Master’s-Level Education in the Governmental Public Health Workforce

Jonathon P. Leider, Katie Sellers, Kyle Bogaert, Brian C. Castrucci, Paul C. Erwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: More than 16 000 graduate degrees in public health are awarded annually. Yet only 14% of the governmental public health workforce has formal public health training of any kind, and 8% has a master of public health (MPH) degree. We characterized the differences among governmental staff members with master’s degrees across US health departments. Methods: We used data from the 2017 Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey, a national survey of state and local public health departments (43 669 responses; response rate, 48%). We examined the characteristics of the workforce by educational attainment and compared respondents who had obtained a “terminal” (ie, highest degree obtained) MPH degree with respondents who had obtained a terminal non–public health (non-PH) master’s degree. Results: Respondents who had a non-PH master’s degree were as likely as respondents who had an MPH degree to hold a supervisory role (43% vs 41%; P =.67). We found only 1 significant difference between the 2 groups: respondents aged ≤40 with a terminal MPH degree were significantly less likely than respondents aged ≤40 with a non-PH master’s degree to earn more than the national average salary (adjusted odds ratio = 0.67; 95% CI, 0.47-0.97; P =.03). Conclusions: We found only marginal differences in career outcomes for people working in governmental public health who had a terminal MPH degree vs a terminal non-PH master’s degree. This finding does not necessitate a full reconsideration of the MPH as it relates to governmental public health practice but a greater recognition that there are multiple paths into practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)650-657
Number of pages8
JournalPublic health reports
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: PH WINS was a joint effort of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the de Beaumont Foundation. The de Beaumont Foundation funded the project. J.P.L. was funded by the de Beaumont Foundation for his time on this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.


  • public health education
  • public health systems
  • public health workforce


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