Jul 23, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2018-2019 
Graduate Catalog | 2018-2019 Previous Edition

Public Health Sciences, Ph.D.

The focus of the Ph.D. in Public Health Sciences is to train researchers and professionals with skills essential to address contemporary public health problems at the individual, community, and population levels. 

Students train to be well-rounded public health professionals:  partnering with community agencies and stakeholders, learning how to disseminate research to diverse audiences, publishing in peer-reviewed formats, teaching in an academic environment, and conducting themselves with high ethical standards in all venues.  Full-time students can complete the degree requirements within 4 years; however, most full-time students complete the program within 5 years depending upon the design of their dissertation research.  Graduates are prepared to work in academia, conduct large-scale public health research projects, or work in government or health-related venues.

Concentration in Behavioral Sciences

The Concentration in Behavioral Sciences emphasizes investigation of health determinants related to the prevention and management of disease and disability among diverse and vulnerable populations in the United States.  Working with the community in multidisciplinary teams to understand and develop programs that address the broad social-ecological factors that influence health behavior and thus health outcomes is the primary emphasis of this concentration.

Coursework for the Ph.D. in Public Health Sciences with a Concentration in Behavioral Sciences has a dual emphasis on qualitative and quantitative methods, and the development, application, and measurement of theory to understand the social and cultural factors that influence health behavior.  Graduates are prepared to work in academia, conduct large-scale behavioral research projects, or work in government or health-related venues.

Admission Requirements

All applicants must complete an online application to the Graduate School.  Applications must be completed by January 10 for full consideration for the following Fall semester, or by March 15 for consideration on a space-available basis.  The minimum admission requirements for the program are as follows:

  1. Master’s degree in public health or a related field with a minimum GPA of 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale) in all graduate work
  2. Competitive GRE scores taken within the past 5 years
  3. TOEFL if the previous degree was from a country where English is not the official language, with a minimum score of 83 (Internet-based test), 220 (computer-based test), or 557 (paper-based test)
  4. Statement of Purpose in which the applicant details why she/he wants to pursue a Ph.D. in Public Health Sciences in the specified concentration at UNC Charlotte
  5. Three letters of recommendation, including at least two letters from former professors familiar with the applicant’s graduate work
  6. Have completed a CEPH (Council on Education for Public Health) accredited Master’s degree in public health.  Students who have not completed a Master’s degree in public health may be required to take additional courses as determined by the Ph.D. Review Committee upon review of current CEPH requirements.  Such courses will be specified at the time of admission into the program (see below for Prerequisite Coursework).

Admission Assessment

For fullest consideration of admission and financial awards, applications need to be completed by January 10.  This deadline is especially important for applicants who want to be considered for assistantships or for fellowship opportunities.  Applications completed after January 10 but by March 15 will be reviewed, and decisions regarding admission made on a space-available basis.

Prerequisite Coursework

Students who graduated with an MPH or MSPH degree from a CEPH accredited program or school are assumed to have met the required prerequisite foundation courses. Students entering with a master’s degree in a field other than public health must complete the Required Prerequisite Foundation courses in Public Health in the first year of starting the program in consultation with the Ph.D. Director and/or Advisor. These prerequisite foundation course credits do not count toward the 63 credit hours required for the Ph.D.

Degree Requirements

This degree program requires 63 post-master’s credit hours.  All coursework must be taken at the 6000-level or above.  The majority of the courses are at the 8000-level.

Specialty Content Courses (9 credit hours)

Specialty content areas are developed in consultation with the doctoral student’s advisor and make use of expertise and course offerings on the UNC Charlotte campus. Specialty content areas can focus on a specific population (e.g., older adults/gerontology or maternal and child health (MCH)), a health issue (e.g., AIDS), or approach (e.g., psychology).  A specialty content area should cover literature related to: health and social policy issues, epidemiology of a health condition/population, relevant theories or approaches related to the condition/population, and/or current topics in the area. Coursework must be at the 6000-8000 level.

Dissertation Courses (18 credit hours)

Degree Total = 63 Credit Hours

Grade Requirements

Students must maintain a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) in all coursework taken in the program. An accumulation of 2 C grades will result in suspension of enrollment in the doctoral program.

A grade of U or N constitutes an automatic termination of enrollment. Students who do not pass the qualifying exam, the dissertation proposal defense, or the final dissertation defense are automatically terminated from the program.

Transfer Credit

The UNC Charlotte Graduate School stipulates that students may transfer up to 30 graduate level credit hours from a regionally accredited university toward a doctoral degree.  This Ph.D. program limits master’s level transfer credits to at most 6 credit hours.  Master’s level transfer credits will be considered only toward Specialty Content courses, the Ethics Seminar (HLTH 8601 ), and the Measurement course (HLTH 8281 ).  The Ph.D. Program Director, in conjunction with Program Faculty, approves graduate level transfer credits.  Students must apply for transfer of graduate levels courses within the first year of enrollment, or within one semester following completion of the course if taken during the Ph.D. program.  Only courses in which the student earned a grade of B or above (or its equivalent) may be transferred.

Students transferring from another doctoral program can transfer up to 30 credit hours (with not more than 6 at the master’s level) upon approval of the Ph.D. Program Director.  Credit for dissertation research cannot be transferred.

Courses taken to fulfill the master’s level prerequisite public health courses do not count toward the 63 credit hour total.


Exceptionally qualified full-time students may be offered graduate assistantships.  Award of the assistantship follows the guidelines of the Graduate School and is dependent on availability of funds.

Comprehensive Exam and Advancing to Candidacy

The comprehensive exam includes a written and an oral component and serves as the qualifying exam.  As detailed more fully in the Public Health Sciences Ph.D. Student Handbook, all Ph.D. students must pass a comprehensive exam after completing the core methods, concentration, and specialty content courses, and prior to the dissertation proposal defense, typically after year two of full-time coursework.  Students must take the exam within 12 months of finishing all of the required coursework. 

The exam consists of three sections: 1) Concentration; 2) Methods; and 3) Specialty Content area.  The oral exam provides an opportunity for the student to further elaborate on written exam responses and demonstrate mastery of the core competencies.  Students may not defend their dissertation proposal until they have successfully passed all components of the comprehensive exam.

The specific procedures for grading the exam are detailed in the Student Handbook for the year in which the exam is taken.


The dissertation is an original research project conceived, conducted, analyzed, and interpreted by the student to demonstrate expertise in her/his concentration and chosen specialty area as it relates to public health.  The research must make a distinct, original contribution to the field of public health research.  Students cannot register for dissertation credits until they have passed their comprehensive examination.  Students must complete a minimum of 18 credit hours of dissertation research activity.  Per University policy, students must be continuously enrolled in dissertation credit hours beginning with the semester after the dissertation topic proposal is approved, through and including the semester of graduation.  Guidelines for selecting a Dissertation Chair and Committee Members are provided in detail in the Public Health Sciences Ph.D. Student Handbook.  The dissertation consists of three phases: the proposal defense, research, and the final dissertation defense.

In conjunction with the Dissertation Committee, students agree on the dissertation topic and indicate their preferred dissertation format - either the “traditional” 5-chapter model or the 3-manuscript model.  The dissertation proposal consists of three chapters:  1) introduction to the problem including the importance of the problem, significance of the proposed research, the research question and hypotheses; 2) conceptual model and literature review; and 3) a detailed methods section including sampling, recruitment, measures, data analysis, and limitations.  With the guidance of the Dissertation Chair, students work with each committee member individually to develop the scope and direction of the dissertation.  Students provide the overall idea for the dissertation including major concepts to be investigated, measures to be used, and strategy for primary or secondary data analysis.  The dissertation topic proposal must be defended at a meeting of the student’s advisory/dissertation committee.

The dissertation defense is scheduled when the Dissertation Chair and the student concur that the student has a final product that meets with initial committee member approval.  The outcome of the exam is pass or fail.  Details regarding development of the dissertation proposal, proposal defense, conducting the dissertation research, and dissertation defense are available in the Public Health Sciences Ph.D. Student Handbook

Program Progress

Doctoral students and candidates are evaluated annually to ensure that they are making sufficient progress to complete the degree in a timely manner. This evaluation is especially important during the dissertation process when students have less programmatic interaction and structure as they work more independently conducting their dissertation research. Each year students complete a checklist of scholarly activities and submit their curriculum vitae. Please consult the Public Health Sciences Ph.D. Student Handbook for further details.

Time Limits for Completion

Students must pass all sections of the comprehensive exam within 1 year of finishing their required coursework.  Students may not defend their dissertation proposal before passing all components of the comprehensive exam.  Students must pass their dissertation proposal defense within 6 months of passing the comprehensive exam.  Students must pass their dissertation defense within 5 years of the proposal defense, but not later than the end of their 8th year following matriculation as a doctoral student.  Students must complete their degree, including the dissertation, within 8 years of first registering as a doctoral student.

Residency Requirement

Residency requirements for the program include completing 21 hours of continuous enrollment, either as coursework or dissertation credits. Residence is considered to be continuous if the student is enrolled in one or more courses in successive semesters until 21 hours are earned.