Public Health Certificate Program

The PHCP is available to graduate students enrolled in a PhD (doctoral) program in Biomedical Sciences (BGS) or related fields like Biology, Chemistry, and Bioengineering.

The Public Health Certificate Program (PHCP) offers highly motivated, well-qualified doctoral candidates an opportunity to experience the relationship between public health and biomedical research. Public health can be defined as "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting physical health and efficiency" (E.A. Winslow, 1920). Public health relies on a variety of disciplines, but the foundation is biomedical research, whose fundamental goal is to acquire new knowledge about living things in order to help us understand how to treat diseases and improve health, with the ultimate goal of improving the public’s health.

PHCP produces scientists who can think about the "big picture": how biomedical research directly impacts public health. PHCP students learn population-based approaches and applications as they are also gaining expertise in molecular, cellular, biochemical sciences, biology, chemistry or bioengineering. This two-pronged approach prepares students for broad roles in academic, industrial, and government research.

PHCP provides supplemental training through three mechanisms: formal course work in public health, a bi-monthly PHCP seminar series, and a public health research experience. PHCP students interact with MPH faculty, as well as Penn's public health community through the Center for Public Health Initiatives (CPHI).

The program details are outlined below. For more information, contact Dr. Hillary Nelson,


BGS applicants should click here. Non-BGS applicants can apply to PHCP as soon as they have been admitted to their doctoral program, preferably before the start of their first semester but certainly no later than the end of their first year.

Applications include:

  • One-page personal statement that reflects their interest in public health and how PHCP will enhance their doctoral training
  • Resume or CV
  • Transcript
  • Letter of permission from their graduate group or department

Completed applications should be sent to

PHCP Training

PHCP Training includes: Formal coursework, PHCP seminar series, and a public health project.

Formal Coursework

PHCP students will take two public health courses in addition to their graduate/ doctoral coursework. Students will complete most of the formal coursework during the first and second years of graduate school. In some cases, this may result in a student taking five credits plus a lab rotation in one or more semesters. Students in PHCP should expect to graduate within the expected time for their program.

Required Coursework:

  • Intro to Principles and Methods of Epidemiology (PUBH502)
  • Biostatistics:
    • Students can fulfill a biostatistics requirement in several ways: (i) demonstrating previous training in biostatistics; (ii) taking BIOM520/521, a BGS statistics course offered in the summer; (iii) taking PUBH501 (Biostatistics); or (iv) another biostatistics course with advice from faculty advisors.

Elective Courses (choose three credit units (CU)):

  • Introduction to Public Health (PUBH500)
    • An introductory course is strongly recommended for PHCP students who have no prior experience and/or coursework in public health.
  • Issues in Global Health (PUBH519)
  • Environmental and Occupational Health (PUBH503)
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health (PUBH504)
  • Public Health Policy and Health Administration (PUBH505)
  • Public Health Law, Ethics, and Policy (PUBH507)
  • Alternative MPH electives with the advice of PHCP faculty directors (See our course listings)
    • Note: Other public health courses across the University may be counted as electives, to be determined on a case-by-case basis with the permission of PHCP faculty directors
  • Independent Study in Public Health (PUBH599)
    • Up to one CU, with a primary focus on the PHCP Public Health Project

PHCP Seminar Series

A seminal part of the PHCP program is the bi-monthly seminar series that brings in speakers from Penn and elsewhere to talk about their research and careers linking biomedical research and public health. This is also the forum in which PHCP students present progress reports and their final presentation on their public health project. Attendance is required for all PHCP students. In recognition of attendance and participation, students will receive credit for one semester (1 CU) of PUBH 590 during their fourth or fifth year.

Public Health Project

PHCP students are expected to complete a short-term public health research project or independent study. Ideally, this project will focus on a question related to their PhD thesis, but that is not a requirement. Students can choose a public health advisor from the MPH faculty or they can substitute an alternative advisor with the permission of PHCP faculty directors. As discussed above, students will present their final project at the PHCP seminar series.


Faculty Co-Directors

Dr. Mike Levy

Dr. Hillary Nelson


Sara Forrest

You can find current student profiles here.