Master of Science Public Health (MSPH) or A Master of Public Health (MPH)?: Which is the right degree for you?

Published on: Aug 21, 2023

Now that you have narrowed down the field you feel confident best aligns with your next career move and ambitions, the question of which kind of public health degree to pursue inevitably emerges. There are various avenues that might best suit your needs from a career trajectory perspective, for example considering if you want to teach public health at some point, a Doctorate might be in order. Additionally, there are elements about the nature of the degree you look into and the associated work that is most paralleled to the coursework and experience you will receive.

Luckily, the difference between an MSPH and an MPH can be clearly delineated, fitting differently into the scope of what might come next for you. Read on to see which degree might be more appropriate for your needs and next steps.

What is an MSPH?

An MSPH is a degree that focuses on the more scientific, research-based side of Public Health; those who pursue an MSPH typically then proceed into an academic-based setting for work. Note that the use of “MS” can also be interchanged in other parts of the world with the acronym “MSc” as this is used more globally. While an MPH typically offers a few concentrations and courses that provide building blocks for scientific work, the MSPH is oriented around ensuring all students have the toolsets and skills necessary for careers that require more than basic scientific level knowledge.

The concentrations that typically are offered within an MSPH are Biostatistics, Health Services Research (with various names), and Epidemiology. These fields translate into public health areas of work that are concerned with quality (through quantitative measures) and provide metrics by which public health entities are measured. Some examples of this are population health metrics1 (i.e. population birth/death rates) or other measures related to environmental health such as disease prevention (i.e. covid containment efforts such as screening requirements2). Others track health education efforts like health promotion (i.e. diabetes management within a population3), or chronic disease epidemiology through preventative health measures (i.e. vaccination rates4).

Often this kind of degree goes together with work that is referred to as Public Health Administration or Health Services Administration. If you are mid-career or considering a general transition into a new career-path, asking yourself whether being on this side of public health feels meaningful and if you think your skillsets might match.

Below are a few questions to start off such reflection:

  • Am I someone who enjoys being in the numbers? Does quantitative output that requires interpretation seem of interest to me?

  • Will I succeed in a space that is academic-oriented or academic-based? Do I desire the ability to be nestled in a side of public health that is scientific?

  • Is it appealing to me to seek out answers to questions but not always find them? Am I intellectually curious? If yes, do I feel that my curiosity drives interest in investigating unique and complex questions?

What is an MPH?

An MPH degree is often the main foray into the world of public health beyond an entry-level kind of role, such as a health educator. This degree provides extensive context into understanding the history, present, and future of what public health is and how one might explore it as a public health professional. For a deeper dive on what an MPH can provide (with relevant details about concentrations, examples of program offerings, etc.) head over to our other article.

MPH degrees allow individuals who have health-oriented passion to dedicate themselves to a specific topic-area5 within the world of health promotion. While enrolled in a graduate program, you can learn what mechanisms exist to create change and positively impact health. 

How do an MSPH and an MPH differ? How are they similar?

Some of the key differences between these two degrees exist in the nature of the content covered within each; an MSPH is going to be geared towards a more scientific side of public health that while an integral component of an MPH, is not typically the main focus. The outcome students have with each degree differs here as well given the nature of future careers and associated paths within each. Again, here an MPH will have offerings that also are components of an MSPH degree and program but will offer less of an extensive background for students and is less specialized within these specific areas. 

MSPH and MPH degrees both have core tenets that are based in public health; these are both thematic and topic oriented. Some of these key areas include global health, health policy, environmental health, health promotion, and health education. Public health as a whole is concerned with the right to health for all. The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) describes an education within public health as one that is “Equitable, quality education in public health for achieving health equity and well-being for everyone, everywhere6.”

This summarizes nicely what similarities both an MPH and an MSPH have within their key missions. Moreover, there are similar areas of study within each and therefore significant overlap within core courses that are likely to be offered.

What careers might be best for each track?

As public health continues to grow as a prominent field (especially in this post-pandemic world), different kinds of roles are being explored and developed where there is a need for additional task force support7. This is an exciting time to be pursuing public health! Keep an eye out for key terms below that are often likely to be part of career listings for each track. Sometimes, the roles listed are even more specific, so try to broaden search terms and ensure you are using any filters while you look through role options.

MSPH-focused careers: Biostatistician, Environmental Scientist, Health Informatics Specialist, Clinical Research Coordinator or Associate, Quality Manager (Hospital-based), Epidemiologist, Data Analyst, Research Scientist.

MPH-focused careers: Policy Analyst, Health Educator, Public Health Advisor, Project Manager, Community Health Worker, Public Health Consultant, Health Program Coordinator.

What’s next for you in making this decision? 

Now that you have taken the time to reflect on the difference between an MSPH and an MPH, hopefully you feel you have a more concrete understanding of which might be a better fit for you. To support your decision-making process, we suggest a quick preliminary job search online to see if some of the job titles listed within each above career track might have descriptions that fit into your vision of what’s next for you. 

While not always a direct science, typically individuals who thrive with subjects like math and science in previous schooling will likely find that they have an easier time navigating an MSPH track and may wind up working in chronic disease epidemiology or public health science. Individuals who have more of a desire to tackle public health matters through avenues that might be less research-based or focused might find an MPH track to better suit their needs at this time. 

If you continue to feel uncertain about which path is the best fit, it is always great to find public health professionals in various fields with each degree and hear directly from their experience of navigating their schooling and what informed their own decision. For example, meeting with someone who concentrated in environmental health as part of MSPH coursework would be helpful in comparing their experience to someone who also concentrated in environmental health but as part of their MPH. Additionally, any experience you might be able to gain either in a current position or a short-term role before deciding will provide insight for what might be the best fit.

Good luck on this exciting decision, we’re here to ensure you are as informed as possible!

About the Authors

Written by:

Maura Boughter-Dornfeld, MPH

Maura Boughter-Dornfeld, MPH, is a burgeoning health policy professional currently conducting research as a project manager of health policy and behavioral economics for one of the top universities in Philadelphia. Maura received her Masters of Public Health from Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health in 2020, concentrating in Health Management & Policy (with a specific focus on Health Policy). She began her public health career in 2016 after graduating from Brandeis University and has worked for the local health department practicing public health data analysis for the city, as well as supporting research for a prominent non-profit public health institute. 

Maura shifted into health policy research and is now working to understand and develop effective policies for health insurance companies, through both the provider and member lens, with an aim of improving disparities and establishing equitable practices. Maura serves as President-Elect for her local branch of APHA, assists in course support and development for a Master of Healthcare Innovation program, and is a Managing Assistant Editor for a Healthcare Delivery journal.

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.

Maura Boughter Dornfeld portrait photograph

Maura Boughter-Dornfeld, MPH

Education: Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health

Reviewed 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

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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