Should You Take the CPH Exam?

Published on: Feb 27, 2024

Introduction: The CPH Exam Basics

As you’re working on a bachelor's or master's in public health, you’ve likely heard people reference getting certified. What does that mean? Isn’t the degree you’re working on already enough? It may be, but we’re here to tell you more about your options for a certification related to public health. There are three main certifications available for someone with an interest and background in public health: the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam, the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) exam, and the Certified in Public Health (CPH) Exam. These exams are often considered to be counterparts. We have a long-form explanation of the CHES

In this article, we’ll discuss all aspects of the CPH exam: the purpose of the exam, whether taking the CPH might be worth your time and benefits of taking it, how to prepare for the exam once you’ve decided to take it, and potential career advantages of having the CPH certification. 

If you are an undergraduate or graduate public health program student, you’ve likely heard of the CPH certification. This is a national exam designed to demonstrate competency in public health. The CPH is offered by the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE), and completing the CPH credential is designed to demonstrate both knowledge of and a commitment to public health1. Choosing to complete a certification is an excellent way to demonstrate your commitment to public health, in addition to a degree and any work experience. Taking the time to complete this certification is not something everyone does, so choosing to take the time to do so can make you stand out amongst your peers in the job market. 

CPH Exam Eligibility: Can I Get This Certification?

To be eligible for the CPH exam, you must fall into one of four categories2:

  • Be enrolled in a school or program of public health that is accredited by the Council of Public Health Education. We’ve developed a summary of why accreditation matters when choosing a program and a summary of what accreditation means with a list of accredited programs. This is yet another reason to consider only accredited programs.

  • Be an alumni of an MPH or public health PhD program. 

  • Be a faculty member with a graduate-level degree teaching public health courses.

  • Have relevant public health work experience in combination with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Work experience can be worldwide, which is perfect for someone working in global health who wants to add this credential as part of continuing education. The CPH examiners will evaluate work experience for its relevance; however, the criteria for relevance is based on the demonstration of experience related to the list of ten essential public health services developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)3

Understanding the Certified in Public Health (CPH) Exam

The CPH exam is designed to assess whether someone studying or working as a public health professional understands various aspects of public health, from public health biology to program management to health equity and social justice4. Completing this credential demonstrates your comprehensive understanding of public health and commitment to lifelong learning. 

Completing the CPH certification can be a great strategy to open up new career opportunities. First, completing this exam can be a way to stand out to potential employers. If the other applicants similarly have bachelor's or master's degrees in public health, having the CPH credential on your resume can be a way to showcase your interest in and dedication to public health. Not everyone will put in the time, money, and effort needed to complete this exam. If you’re already employed, having the CPH credential can be a way to demonstrate to your current employer that you’d like to advance within the public health world. Since the exam can be taken independently of being enrolled in a degree program, it’s a great way to achieve further training in public health via continuing education. 

Despite these reasons to become CPH credentialed, there are drawbacks and considerations that you should make before deciding to take the CPH exam. The exam has a $385 fee, making it more expensive than the CHES exam5. Depending on your financial situation, that fee may be more than you can currently invest in certification, especially since the CPH credential is typically not required by employers who prioritize work experience and a public health degree. Once credentialed, there is a requirement to complete 30 recertification credits every two years and pay a $90 recertification fee6. Allocating adequate time to study is also essential and should be considered in advance as the pass rate for the exam has been approximately 85% for the past four years7

Is the CPH Worth It?

Given these reasons for taking the exam and its drawbacks, it’s important to evaluate the return on investment overall on the CPH exam. For many public health professionals, the CPH can serve as a way to advance - it could demonstrate to potential employers that you’ve taken the time and energy to choose to pursue the CPH designation or show your current employer that you’re dedicated to public health and looking for ways to advance your career. The return on investment also needs to be considered in the long term. Could getting a better job now serve you well down the road in terms of professional advancement and salary increases? While the fee to take the exam is high, especially combined with the bi-annual recertification fees, this would be more than offset by a higher-paying job. 

On the other hand, the CPH may not be worth it if you have either a bachelor's in public health or a master's in public health. These multi-year degrees reflect much more significant time, energy, and effort than a four-hour exam. 

Once you’ve weighed these pros and cons of taking the CPH exam, the next best way to decide whether to take the CPH is to talk with public health professionals who have completed the exam. Ask questions like the following:

  • Do you think employers have noticed the CPH credential?

  • Have you kept up with the recertification requirements?

  • Are there other ways I could stand out instead of taking this exam? 

Talking directly with people who have decided to complete this credential will help inform your choice. There’s no one universal answer to whether this exam is worth it, so you should learn as much as possible in advance before you commit. You only want to spend the time and money on this credential if you’re confident that you’ll pass the exam, so understanding the firsthand experiences of others who have completed it will tell you about the value and impact of the CPH certification in the real world.

Who Should Take the CPH Exam?

The CHES exam is generally focused on health education and health promotion, with many people taking it and being employed as health education specialists. The CPH has generally had more of a public health sciences draw. The CPH exam has ten overall domains that cover essential competency areas of public health8. Topics include data analysis (statistics, risk factors, quantitative methods), biology and disease risk, and population health issues like health equity and social justice. Each of the ten sections comprises ten percent of the exam, so there is broad applicability for many career choices.

How to Prepare for the CPH Exam: Strategies and Tips

In our article about the CHES exam, we outline study tips for successful preparation and many of the same ones apply here. The CPH exam has 200 multiple choice questions and you have up to four hours to complete it. Since 2020, the exam has been offered virtually and with the traditional in-person model7. If you’re someone easily distracted by others, being able to take the exam at home alone could be a great option for success. It also means that you can take the exam at whatever time suits you best - hopefully, you know this about yourself already. Still, it’s worth considering whether you’re a morning person or a night owl and taking the exam accordingly. 

Your study plan can include practice tests and practice questions. The NBPHE website has two free online practice exams along with sample questions. Taking these practice tests can be one the best ways to feel more comfortable on exam day. The American Public Health Association (APHA) has a CPH exam review guide with a lower cost for members.

Final Thoughts on the CPH Exam

We’ve outlined a lot of information here on the CPH exam. Everything from basics like its structure and the content areas to the potential impact on a public health career. Most importantly, we’ve weighed the pros and cons of completing this credential and looked at how it could help your career. The CPH exam could be a gateway to a new job or a better role with your current company by demonstrating your commitment to public health, but it might also not be something you need if you have a BPH or MPH. There isn’t one correct answer for everyone, just as there isn’t one right area of public health for everyone. The value of the CPH is subjective and depends on your career aspirations and professional objectives.

The pursuit of the CPH credential should be a deliberate and informed choice. The decision requires a thoughtful evaluation of the potential benefits and downsides, a skill you will need in your public health career overall. Consider what type of public health career you’d like by exploring our article on career opportunities and public health specializations.

About the Author

Written by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH


Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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