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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Public Health?

Public health is defined differently by various individuals and organizations. Following are a few common definitions of public health.

  • The promotion of health and prevention of disease through the organized efforts of society.
  • The science and practice of protecting and improving the health of a community, as by preventive medicine, health education, control of communicable diseases, application of sanitary measures, and monitoring of environmental hazards. (American Heritage Dictionary)
  • Public health is what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions for people to be healthy. This requires that continuing and emerging threats to the health of the public be successfully countered. These threats include immediate crises, such as the AIDS epidemic; enduring problems, such as injuries and chronic illness; and growing challenges, such as the aging of our population and the toxic by-products of a modern economy, transmitted through air, water, soil, or food. These and many other problems raise in common the need to protect the nation's health through effective, organized, and sustained efforts led by the public sector. (U.S. Institutes of Medicine)

No matter how you define public health, the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop summed up the importance of public health.

  • Health care is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.

Other Resources

Various websites provide further information about the field of public health and will help you learn more about the role of public health in our lives and how you can contribute to the field as a public health professional.

Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health

What is Public Health?

American Public Health Association

How is public health different than clinical medicine?

Public health and clinical medicine both try to improve the health of people, but they use different methods.

Public Health

  • Primary focus on population
  • Public service ethic tempered by concerns for the individual
  • Emphasis on prevention, health, promotion for the whole community

Clinical Medicine

  • Primary focus on individual
  • Personal service ethic, conditioned awareness of social responsibilities
  • Emphasis on diagnosis and treatment, care for the whole patient

Summarized from Harvard School of Public Health

Is the MPH Program accredited?
Yes, both the MCW Graduate School and the MPH Program are accredited.

The Graduate School is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). The MPH Program is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).
What can I do with a MPH after graduation?
Many students use the MPH program to break into the field of public health while others want to enhance their current employment in public health with more background knowledge. Some may want to switch careers or use the MPH program as a stepping stone toward medical school.
What are the employment prospects for someone with a MPH but without a clinical background?
Previously, many public health departments operated on a nursing model; however, they seem to be switching away from that model. When a program coordinator asked a few county health officers this very question, they mentioned a lot of opportunities for graduates with an MPH but no RN. In general, the employment prospects for public health professionals look quite good. Experts say the field will grow through 2020, and many public health professionals are expected to retire in the coming years. The Affordable Care Act has also opened opportunities with hospitals, large corporations, wellness sites, insurance companies, etc.
How will a MPH or Graduate Certificate advance my career?
Graduate-level coursework in public health will help you build competencies and improve valuable skills, such as administration, communication, evaluation, cultural competency, ethics, planning, and research. Some students enroll in the program to get started in the field of public health; whereas, others have worked in the field for years and are looking for knowledge and information to help them work more effectively. Many physicians enroll in coursework to meet board-certification requirements and then continue in the program because the knowledge provides them with another method to analyze the factors influencing their patients’ health.
Can you transfer from one program to the other?
You may transfer from a Certificate program to the MPH program; however, you may not transfer from the MPH program to a Certificate program. If you are enrolled in a Certificate program and then decide you would like to enroll in the MPH program, you must apply to the MPH program. If you have successfully completed the MPH Program, the GRE requirement may be waived. If you have successfully completed the majority of the certificate courses, contact the MPH Program Director to inquire about the potential to waive the GRE. If accepted, the courses you’ve completed toward your Certificate would be applied toward the MPH. Although only 14 credits may be transferred into the MPH program, an exception is made so that all 15 credits of the Certificate may be transferred into the MPH program.
If I have a full time job, will I still be able to complete the MPH program in the required 5 years?
The MPH program is geared towards working professionals, and most of our students have full-time positions as well as other responsibilities. Our program is flexible, which helps students succeed, but it’s a matter of whether you, individually, have the time to devote to coursework. Courses usually require 6 to 10 hours per week, and you will have to complete at least one or two courses each semester in order to complete the program within the required five year time frame. Most students who enroll in the program have the time and motivation to complete coursework, so they succeed and excel.
Could you tell me more about the certification in public health?
After completing at least 21 credits (including the five core course), you will be eligible to sit for the exam to become Certified in Public Health (CPH). (Completing the Graduate Certificate in Public Health program does not confer eligibility to sit for the exam because you must have a graduate-level degree, such as the MPH.) The exam consists of 200 questions that test your knowledge of the five core areas of public health and seven cross-cutting competencies in public health. To find out more information about scheduled exams, eligibility requirements, or to register for the exam online, visit the National Board of Public Health Examiners website.
Do I need to go to campus for any reason? such as orientation, summer intensives, graduation
No, our courses and programs are offered completely online. There is no mandatory on-campus orientation or summer intensives. A few courses are available on campus, but all courses which are needed for program completion are offered online. Attendance at graduation is required.
Can I transfer credits in to the MPH program from other schools?
The MPH program will accept up to 14 credits of approved courses from other schools or programs. The Program Director decides whether a course will be approved after reviewing the course’s syllabus. (The Program Director will only review syllabi from enrolled students.) No transfer credits will be accepted for the Certificate program.
How do I apply to the MPH program? What is the application deadline?
The Graduate School coordinates admissions and registration, and they use an online inquiry and application system. For further information about admission requirements, including application deadlines, please see the Prospective Students Application Information webpage.
The public health courses utilize the online learning platform Brightspace. What is Brightspace?
Brightspace is the Medical College of Wisconsin-wide learning management system that allows students and faculty to connect online. With Brightspace, you can take surveys, quizzes and tests; send and receive course mail; post to threaded discussions and chat rooms; upload assignments using drop-boxes; and more. You can check your progress in a course by viewing your grades at any time during the course, and you can also create groups and teams for project or committee work.
What kind of Internet connection and software do I need to utilize Brightspace and access coursework?
A PC running MS Windows OS or a Mac running OS X. Firefox, Safari, or Chrome are recommended. Internet Explorer 11 and Edge are supported, but Internet Explorer 10 and earlier are not supported and may cause content to load incorrectly. Microsoft Office 2007 or newer and Adobe Acrobat Reader may be required. In addition, Adobe Flash Player may be necessary to view some content within Brightspace.
Which courses require site visits and/or interviews?
  • 18203 Public Health Administration
  • 18215 Infectious Diseases
  • 18218 Racial and Ethnic Inequalities in Health
  • 18254 Challenges in Maternal and Child Health

Many students find the site visits and required interviews very useful. One student felt very awkward because she thought she would be bothering people, but the people she visited were very excited to speak with her about their work.

Site visits and interviews are also a great way to network. One student interviewed a local public health officer for Public Health Administration, and that led to her working with the health officer for her Field Placement.

Where can I get my textbooks?
Textbooks are available from various websites (Matthews MCW Bookstore, Barnes & Noble.com, Amazon.com, etc.)

Warning: don’t buy your textbooks too far in advance. Instructors sometimes choose to use different books, and new editions are often published.
Which courses are offered on campus as well as online?

Currently, the following courses are offered online as well as onsite. Contact the MPH Program for current information.

  • 18201 Principles of Epidemiology
  • 18204 Introduction to Biostatistics
  • 18258 Advanced Epidemiological Methods
  • Various electives
How do instructors teach online?
The MPH program utilizes the online learning system, Brightspace. Students state Brightspace is quite intuitive. Each instructor teaches and utilizes Brightspace differently. Some utilize PowerPoint presentations with audio to lecture; whereas, other instructors use Word documents with limited lecture.

Some instructors interact more with students than others using the discussion boards. A lot depends on the content of the course. Students have indicated that they learn the most from discussion boards.

Readings were another source of learning, and some courses have more required reading than others. Readings may be assigned from the textbook or articles from medical or public health journals. Additionally, some instructors require students to use specific websites.

Many instructors utilize quizzes – either graded or ungraded. Students thought ungraded weekly quizzes were really helpful in keeping them on task and figuring out what they knew (and what they didn’t know).
How do you work in groups online? What methods do you use to communicate?
Students stated it’s a little awkward to work in groups online, but it works out. The instructor’s ideal plan is for everyone to collaborate and for each student to work on each section. However, students usually divvy up the various sections and get experience on each of the sections by working with each other. For instance, one or two people might conduct the interview, and others write sections of the paper using the interview notes and course information. Then all group members revise the final document.

One student noted how nice it is to have one person take charge of the group and how helpful mini deadlines are. The group can split the project into various sections and then assign deadlines for each section (i.e. when the interview should be conducted, when the rough draft should be completed, etc.).

To communicate, students stated they primarily used email. They said they used the track changes feature on Microsoft Word and emailed the documents as attachments. Students also mentioned they had heard you could set up user accounts on Wiki or share a document on Gmail.
On average, how many classes should you take a semester?
Different students take a different number of courses each semester, depending on their schedule and other responsibilities. Researchers state online courses usually require 6-10 hours of work each week although some courses will take longer than others.

One graduate who was a full time student and working part time (24 hours per week) enrolled in four courses each semester.

Other students worked full time, so they didn't take as many courses each semester. One student took two courses each semester, and two students stated they usually took three courses each fall and spring semester as well as one course each summer. Those two students said taking three courses each semester was very manageable. One student said the readings were the most time-consuming aspect of the courses, so she read every night (seven days per week). Another student mentioned having a very difficult time concentrating on coursework during the summer, so she didn't enroll in as many classes during that semester.

Another student worked full-time as a physician and was very involved in his three children’s lives (coaching their sports teams, etc.). Because of these commitments, he only enrolled in one course at a time. By enrolling in one course each semester – fall, spring, and summer – he will be able to complete the program in the required five year limit.
Do MCW faculty and staff have to pay tuition for the MPH program?
Yes, MCW faculty and staff must pay the same tuition as other students in the MPH and Certificate programs (or even if they take individual courses as a Special Student). Because many public health courses are taught by faculty members whose primary affiliation is outside of MCW, there is no tuition waiver for MCW faculty members.
What are the Field Placement and Capstone Project courses? How are they related to each other?
The Field Placement and Capstone Project courses are the culminating experiences of the MPH program.

The Field Placement is similar to an internship or practicum, and you are required to work with a public health organization. Any accredited program must have a field placement within their program. How do we work that with distance students? In some schools of public health students that go right from undergrad to graduate school may be able to focus full time on their field placement and devote 80-100 hours in a community agency getting experience in public health. Most of our MPH students don’t have the availability to leave their work or other obligations. So, we have affiliation agreements with community agencies so our students can apply their learning in public health by working on a project basis with an organization. A student and an agency along with an identified preceptor at that agency will have a project they would like a student to work on. The field experience is 80 hours, can be spread out over one or two semesters, and there is a deliverable at the end of the field experience. The project may be completed on a distance basis. There is also a faculty advisor working with the student. So the site preceptor, faculty advisor, and student come to an agreement on a project that will benefit the agency and provide great hands-on experience for the student.

The Capstone Project consists of writing a Master’s Paper. You are not required to work with an organization. A capstone paper is done during the final semester of the program. It is not a research project but more of a culminating effort where a student applies the training and competencies that they have acquired into a project or paper. For example, a student may develop a program, evaluate a program, develop a policy or white paper, or drill down into a topic that they are interested in and do an annotated bibliography.

The Field Placement and Capstone Project are two separate courses. The coordinator of these courses recommends that you link the two courses to each other (so that you can use the same background information/research for both); however, you don’t have to relate them.
What can I do for my Field Placement? How does the course work?
A graduate completed his Field Placement at the Wauwatosa Health Department by evaluating the city’s two year olds’ immunization rates. At first, he wondered whether he had sufficient knowledge and skills to complete such a project. His recommendation is to relax into your Field Placement. The health department will be appreciative of anything you can offer, and you’ll be surprised how much you can do.

A current student is working with the West Allis Health Department on their community health improvement process using the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership (MAPP) process. She’s helping to gather data and write sections of their 5-year community health plan.
How long do I work on my Field Placement project?
The Field Placement can be spread out over multiple semesters – up to three consecutive semesters, meaning one calendar year. Most students enroll in the Field Placement over two semesters, and they often include the summer as one of those semesters; therefore, they work on their Field Placement for approximately six months. However, the Field Placement can be completed much quicker than that.

You have the option of how many credits you enroll in Field Placement – 2 or 5. These correspond to the minimum number of hours you must work on your project. If you enroll in two credits, you must complete at least 80 hours on your project. For five credits, the requirement is 200 hours. These hours do not all have to be completed on-site; you can work on your project from home and submit written materials either via email or in person.
Does your MPH Program have a concentration?

Our program has a single concentration in public health practice. It focuses on Community Health Assessment, Improvement & Planning, and Evaluation. We train students to:

  • Assess the health status of various populations.
  • Develop plans to improve that population.
  • Evaluate if they made a difference.
If I wanted to take 1-2 course on helping the community with a specific topic, what would you suggest?
No matter what your interest in public health (injuries, chronic diseases, acute diseases, environmental factors, concussions), you will get core training around epidemiology and how to recognize causal factors, risk factors, and how to understand the literature around your specific health issue. You will also get training in biostatistics that will help you understand the literature. Then if you look at our concentration, you will also learn to access where that population is, plan for improvement, and evaluate results by trending over time to see if you are making a difference. You may also find an elective such as Health Communications of value.