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Colorado School of Public Health


Doctor of Public Health

DrPH Programs at the Colorado School of Public Health

The DrPH Program is a professional doctoral level program designed to develop research leaders, public health policy-makers and public health practitioners who are able to address complex public health issues. Individuals with the DrPH degree combine sophisticated analytic and research skills with a broad-based understanding of the environmental, political, social, ​medical, ethical, and economic factors that contribute to health and wellness in the community.

The DrPH degree prepares students for leadership positions that have major influence on the policies, programs and institutions of public health. This will often involve taking a leadership role in defining public health needs, designing public health strategies and programs to address those needs, and evaluating the effectiveness of policies and programs in meeting public health objectives. Typical worksites for individuals with a DrPH degree include local, state, national and international public health agencies, non-profit foundations, and universities. 

In addition to gaining leadership, management and advocacy skills, graduates of the ColoradoSPH DrPH program will develop strong research and practice skills in a Focus Area of public health (major area), and develop a secondary area of expertise in another core area of public health (minor area). The school currently offers the following focus areas of study: Community and Behavioral Health (CBH), Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH), and Epidemiology (EPI). 

How does a DrPH program differ from a PhD program?

  • The DrPH is primarily a professional degree with a focus on leadership and application of state-of-the-art knowledge and approaches to public health problems.  Graduates are expected to occupy leadership positions that have a major influence on progress towards achieving important, broad-reaching, public health objectives.

  • DrPH students complete a significant public health practicum experience in which they develop and demonstrate their leadership, management and advocacy skills.

  • PhD programs are primarily designed for students wishing to pursue careers in academic teaching and research.  PhD curriculum is typically focused on developing strong content area knowledge and research skills and pursuing the acquisition of new knowledge through research.  Although students in the DrPH program will conduct original research in their dissertation, DrPH research will typically be directed towards solving public health problems that have immediate practice implications, rather than more basic knowledge in the field.  While DrPH graduates may pursue academic careers, this is not the intent of the program.

Program requirements for the DrPH

Each student, in consultation with his/her faculty advisor, will develop a proposed course of study.  The course of study must specify both a major Focus Area and minor area of study, courses to be taken, and proposed timeline for courses, practicum, comprehensive exams, and dissertation.  The DrPH degree is designed to be completed within 4 years at full-time effort.  There is a 7 year time limit. 

The DrPH program requires 67 total credit hours distributed as follows:

  • 12 hrs - Focus Area (see Focus Area information for specific requirements)

  • 6 hrs – Minor - Public Health Electives – Elective courses in the selected minor area of study.  The minor area must be in one of the five core areas of public health, excluding the major focus area.  These include: biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, community and behavioral health, and health systems, management and policy.  These courses will be taken in the School of Public Health.

  • 10 hrs - Selectives – Selectives are graduate level courses in the selected area of specialization.  This coursework is intended to lead to expertise in the area in which the student will be examined in the comprehensive exams and in which the dissertation will be completed. These courses may be in the School of Public Health, or in another relevant school or department.  

  • 3 hrs - Leadership –  A course on leadership development, taken in the School of Public Health or elsewhere with permission.  

  • 2 hrs - Management  - A course on principles of management or organizational communications, taken in the School of Public health or elsewhere with permission. 

  • 3 hrs - Proposal Writing – The overall goal of this requirement is to develop skills in preparing high quality, successful, research or practice grant applications.  Students will become familiar with different granting mechanisms (e.g., NIH, CDC, foundations) and develop grantsmanship skills, including the ability to formulate research and practice plans and write at a high level of quality.  This is a closely mentored and intensive activity that is intended to lead directly to the submission of a grant application. 

  • 4 hrs - DrPH Seminar - 4, 1 credit hr semesters of the DrPH seminar.  Students will be required to attend the bi-monthly seminar for the first 4 semesters of their tenure in the program.  The DrPH seminar will cover topic areas across all five concentrations of public health (i.e. biostatistics, community and behavioral health, environmental health, epidemiology, and health services, management and policy) while addressing the core DrPH competencies related to advocacy, communication, community/cultural orientation, critical analyses, leadership, management and professionalism/ethics.  The seminar will include a combination of guest speakers on relevant topics, directed reading and discussion, and student presentations of areas of interest and work-in-progress. 

  • 2 hrs - Directed Reading – The DrPH Directed Reading course is intended to prepare DrPH students for their comprehensive exams and dissertation research. Additional information regarding the directed reading requirements is provided below.   

  • 4 hrs – Practicum -  All DrPH students must engage in a minimum of 240 hours of high level fieldwork.  This will usually be completed with an agency outside of the School of Public Health (e.g., local health department, state health department, volunteer organization, etc.).  The fieldwork experience should address most, if not all, of the core DrPH competencies (Advocacy, Communication, Community/Cultural Orientation, Critical Analysis, Leadership, Management, Professionalism & Ethics).  

  • 21 hrs -  Dissertation – Following completion of the written qualifying exam (see below), students will complete 21 dissertation credits during which time they prepare and defend their dissertation proposal, complete their dissertation research, and complete and defend their written dissertation. 

It is expected that formal coursework will take approximately 2 years to complete.  As students complete required coursework and practicum hours, they will advance towards independent research for their dissertation.  In this process, students will complete written and oral qualifying exams. 


The dissertation will be of an applied nature and must demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct independent research on a contemporary public health issue. The student is expected to examine and analyze a problem in public health practice that has readily identifiable beneficiaries and constituents. The dissertation committee will work with the student to identify appropriate areas of investigation. The project will involve a written product that comprehensively addresses, generates, and/or interprets and evaluates knowledge applicable to public health practice.

The written dissertation document may be one of several forms depending on the nature of the scholarly work, but should be of publishable quality and must demonstrate rigorous analytic strategies. It will typically take one of two forms: (1) a unified traditional dissertation, or (2) three publishable papers plus, at a minimum, introduction and conclusion chapters. The dissertation will be defended publicly and must be approved by the dissertation committee before the degree of DrPH is conferred.

Dissertation Committee

Each student will form a 5 member dissertation committee to guide their dissertation research including the directed reading, written comprehensive examination, dissertation research proposal, oral comprehensive examination, conduct of research, and completion and defense of the dissertation. The committee chair must be have a primary faculty appointment from the focus area department. The student’s main mentor must have a primary or secondary appointment in the Colorado School of Public Health. The mentor may not be the Chair of the dissertation committee. In addition, the committee as a whole must meet the following minimum criteria:

  1. Two members must be program core faculty in the FOCUS AREA department.
  2. One member must be from outside the FOCUS AREA department.
  3. One member must be from the practice community.

A Committee Membership form should be completed that designates committee membership and is signed by Chair and Mentor of the committee as well as Program Director. The final form should be submitted to the Program Director for approval prior to beginning the Directed Reading.

Directed Reading (2 credit hours)

The DrPH Directed Reading course is intended to help prepare DrPH students for their comprehensive exams and dissertation research. This activity is intended to result in the student being an expert in their specific area(s) of research, including understanding of the historical development of the specific area(s), current research findings in the specific area(s), and current practice in the areas. Readings will address current epidemiological understanding of the area, methodological aspects of the area, theoretical underpinnings of behavior and/or policy related to the area, and current practice. For example, in the area of physical activity, upon completion of this activity, a student would be expected to have a thorough understanding of epidemiological evidence supporting or disputing a relationship between physical activity and disease etiology, natural history, and prognosis, physiological/psychological mechanisms for the relationship between physical activity and health/disease status, social, environmental and system level determinants, theoretical approaches used in understanding determinants of physical activity behavior, methods for assessing levels of physical activity, and current practices in developing programs for increasing levels of physical activity.

Prior to enrolling in the course and with guidance from the committee, the student will: 

  • Select at least 2 areas of focus that are in line with the student’s dissertation area of study.

  • Compile an extensive reading list in these select areas. The reading list should include seminal readings, reviews, meta-analyses and key original pieces of work.

  • Have the reading list reviewed and approved by the dissertation committee. Committee members may choose to add/delete various readings from the list.

Once the initial reading list is finalized, the student may enroll in the DrPH Directed Reading course and will be expected to complete an annotated bibliography of the full reading list within the designated time span (i.e. one or two semesters as described above). The final reading list should include approximately 75-100 readings. The written and oral comprehensive exams will take place upon completion of directed reading.

Written Comprehensive Exam

Upon completion of the directed reading course, the student will schedule their written comprehensive exam. The student will have 2 weeks to provide written answers. The exam will include 3-5 essay questions written by the dissertation committee that incorporate DrPH competencies (both general and Focus Area specific) and the areas covered in the student’s Directed Reading. Responses are expected to be in-depth with citations and may be of publishable quality (such as a literature synthesis). Total written response should be approximately 20-30 single-spaced pages. The committee will grade (i.e. pass/fail) the written exam and submit the final grade to the Program Director. Each student who passes the written exams will be able to begin preparation for the dissertation proposal oral defense.

Oral Defense

Following completion of the written qualifying exam and the written dissertation proposal, students will present their proposal in an oral examination. The oral examination may include questions that cover the student’s focus area, directed reading and dissertation proposal. The examination will include a detailed review and discussion of the proposed dissertation research. Below is a list of the possible outcomes for each of the comprehensive exams:

Pass - You receive the affirmative votes of the majority of the members of your committee in order to pass.

Pass with conditions - The committee may feel that although you have passed the examination you should complete additional work on your exams. These conditions will be specified and must be satisfied within 4 months of the defense.

Fail - If you fail the examination, you may be subject to immediate dismissal from the program. At the program’s discretion, you may be allowed to retake the examination once. The retake will be in a format designated by the committee and must be completed within 6 months. 

Final Dissertation Defense

A final examination of the dissertation will be conducted orally by the examination committee. Arrangements for the final examination must be sent to the DrPH education coordinator at least two weeks in advance. Below is a list of the possible outcomes for the defense:

Pass - Affirmative votes by a the majority of the committee members signifying that the candidate has met the dissertation requirement. The committee may still request changes to the dissertation document but these should be minimal.

Pass with conditions - A majority of committee members agree that the candidate will pass the dissertation requirement with additional work on the thesis that can be completed within a set timeline. These conditions will be specified and must be satisfied within 60 days of the defense.

Fail - If a student fails the examination, s/he may not continue in the program.

Timetable for completion

The DrPH degree is designed to be completed within 4 years at full-time effort. Upon entering the DrPH program, students will have 3 years to pass the written qualifying exam and should complete the dissertation and public defense of the dissertation within 7 years of entering the program.


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