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Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health Sciences (PhD)

Program Director: Laurie L. Meschke, MS, PhD

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree with a major in Public Health Sciences  prepares students to think critically as scientists and to develop and communicate public health strategies to address the public health challenges of the nation. At the completion of the PhD program students will be able to:

  • Apply research methods to address health issues
  • Explore, critique, and apply evidence-based information from multiple sources to public health issues
  • Propose theory-based strategies to promote inclusion and equity within public health programs, policies, or systems
  • Communicate evidence-based public health information in diverse formats

Currently the PhD program is exclusively offered on the Knoxville campus.

Admission Information

The PhD in Public Health Sciences is designed for students who have already earned the MPH degree from an institution accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). Applicants without the MPH may be admitted to the PhD program; however, these students may need to complete additional coursework requirements in consultation with a faculty advisor and the Director of the PhD program to ensure a firm foundation in the MPH competency domains.

Admission Requirements

  • Meet requirements for admission to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Graduate School.
  • GPA of at least 3.20 (on a 4.00 scale) on Master’s level coursework, shown in official transcripts..
  • For international students, a satisfactory score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), as defined by the Graduate School.
  • Three letters of reference completed within the past 12 months by faculty members, academic advisors, or employers or professional colleagues. At least two letters must be from persons able to assess academic capacity.
  • A personal statement to demonstrate the evolution of your interest in public health and how the PhD program will prepare you to work in the field of public health.
  • Identification of a faculty mentor, initiate correspondence with the faculty mentor and confirm they are invited join their lab, and a description of how that faculty member’s research and practice will help them achieve their career goals. Your research interests must be a close match with the faculty member’s areas of expertise. This should be included as part of your personal statement. Visit the directory for a list of faculty who are currently accepting PhD students.
  • A sole-authored writing sample that has not been peer-reviewed that demonstrates skill in professional, research, or academic writing.
  • A current curriculum vitae.
  • Ability to clearly articulate a defined career pathway, which incorporates research experience and skills, upon interview.

Admission Preferences

  • MPH degree from a CEPH accredited school or program of Public Health.
  • Public health or relevant work experience at local, state or federal level.
  • Applicants without the MPH degree may be admitted to the PhD program. For example, exceptional applicants who meet one of the following requirements may also be considered for admission:
    • Applicants with a master’s degree or an advanced professional degree in a field related to public health from an officially recognized domestic or international institution; the aforementioned graduate degree must be conferred prior to enrollment to PhD; or
    • Applicants without a graduate degree must have at least two years of full-time work experience in public health or a related field.

Academic Standards

  • Academic probation will result if the overall GPA falls below 3.25 or if the GPA for the 600-level PUBH prefix courses falls below 3.25.
  • Students on academic probation who have a semester GPA below 3.25 are subject to dismissal.

Program Requirements

Required Courses

  • Foundation Courses (20 graduate credit hours)
    • PUBH 509 – Graduate Seminar in Public Health (2 semesters, 1 credit/semester) (2)
      • In-depth discussion of timely topics reflecting scope of public health as discipline and its interrelation with many other academic and professional disciplines. Speakers both internal and external.
    • PUBH 510 – Environmental Health (3)
      • Study of the environmental factors (natural, anthropogenic or combination) on human health and the integrity of the ecosystem.
    • PUBH 520 – Health Systems, Policy, and Leadership (3)
      • Exploration of public health and healthcare systems, health policy formulation, and associated implications for management and leadership.
    • PUBH 530 – Biostatistics (3)
      • Application of descriptive and inferential statistical methods to analyze and interpret data for health-related problems and programs.
    • PUBH 537 – Fundamentals of Program Evaluation (3)
      • Introductory course on the different types of program evaluation, including formative research, process evaluation, monitoring of outcomes, impact assessment and cost analysis. Covers experimental, quasi-experimental and non-experimental study designs and the strengths and limitations of each.
    • PUBH 540 – Epidemiology (3)
      • The distribution and determinants of health-related outcomes in specified populations with application to control of health problems. Issues addressed include: historical origins of discipline, hypothesis formulation, research design, data and error sources, measures of frequency and association, etiologic reasoning, and disease screening.
    • PUBH 552 – Assessment and Planning (3)
      • Applies an ecological framework to health assessment and program planning to address health disparities.
  • Core Courses (15 credit hours)
    • PUBH 630 – Advanced Biostatistics (3)
      • Biostatistics is the application of statistics to biological problems. Offers advanced instruction in biostatistics, including the application of advanced inferential statistical methods to public health practice. Will cover a variety of multivariable modeling approaches, data management, and analysis planning and development.
    • PUBH 635 – Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (3)
      • Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are important components of the epidemiologist’s toolbox. They often provide the foundations for understanding the state of current research on a given exposure-outcome relationship, and may offer opportunities for future research topics.
    • PUBH 640 – Advanced Epidemiology in Public Health  (3)
      • Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related outcomes at the population level. Topics addressed include measures of disease, measures of effect, sources of error, advanced methodological issues unique to the observational and experimental study designs utilized in public health practice and research, causal inference, and screening and clinical epidemiology.
    • PUBH 650 – Dissemination and Implementation Science (3)
      • Design a system-level intervention, emphasizing best pedagogical practices in delivering an educational experience in a community setting.
    • PUBH 656 – Comparative Theories in Health Behavior (3)
      • Theoretical models of health behavior; analysis, synthesis, and discussion of historical, contemporary and cross-cultural relevance of models; application of theory to research, prevention and intervention in public health; critical reading and evaluation of theory-based research on health behavior.
  • Cognate Courses (9 credit hours)
    • The PhD in Public Health Sciences is a generalist degree, but requires a cognate to include 9 semester credit hours that are thematically related. This usually amounts to three 3-credit hour courses. The cognate coursework can include graduate-level independent study, public health graduate courses, and/or graduate coursework from other academic units. The academic advisor and the Director of the PhD must formally approve the proposed cognate courses.
  • Electives (4 credit hours)
  • Dissertation (24 credit hours)
    • PUBH 600 – Doctoral Research and Dissertation


Non-Course Requirements

  • Graduate School Non-Course Requirements
    • Completed comprehensive exam
    • Admission to candidacy
    • Fulfill residence
    • Completed defense of dissertation
  • Departmental Non-Course Requirements
    • Students without an MPH degree from a CEPH accredited school or program of Public Health are required to pass the MPH foundation comprehensive exam within one semester of completing all required MPH foundations courses.
    • Students are required to pass a PhD qualifying exam within one semester of completing all required PhD core courses.

Credit Hours Required

72 graduate credit hours.