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University of Colorado Denver

 

Doctor of Public Health 

Epidemiology


The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Program in Epidemiology is designed to develop public health leaders who are skilled at identifying the factors that affect the health of a population and developing, implementing and evaluating disease control and prevention strategies to improve public health. Areas of specialization in epidemiology include (but are not limited to) health data and information systems, chronic disease prevention and control, communicable disease prevention and control and injury prevention. Graduates will be prepared to hold leadership positions in public health practice at the local, state or national level and in academia.

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Admissions Requirements:

    In addition to the general admissions requirements for the DrPH program, the Focus Area in Epidemiology requires the following:

    • MPH or MSPH in epidemiology or equivalent. If admitted without an equivalent degree, courses can be taken during the first year.  These courses include the five core areas of public health, Analytic Epidemiology (EPID 6631) and at least six credits of graduate level work in epidemiology of specific content areas (e.g. chronic disease, communicable disease, injury). 
    • Calculus is a pre-requisite and must be completed prior to admission.
    • Preliminary Exam: DrPH students will take a preliminary exam required of both PhD and DrPH students in epidemiology at the end of their first year and completion of Advanced Epidemiology and the required courses in Biostatistics. The purpose of the written preliminary exam is to demonstrate competence in epidemiology and biostatistics methods. The exam includes three components: Epidemiology A covering interpretation and presentation of analytic results; Epidemiology B covering the principles and methods of epidemiology; and Biostatistics.  

DrPH Epidemiology Curriculum

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, preliminary and 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 - The 12 hrs of credit in the Focus Area will include the following: 

  • 3 hrs of Advanced Epidemiology (EPID 6632):  This is an advanced course in Epidemiology that covers the conduct and interpretation of epidemiologic studies at a level beyond that covered in Master's level courses.
  • 6 hrs of Advanced Biostatistics Methods: BIOS 6611 and BIOS 6612 or equivalent applied statistics covering probability, descriptive, parametric and non-parametric methods for one and two sample estimation/testing, linear modeling and analysis of variance. Logistic and poisson regression, survival analysis and methods for correlated and hierarchical data are also covered. Matrix algebra and the statistical package SAS will be used.
  • 3 hrs of Research Methods with Secondary Data Sets: This course will cover a broad range of secondary data sources including those designed for health and medical surveillance (e.g. BRFSS, NHIS, SEER, NACCHO Profiles, MEPS) and those derived from practice (e.g. Medicaid, PharMetrics, HEDIS, HCUP). Coursework will cover identification and evaluation of secondary data sets and principles and methods for research design and analysis using secondary data. Each student will develop a research question that can be informed with secondary data, conduct the analysis and present the results. It is recommended that students link the class project with their chosen area of specialization.
  • 6 hrs - Minor Area Public Health Electives - These are elective courses taken in the minor area of study determined by the student in consultation with their advisor. The minor area must be in one of the five core areas of public health, excluding the major focus area. Due to the emphasis on biostatistics in the Epidemiology Focus Area requirements, minor credit hours (6) will usually be taken in one of the three other core areas of public health: Community and Behavioral Health, Environmental and Occupational Health or Health Systems, Management and Policy.

9 hrs - Selective Area Courses - This coursework is intended to lead to expertise in the area in which the student will be examined in the qualifying exams and in which the dissertation will be completed. Examples of areas of specialization for Epidemiology include (but are not limited to): health data and information systems, chronic disease prevention and control, communicable disease prevention and control, injury prevention, and newborn screening. Coursework to fulfill the selective requirement may be taken in the School of Public Health or another relevant school or department. Courses should be selected in consultation with the student's dissertation mentor, or advisor, if prior to formation of the dissertation committee.  

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 be framed around the 10 essential public health services while covering 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) and 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.

3 hrs - Leadership -  A course on leadership development, taken in the School of Public Health or, with permission, at another affiliated school. This CSPH Leadership course is intended to provide a foundation for emerging public health leaders that will include taking leadership from theory and principle to action and practice in contexts of the individual, team, organization and community. 

3 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.

2 hrs - Directed Reading - In preparation for written and oral comprehensive exams, each student will develop, in consultation with their examination committee, a directed reading list in the area of their dissertation research. This activity is intended to lead to the student becoming an expert in their specific area of research, including understanding of the historical development of the specific area, current research findings, and current practice in the area. Reading will address current epidemiological understanding of the area, methodological aspects of the area, theoretical underpinnings of behavior related to the area, and current practice in the area. 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. The written and oral comprehensive exams will take place upon completion of directed reading.

4 hrs - Practicum -  All DrPH students must engage in a minimum of 240 hours of 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 Exams/Dissertation tab), 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. 

Exams/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. 

Dissertation

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 exam 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.

Program Competencies

The DrPH program develops the following competencies. Competencies are organized as domains which apply to all focus areas, followed by competencies that apply to each focus area.

DrPH Competency Domains (across all focus areas)

Advocacy:
The ability to influence decision-making regarding policies and practices that advance public health using concensus-building, analysis, communication, and scientific knowledge.

Communication

The ability to assess and use communication strategies across diverse audiences to inform and influence individual, organization, community, and policy decisions that enhance health.

Community/Cultural Orientation:
The ability to communicate and interact with people across communities and cultures for service development and intervention-oriented, community-based participatory research.

Critical Analysis:
The ability to develop, synthesize, interpret, and apply evidence-based research and theory from a broad range of disciplines and health-related data sources to facilitate programs, policies, and systems for promoting population health.

Leadership:
The ability to inspire trust and motivate others to use evidence-based strategies to enhance essential public health services.

Management:

The ability to provide fiscally responsible strategic and operational guidance for both public and private health-related organizations for the purpose of achieving individual and community health and wellness.

Professionalism & Ethics:
The ability to identify and analyze an ethical issue, balance the claims of personal liberty with concerns about population health, and act on the ethical concepts of social justice, human rights in public health research and practice.

See http://www.asph.org/publication/DrPH_Core_Competency_Model/index.html for specific competencies falling into each of the domains.  

DPH Competencies within Epidemiology Focus Area

  • Describe the magnitude of a public health problem by person, time and place.
  • Describe the attributes of an effective surveillance system and the use of surveillance in outbreak investigations, chronic disease, and injury prevention.
  • Describe the role of screening in secondary disease prevention, under what conditions screening is justified and how to assess screening test performance and effectiveness.
  • Understand the principles of survey sampling design, implementation, analysis and interpretation.
  • Translate scientific ideas or aims into answerable research questions.
  • Select and apply appropriate quantitative and qualitative designs and methods for research and evaluation studies in the core areas of public health including: epidemiology, environmental and occupational health, community and behavioral health, and public health systems, management, and policy.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the threats to internal validity including selection bias, measurement error, and confounding: strategies for addressing these issues; and how they relate to the interpretation of study results.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of external validity, especially in the context of applying prevention and control strategies and in the emerging fields of dissemination and implementation science.
  •  Demonstrate knowledge translating quantitative research questions into statistical models, applying model selection criteria and model interpretation for continuous outcome data (normal linear regression), categorical outcome data (logistical regression), count data (Poisson regression), and time-to-event data (Cox regression).
  • Carry out appropriate power or precision calculations to ensure that sample size is sufficient to achieve the scientific aims or address a specific research question.
  • Demonstrate knowledge in collection and management of research data including design of data collection forms and protocols, instrument reliability and validity, data monitoring and quality assurance, and data archiving for analysis and use of data by other investigators.
  • Incorporate knowledge of the basic ethical and legal issues involved in the collection, management, use and dissemination of biomedical and epidemiologic data. Understand the concepts of human subject's protection and confidentiality and ethical dilemmas that can arise when maintaining individual privacy may compromise the public's health.
  • Use the principles of hypothesis testing and estimation of population parameters to draw inferences from quantitative data and communicate (verbally and in writing) those inferences and their scientific and applied interpretation to non-statistical scientists, practitioners and community members.
  • Critically review and interpret public health and other scientific literature to identify strengths and weaknesses of individual studies, to synthesize evidence in a research area, to identify gaps in evidence and to demonstrate relevance of current knowledge to the practice of public health.
  • Understand the contextual determinants of health problems (e.g. social, economic, political) and how these factors influence the conduct, interpretation, and dissemination of research studies.
  • Be able to identify and critically evaluate secondary data sources appropriate for answering a given research question. Identify and understand limitations of secondary data sets (e.g. inclusion determinants, nonrandom allocation, measurement error, surrogate outcomes) and possible design and analytic solutions.
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