your career goals. First off, read this short article to learn more about what Global Health is. Next, take the time to write down what your ideal future career would look like in Global Health. Think about which areas in Global Health excite you the most – is it a certain topic, like food security? Or a discipline like, program development or policymaking?

Reflecting on these items will help you understand how an MPH degree aligns with your goals, values and interests. This reflection will also help you with formulating content and points you can raise in your MPH application personal statement!

2. Reflect on which jobs are available in Global Health

To gain a better understanding of what you can do with an MPH degree, it’s important to know what jobs are ‘out there’ in Global Health. Search job postings from a range of different Global Health organizations that you’re interested in working with in the future. This can help you determine the technical skills and competencies needed for those jobs. From there, you may develop a better sense of which MPH programs can help you build these competencies and give you access to a network of individuals that are aligned with your areas of interest in Global Health.

When it comes to competencies, the Public Health Agency of Canada Core Competencies for Public Health gives you a good idea of the skills needed for public and Global Health work. For instance, one competency that is increasingly important for Global Health work is interdisciplinary collaboration and negotiation. So see if the programs you’re interested in applying for offer learning opportunities to develop the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams.

If you’re still stuck on what a career in the Global Health field could look like, think about gaining some real-life experience in the community, in research, in public health, and/or Global Health settings prior to applying to MPH programs. This will help you develop stronger knowledge and skills for a Global Health career, which you can then take into your MPH degree.

3. Consider what type of MPH program is right for you

If you’ve decided to go ahead and apply for an MPH program, it’s time to start researching MPH programs! Doing your research on each university MPH program is important: often, universities will offer different streams or concentrations, and training styles.

For instance, it’s important to know your personal work style and how you want to connect with people in the field – is it virtually or in person? Some universities, like the University of Waterloo, have the option of completing the MPH program online. Similarly, do you want to take part in the program on full- or part-time basis? Also ask yourself which program streams or concentrations you want to specialize in. This can vary widely! Some MPH programs specialize in topics from Indigenous Health, Health Promotion, Epidemiology, Occupational Health, Health Equity, and Global Health, to name a few.

Once again, giving consideration to the topic area you might want to focus on is crucial to helping you carve out your niche. For example, epidemiology-focused programs will tend to lead you to more research-type job opportunities in Global Health, whereas focusing on Program Planning and Evaluation courses could set you on track to work as a consultant.

Finally, MPH programs typically fall into 2 categories: thesis-based or course-based. While most public health programs are course-based, some universities like McMaster University allow students to choose between doing a thesis or course-based Masters. By the end of the first semester of the program, other schools may not have this flexibility. In preparing for MPH applications, you should therefore consider how passionate you are about research and potentially completing further education, such as a PhD. If so, choosing a thesis-based program could be a good fit.

If you aren’t interested in pursuing a career in research, there are plenty of opportunities to gain relevant skills through a course-based program. For instance, you could connect with Professors to build a course paper or work with them directly on some of their projects, which can provide you with excellent connections and practical skills. In addition, there are many external opportunities available outside of your university and through local Global Health organizations if you would like to get skills outside of an academic environment.

4. Connect with current/former MPH students and faculty.

Prior to applying to MPH programs, it’s very helpful to attend virtual and in-person open house days for MPH programs. This will help you gain insights into the program requirements, specializations including Global Health related courses offered, practicum opportunities both locally and abroad, and the opportunity to get to know faculty and students in the program who are working in Global Health.

It can also be incredibly insightful to reach out to current/past students, professors and faculty at schools you’re interested in applying – ask to set up informational interviews with them. They can tell you more about their experiences so you can gain ‘insider knowledge.’ You can specifically ask them what they liked or disliked about their program, what they wish they knew before entering the program, and advice they have about internships, internal, and/or external opportunities available once you become a student.

Keep in mind, each person’s experience with their MPH program will be different depending on their interests, courses they took, and/or the opportunities they undertake outside of coursework. So make sure you speak with as many people you can. This way, you can get the most realistic perspective.


Regardless of the MPH program you choose, you will develop knowledge and transferable skills that will help you in any Global Health career you choose. Make your MPH your own based on your areas of interest, competencies, and the networks you want to build.


April 29, 2019


Annalise Mathers and Humaira Nakhuda