2017-18 Doctor of Public Health Handbook

Penn State’s public health program aims to advance theory and practice that prepare future public health leaders, improve population health, and reduce health disparities – across Pennsylvania’s communities, the nation, and the world – through excellence in education, research, and service.

Faculty in the Penn State Public Health Program should seek to positively influence and inspire lifelong learning in their students through encouragement of student engagement in learning by serving as practitioners, educators and role models. Faculty should regularly participate in faculty development assessments and activities in order to learn and implement additional educational methods that improve student learning opportunities. Faculty and students should continually develop relationships with community organizations, regionally and globally, to foster engagement and practice-based educational opportunities. Students should take a leadership role for their own active learning in order to become independent critical thinkers both inside and outside of the classroom. Administration should continue to support flexibility and autonomy for faculty educational and student learning styles.

The current handbook for the Doctor of Public Health program appears below. Students in earlier years of the DrPH program should consult their handbook from matriculation or contact the program office for details.

Jump to topic

Search

General Information

Statement of Values Expand answer

The Penn State Public Health Program will instill in its students several values.

Students completing degree programs should embody the following:

Leadership

  • Competent leaders with skills in evidence-based public health practice and research
  • Mediators of diverse partnerships, who communicate across a range of sectors and settings, synthesize findings, and generate practice-based evidence

Science

  • Builders of evidence designed to improve health of communities and populations
  • Translators of evidence into reducing health disparities

Collaboration

  • Valuable partners in public health promotion with non-profit, governmental and/or commercial stakeholders
  • Team members in multi-disciplinary teams

Social Responsibility

  • Promoters of respect, fairness and equity
  • Thoughtful practitioners with an understanding of the social, economic and environmental complexity of disease etiology and prevention

Professionalism

  • Examples of effective leadership using evidence-based practice
  • Promoters of ethical public health practice within the discipline and related disciplines

Health and Wellness

  • Effective translators of scientific evidence to policy and law
  • Practitioners in prevention and intervention programs that improve the public’s health

Diversity

  • Facilitators of diversity across the educational, research and service environments
  • Builders of a culturally sensitive and competent workforce
DrPH Program Leadership Philosophy Expand answer

The Penn State DrPH Program encourages its students to effectively lead teams through exhibiting transformational and situational leadership attributes through its curriculum, extracurricular offerings and field experience opportunities.

Transformational leaders identify needed change, create a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and execute the change with the commitment of their teams.

Transforming leaders serve their teams by setting an example of working towards the benefit of the team, organization and/or community (Bass and Bass, 2008). Situational leaders seek to enhance the maturity of the team from dependence to independence. In this style of leadership, the leader changes from a “telling” style in which team members are dependent on specific tasks to a “delegating” style in which the responsibility for completing a task is given to a team member trusted with an area of responsibility rather than a specific task. In this model,
team members gain confidence and learn how to become leaders within their own areas of responsibility (Hersey, Blanchard and Johnson, 2007).

Learn more about this at teamscience.nih.gov.

Graduate Student Oath Expand answer

DrPH students are expected to uphold the Graduate Student Oath of Penn State College of Medicine.

Contact Information Expand answer

PHS Contacts for Students

College Contacts for Students

Crisis Services Expand answer

Students experiencing an acute crisis should go or be taken to the Emergency Department and/or call 911.

Penn State College of Medicine offers professional counseling services to all graduate students at this campus. These services include counseling for personal and academic difficulties. There is NO COST to students who use these services and all records are confidential. The records are NOT part of a student’s academic record. They are treated as health records and are therefore protected under federal law from being disclosed without a student’s permission.

Learn more about student mental health and counseling services.

Feedback and Reporting Expand answer

The DrPH program greatly values the opinions of our students. We strongly encourage students to provide feedback on any issues, concerns, or helpful program components that they encounter during their time in the DrPH program.

The sooner you let us know of a concern, the sooner we can address it. For this reason, students are encouraged to report any issues as soon as they arise. These issues can be reported in person to any member of our faculty or staff. Students can also report incidents online. Two online reporting systems exist for this purpose. They are described in more detail below.

To Leave Feedback about Public Health Sciences (PHS)

If you are a Public Health Sciences student, please share your thoughts with us relating to the program’s curriculum, resources, advising, teaching and facilities.

To provide feedback on the DrPH program, use this online form.

To Report Mistreatment Within the College of Medicine

Mistreatment, as defined in the Penn State College of Medicine Student Handbook, arises when behavior shows disrespect for the dignity of others and unreasonably interferes with the learning process. This could include behaviors performed by faculty, nurses, residents/interns, other institution employees, staff or other students.

Your well-being is important to us. If you are a student, who wants to report mistreatment within the College of Medicine, please file a report through the Office for Respect in Student Learning. Their reporting process is entirely independent of the Department of Public Health Sciences (PHS), though PHS will be informed of any reports related to our programs.

To report mistreatment, use this online form.

Academics

Academic Integrity Expand answer

“Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at The Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. Consistent with this expectation, the University’s Code of Conduct states that all students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts.

Academic integrity includes a commitment by all members of the University community not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others.”

From Penn State’s University Faculty Senate Policy 49-20

Examples of Academic Dishonesty

  • Plagiarism
  • Cheating on a test
  • Buying/selling a paper
  • Having someone take a test for you
  • Taking a test for someone else
  • Unauthorized possession of a test
  • Submitting work previously used without permission
  • Unauthorized collaboration
  • Fabrication of citations

Academic integrity is taken very seriously in the Penn State MPH program. All instances of academic dishonesty in the MPH program will be reported through the official Penn State process. This process and the potential consequences of academic dishonesty are briefly outlined here.

When Academic Dishonesty is Suspected

  • The faculty member informs the student of the allegation and provides the student an opportunity to respond.
  • When evidence suggests that an academic misconduct has occurred, the faculty member will enter a charge and academic sanction on an Academic Integrity (AI) form.
  • The student will have the choice to accept or contest the charge. If the student fails to sign the AI form by a specified deadline, the charge and sanction will go into effect.
  • In some cases, if the academic violation is considered extreme, the faculty member may also opt to pursue a disciplinary action in conjunction with both the AI Committee and Office of Student Conduct (OSC).
  • In situations where the allegation is referred to the OSC, the academic sanctions will be carried out by OSC in consultation with the campus or college Academic Integrity Committee.
  • Once a student has been informed that academic dishonesty is suspected, the student may not drop the course during the adjudication process. A student who has received an academic sanction as a result of a violation of academic integrity may not drop or withdraw from the course at any time. Any such drop action of the course will be reversed.

Consequences for Violations of Academic Integrity

Academic dishonesty cases which result in academic sanctions only will not be reported out to others with the exception of when a subsequent academic dishonesty violation occurs. When an academic dishonesty case results in disciplinary action assigned by the OSC Designee, the charge and sanction become part of the student’s record which will be reported out following the guidelines outlined in our records policy.

Academic Sanctions

  • Redo Assignment
  • Warning
  • Reduced Grade for Assignment
  • “0” for Assignment
  • Reduced Grade for Course
  • Failing Grade for Course
  • Dismissal from Academic Program

Disciplinary Sanctions

  • “XF” – A notation that is placed on a student’s transcript for a period of time, or until specified conditions have been met. At that time, the “X” will be removed and the “F” will remain on the transcript. The notation is reserved for the most serious breaches of academic integrity which may include repeat misconduct.
  • Educational Programs
  • Disciplinary Warning
  • Disciplinary Probation
  • Disciplinary Probation with Transcript Notation
  • Disciplinary Suspension
Cognitive Skills Program Expand answer

The Cognitive Skills Program (CSP) provides comprehensive cognitive skills development and learning support to medical, graduate, and physician assistant students on the Hershey campus of Penn State College of Medicine.

The CSP offers workshops, interactive learning sessions, and individual support for exploring content, processes and thinking skills to maximize student success. The CSP serves all students in the College of Medicine by providing programs to help promote effective and efficient lifelong learning.

In addition, remediation services are provided for students who are struggling academically.

Learn more about the Cognitive Skills Program.

Student Disability Resources Expand answer

Penn State College of Medicine is committed to diversity and inclusion and, out of that commitment, supports the success of students with disabilities in all aspects of the University’s educational programs.

Learn more about student disability services.

Scholarship and Research Integrity Expand answer

Scholarship and Research Integrity (SARI) is a mandatory research ethics training program that all Penn State University graduate students must complete prior to graduation.

Learn more about SARI Requirements here.

After completing the required CITI online training, PHS students are required to email a copy of your certificate of completion to Shannon Bowman-Tuininga at sbowman@phs.psu.edu.

General Timeline of Academic Program Expand answer

First Two Semesters

  • Meet with Administrative Advisor to prepare the DrPH Program Plan
  • Participate in New Student Orientation
  • Participate in the Graduate Student Oath Ceremony
  • Complete Safety, Human Subjects Protection and Child Abuse Prevention Training
  • Meet with Academic Advisor/ Integrative Doctoral Research (IDR) Committee Chair
  • Complete the DrPH Program Plan by end of first semester for approval by DrPH Executive Committee
  • Start Advanced Field Experience Planning by end of first year

Post-Core Courses

  • Register for and take Candidacy Exam in the semester after MPH (if applicable) and DrPH core course requirements are complete
  • Identify faculty members for DrPH Integrative Doctoral Research Committee
  • File appropriate signed IDR Doctoral Committee documents with the Public Health Program
  • All Advanced Field Experience forms approved by the DrPH Executive Committee
  • Any changes of track of study should be declared prior to the Candidacy Exam

Post-Candidacy

  • Completion of track and focused area of study courses
  • Recommended Course: PHS 896 – Individual Studies with IDR Committee Chair
  • File appropriate forms and register for and schedule Comprehensive Exam (written and oral portions)
  • Take Comprehensive Exam (“Comps”)
  • Advanced Field Experience

Post-Comps

  • File appropriate signed IDR documents for IDR Proposal Defense
  • Complete Integrative Doctoral Research Proposal Defense
  • Complete Integrative Doctoral Research portfolio
  • Complete Advanced Field Experience

Final Semester

  • Complete the Declare Intent to Graduate and relevant exit forms
  • File appropriate signed IDR documents for final IDR Defense
  • Successfully complete IDR Defense in front of IDR Committee
  • Complete all revisions and submit prior to semester deadlines – note these are early!
  • Obtain all committee signatures prior to the semester deadline
Program Plan Expand answer

The Penn State DrPH is a 60-credit professional degree program that provides advanced public health education and training to prepare its graduates for evidence-based practice and leadership in the application of translational science and implementation of research findings. Full time and part time enrollment is allowable. All students must complete the DrPH Core Courses and any MPH core requirement deficits identified upon admission to the program.

In addition to the Core Courses, students select one of three tracks in which to specialize:

  • Community and Behavioral Health
  • Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Health Systems Organization and Policy

In addition, students take 12 credits of focused study plan electives, Advanced Field Experience, and Integrative Doctoral Research.

DrPH Core Courses (24 credits)

  • PHS 575: Integrative Public Health Leadership – 3 credits – on College of Medicine campus in Hershey
  • PHS 577: Integrative Seminar in Social & Behavioral Determinants of Health – 3 credits – Hershey
  • PHS 576: Integrative Seminar in Public Health Policy – 3 credits – Hershey
  • PHS 554: Statistical Methods in Public Health I – 3 credits
  • PHS 555: Statistical Methods in Public Health II – 3 credits – Hershey
  • Qualitative Methods – ADTED 550: Qualitative Research Methodologies for Adult Education – 3 credits –
    Penn State Harrisburg
  • PHS 806: Public Health Ethics – 3 credits
  • PHS 892: Directed Studies in Public Health – 3 credits – Hershey

Track Courses

Students choose one track below.

  • Community and Behavioral Health – 9 credits
  • Epidemiology and Biostatistics – 9 credits
  • Health Systems Organization and Policy – 9 credits

Other Courses

  • General Electives (cognate) – 12 credits
  • PHS 895B Advanced Field Experience – 6 credits – Hershey
  • Integrative Doctoral Research – 9 credits – Hershey
    • 896A Integrative Doctoral Research I – 6 credits – Hershey
    • 896B Integrative Doctoral Research II – 3 credits – Hershey

Total credits: 60

Transfer Credits Expand answer

A maximum of 10 credits of high-quality graduate work done at a regionally accredited U.S. institution or an officially recognized degree-granting international institution may be applied toward the requirements for a master’s or doctoral degree. However, credits earned to complete a previous master’s degree, whether at Penn State or elsewhere, may not be applied to a second master’s or doctoral degree at Penn State.

Approval to apply any transferred credits toward a degree program must be granted by the student’s academic adviser, the program head or graduate officer, and the Graduate School. See more information through The Graduate School.

Non-Degree Students and Credit Transfer Expand answer

Students wanting to take courses within the DrPH Program as a non-degree student must seek permission to do so from the Program Director. Prior to approval, a student must submit a CV, GRE Scores and all prior academic transcripts to the DRPH Director of Admissions for review.

If approved, a student must then register as a non-degree student and seek course selection advisement from a DrPH Administrative Advisor. Please note that non-degree student status approval by the DrPH Program does not guarantee admission into the DrPH Program.

Approval to apply non-degree and certificate graduate credits toward a degree program must be granted by the student’s academic adviser, the program head or graduate officer, and the Graduate School. A maximum of 15 credits earned as a non-degree student or as a certificate student prior to being accepted into a degree program may be applied to a degree program. See details through The Graduate School.

Course Progression Example Expand answer

This course progression example is intended to reflect a full-time student’s coursework and timing of Candidacy Exam, Comprehensive Exam, IDR Proposal Defense and Final IDR Research Defense. Timing of exams may vary, subject to limitations. Part-time enrollment is allowable.

Fall 1

  • PHS 575 Integrative Public Health Leadership
  • PHS 554 Statistical Methods in Public Health I
  • PHS 806: Public Health Ethics

Spring 1

  • PHS 577 Integrative Seminar in Social & Behavioral Determinants of Health
  • PHS 555 Statistical Methods in Public Health II
  • PHS 576 Integrative Seminar in Public Health Policy Fall 2

Fall 2

  • PHS 892 Directed Studies in Public Health
  • ADTED 550 Qualitative Research Methods
  • Focused Study Plan Elective 1 of 4

Spring 2

  • Track Elective 1 of 3
  • Track Elective 2 of 3
  • Advanced Field Experience 1 of 2
  • Candidacy Exam (timing/number of credits may change)

Fall 3

  • Track Elective 3 of 3
  • Focused Study Plan Elective 2 of 4
  • Focused Study Plan Elective 3 of 4

Spring 3

  • Comprehensive Exam
  • Focused Study Plan Elective 4 of 4
  • Advanced Field Experience 2 of 2
  • PHS 896A Integrative Doctoral Research 1 of 2

Fall 4

  • PHS 896A Integrative Doctoral Research 2 of 2
  • PHS 896B Integrative Doctoral Research
  • Integrative Doctoral Research Proposal Defense

Spring 4

  • Final Integrative Doctoral Research Defense
Declaring a Track Expand answer

All students declare a track in which to specialize:

  • Community and Behavioral Health
  • Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Health Systems Organization and Policy

Students are asked to identify a preferred track in the application for admission, and the track selected will likely dictate course sequences – course registration and order – through the duration of the DrPH program. As necessary, any changes of track of study should be declared prior to or immediately after the Candidacy Exam.

Track Electives: Health Systems Organization and Policy

  • H ADM 551: Health Care Law
  • HPA 503: Health Services Organization Behavior
  • HPA 545: Introduction to Health Economics
  • P ADM 535: Policy Analysis and Planning
  • P ADM 550: Policy and Program Evaluation
  • P ADM 558: Legislative Processes
  • P ADM 571 Seminar in Organizational Theory
  • P ADM 573: Research and Theory in Public Policy and Governance
  • PHS 573: Advanced Public Health Policy Analysis
  • PHS 896: Individual Studies

Track Electives: Community and Behavioral Health

  • CMPSY 500: Theories and Issues in Community Psychology
  • CMPSY 510: Change Processes
  • CN ED 843 (S PSY 843): Prevention Strategies and Programming
  • HLHED 553: Multicultural Health Issues
  • HLHED 552: Current Health Education Issues
  • HLHED 501: World Health Promotion
  • HPA 526: Health Disparities
  • PHS 531: Public Health Perspectives of Women’s Health
  • PHS 574: Advanced Methods in Clinical and Public Health Intervention Design
  • PHP 558: Disaster Psychology
  • PHS 578: Advanced Integrative Seminar in Public Health Leadership
  • PHS 896: Individual Studies

Track Electives: Epidemiology and Biostatistics

  • HPA 523: Managerial Epidemiology
  • HPA 528: Health Data Analysis for Research
  • HPA 540: Epidemiological Applications in Health Services Research
  • PHS 524: Longitudinal Data Analysis
  • PHS 527: Survival Analysis
  • PHS 552: Molecular Epidemiology of Chronic Disease
  • PHS 553: Infectious Disease Epidemiology
  • PHS 535: Quality of Care Measurement
  • SOC 575: Statistical Modeling for Nonexperimental Research
  • PHS 896: Individual Studies

Note: Track electives listed here do not represent an exhaustive list. Students may substitute other applicable courses with the approval of their Administrative Advisor.

Advising Expand answer

All Penn State Doctor of Public Health (DRPH) students have two advisors: an administrative advisor and an academic advisor.

Administrative advisors and academic advisors have different roles in the DrPH program. However, in general, both the administrative advisor and academic advisor are relied upon to provide expertise as a mentor to students. Successful mentors will continue to provide valuable career advice to students even after they have graduated.

Administrative Advisor

Prior to the first semester, students are assigned an administrative advisor. Administrative advisors are designated Penn State DrPH Program Executive Committee faculty members. Students meet with the administrative advisor within their first semester or before in order to complete the DrPH Plan of Study form and file it with the DrPH Program. Administrative advisors serve as a liaison between the student, other faculty, and the administration. As part of the leadership skills required as part of the DrPH degree, DrPH students must develop advanced competencies in clear communication and problem-solving. As such, if problems arise, DrPH students will be expected to investigate and identify what they see as the possible ways to address the problem and presenting these solutions to the administrative advisor in order to receive further guidance. Demonstrating leadership skills both in and out of the classroom is of key importance for DrPH students. DrPH students are responsible for maintaining and following their own Plan of Study on file and completing amendments to this plan in consultation with their administrative and academic advisors.

Academic Advisor/Integrative Doctoral Research (IDR) Committee Chair

Within the first year, students will identify and be matched with an academic advisor, with assistance of the administrative advisor. Ideally, this faculty member’s research expertise should be in alignment with the student’s research focus area and will be willing to serve as the IDR Committee Chair. Prior to applying to the program, students are strongly encouraged to identify faculty that they are interested to work with. In most cases, the IDR Chair must be a member of the DrPH Program Faculty and a Graduate Faculty member. The role of the IDR Chair is to mentor students in academic, research and career choices. In partnership with the DrPH Director of Educational Advancement, the IDR Chair will assist the student in completing their DrPH Program Plan within the first semester of courses. The IDR Chair may also choose to serve as the course director for PHS 896 Individual Studies in which the IDR Chair assists the student with preparatory materials for the DrPH Comprehensive Exam. In partnership with the DrPH Director of Public Health Practice, the IDR Chair may also help students identify an Advanced Field Experience location(s) which will ideally position the student well to complete their IDR project. The IDR Chair will help the student identify other faculty members to serve on of the IDR Committee.

DrPH students should distinguish themselves by setting clear goals and timelines with their IDR Committee Chair at every meeting. For the Advanced Field Experience, DrPH Portfolio, and two required manuscripts, DrPH students are expected to set their own timelines, with clearly stated goals at each time period. The IDR Committee Chair provides guidance and approves the final project timeline. However, students should demonstrate that they can direct and manage their own projects efficiently and on time. The IDR Chair is not responsible to set up the IDR Committee—this is an important aspect of leadership and DrPH students must communicate with potential faculty and complete these kinds of tasks on their own.

Student Ombudsperson

The College of Medicine has an ombudsperson for medical and graduate students. The role of an ombudsperson is to enhance communication and clarify possible misunderstandings in situations which involve potential disputes, to advise as to appropriate courses of action, and to help settle matters before they become hardened into serious disputes. See student ombudspersons here.

Competencies Expand answer

The Penn State DrPH Program is competency-based. Competencies are the skills that students should have through successful completion of the program. Two types of competencies are built through the program:

  • Core Competencies: The skills that all DRPH students should build through the degree program. This category includes competencies in each of the five core areas of public health. It also includes cross-cutting areas that are relevant to all public health professionals regardless of core area or specialization.
  • Track Competencies: The skills that students in a specific track should build.

Core competencies are primarily gained in the core curriculum. Track competencies are primarily gained in the track-specific courses. To clearly communicate expectations to students, each DrPH course syllabus will present the competency or competencies that will be gained through the course, along with the assignment(s) that will be used to assess the student’s proficiency in the given competency or competencies.

Because Penn State’s DrPH Program is competency-based, students should be aware that while all core competencies are met by core courses, track-specific competencies are met only with various combinations of track elective courses. There are various combinations of courses available, but not all combinations of track electives meet the track-specific competencies. Students should take note that their plan of study will not be approved if the combination of track courses that they select do not meet all track-specific competencies.

See all core and track-specific competencies

Core Curriculum Expand answer

The DrPH Core Curriculum comprises 24 credits and provides knowledge and skills in leadership, analysis and policy. Prior to their Candidacy Exam, students are expected to have completed the core DrPH curriculum as well as have already attained a master’s-level competency in the five core areas of public health (biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health services administration, and social and behavioral sciences).

Core Courses

Integrative Public Health Leadership (PHS 575, 3 credits)
Public Health Leadership is at the core of the DrPH core competency model of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). This course examines the dynamic nature of leadership in the public health sector. It will introduce students to major theories and concepts of leadership and ways to apply these to public health issues requiring leadership. Helping to lay the foundation for issues in other DrPH public health courses, topics will include major theories and models of leadership, leadership competencies, current public health issues and challenges, ethical issues in leadership, and approaches to leadership at the team, organizational and community level. The aims of this course include the education of public health leaders in communication, strategic planning, and decision-making skills and capabilities that are necessary for the creation of a sound, efficacious, and ethical organizational culture both inside and outside the classroom.

Integrative Seminar in Social & Behavioral Determinants of Health (PHS 577, 3 credits)
Within a DrPH program, it is important to “train future leaders of public health practice to direct and advance societal efforts that address socially rooted causes of health and illness” (Northridge & Healton, 2012, p. 17). This seminar examines in depth the contribution of multiple determinants of population health, including social, environmental, and behavioral factors, as well as the types of interventions and policy initiatives that could improve population health and reduce health disparities. Topics to be covered include theories of multiple determinants of health; the importance of sociocultural and community context; research on the relative impact of multiple determinants of health; the extent and causes of persistent health disparities; mechanisms by which sociocultural factors get “into the body;” approaches to disease prevention involving behavior change and community engagement; linkages between prevention approaches and the health care delivery system; and evidence for effective interventions and policy initiatives to improve population health. Students will gain a deeper understanding of public health perspectives and initiatives, in the United States and globally, to improve population health by focusing on modifying social and behavioral determinants. The course will be structured as an advanced seminar to allow for student facilitation of discussions and active exchange of ideas.

Integrative Seminar in Public Health Policy (PHS 576, 3 credits)
This course will provide training in the analysis, planning, and advocacy of effective public health policy at the institutional, local, state, and federal levels. Students will learn to identify and apply existing multi-disciplinary research in economics, finance, sociology, epidemiology and political science through the review of major public health case studies in order to develop research policy briefs, policy memoranda, and other means of effective communication. Learning about planning and effective health policy at federal, state, local, national and international levels, students will also be provided with a historical context of various governmental institutions related to health policy as well as the functioning of private and not- for profit health related organizations, and their impact on population health (both de facto and de jure) – related to policy, administration, and education and research. Students will learn through didactic and situational learning methods. Students will work with policy stakeholders in at least one organization or agency in order to analyze, propose and debate public health policy options. The students’ experience in this course will culminate with a term manuscript on a comparative international public health policy issue to be completed in consultation with stakeholders at either an institutional, local, state, national or international level.

PHS 806: Public Health Ethics (3 credits)
According to the ASPPH, professionalism and ethics are “the ability to identify and analyze an ethical issue; balance the claims of personal liberty with the responsibility to protect and improve the health of the population; and act on the ethical concepts of social justice and human rights in public health research and practice” (ASPPH, 2009). Applied Public Health Ethics will introduce students to the tenets that apply to health care delivery, experimentation, research and human behavior as guided by principles developed over time to apply to government over sight of public health. Many of these principles are the results of specific cases or phenomena that have arisen over time and led to social interventions as a result. The course will look at several seminal events and the ethical principles derived from them. In many cases, principles are still being debated and the lines between ethical and unethical behavior drawn. The course will examine differences between morals, ethics and laws, as well as the consequences of violating them. As scientific research grows in size and complexity, new principles will be needed. Students will also demonstrate a sound sense of scholarship and research integrity (SARI) by participating in ongoing discussions about Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). How should these be formulated by concerned and caring individuals? The course will give some answer. We will use readings, videos, guest presentations, case studies debate and analysis to accomplish this.

Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
It is important for DrPH graduates to have contextually-grounded research and practice-relevant skills including program evaluation, data acquisition, analysis, interpretation, translation, and dissemination (Calhoun, 2012). DrPH students will be competent in quantitative and qualitative data collection, analysis, and interpretation and gain advanced research expertise to perform and evaluate the performance and impact of evidence-based public health practice. At a minimum, methods courses will include two quantitative courses and one qualitative course.

Statistical Methods in Public Health I (PHS 554, 3 credits)
This course covers the biostatistical aspects of design and analysis in epidemiological (observational) studies. Students are expected to understand the basic research principles of epidemiological studies, and be able to collaborate with researchers on the design and analysis of such studies. This is a course on biostatistical methods in the design and analysis of epidemiological studies. The course addresses design issues with respect to basic epidemiological (observational) studies, such as case-control, cohort, and cross-sectional studies; and more complex studies, such as nested case-control, case-cohort, and case-crossover designs. Next, the course develops basic statistical inference for risk measures according to the nature of the outcome variables (binary and ordinal, continuous, rate, time-to-event). Confounding and interaction issues are discussed, along with statistical methods for handling them, such as stratification, standardization, and matching. More advanced methods are described based on multiple regression models that are specific to the outcome variables. Finally, computer-intensive analyses are considered, such as bootstrapping, permutation tests, and multiple imputations for missing data.

Statistical Methods in Public Health II (PHS 555, 3 credits)
This course will focus on methodologies surrounding randomized clinical trials. The first section is intended to provide an overview including topical areas such as eligibility criteria, Phase, I, II, III, and IV trials, blinding/masking and randomization, control groups, and Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statements, among others. The second section of this course focuses on ethical issues, clinical research questions and outcome variables, randomization, sample size calculations, non-inferiority and equivalence study designs, factorial study designs, and crossover study designs. Students will be introduced to the basic theory of survival analysis and will be able to apply their knowledge in order to analyze longitudinal data. The last section of this course addresses linear mixed-effects models for longitudinal data analysis of continuous outcomes, generalized linear mixed-effects models for the longitudinal data analysis of binary, event rate, and other outcomes from the exponential family of distributions, nonlinear mixed-effects models, bioequivalence trials, adaptive designs in Phase II and III clinical trials, cluster randomized trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses, N-of-1 trials, and methods associated with medical diagnostic testing. This course will also provide a forum for graduate students to develop their own hypotheses and projects within an environment of which values the positive, open exchange of ideas. Elementary knowledge of statistical theory and methods from the entry-level course in biostatistics in addition to basic skills in computer programing with MatLab, SAS, R, or any statistical language supported by the course instructors, will be required.

Qualitative Research Methodologies for Adult Education (ATED 550, 3 credits)
This course is offered at Penn State Harrisburg. This graduate level course is designed to provide participants with an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of different types of qualitative research in education, the social sciences, and in related areas. Some of these strands include basic interpretive research, narrative inquiry, phenomenological qualitative studies, ethnography, and qualitative action research. It also provides students with some practical experience in actually doing qualitative or action research, by conducting a pilot study of an individual or collaborative inquiry project. The first part of the course focuses on qualitative research design in light of the purpose of a particular study and its research questions. The second part of the class will focus more on the practice of qualitative and action research including the collection and analysis of data and the writing of the inquiry report.

Other methods courses may be selected based on developing skills needed to undertake integrative doctoral research.

Directed Studies in Public Health (PHS 892, 3 credits)
The purpose of this course is to engage students in developing their publishable manuscripts and DrPH portfolio. Students will develop a better understanding of how to design, conduct and evaluate research. This will include reviewing and practicing processes for developing a purpose statement, rationale, theoretical/conceptual framework, and a plan for the implementation of a research design for publishable manuscripts. Students will demonstrate a sound sense of scholarship and research integrity (SARI) by participating in ongoing discussions about Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). Students will also participate in readings and discussions that reflect on their courses, advanced field experience, and other experiential learning as they have informed their leadership style and approach to integrating evidence-based research into public health practice. This seminar-type course is explicitly designed not only to clarify students’ research questions for manuscripts, leadership style, and translating public health research to practice, but also to provide co-learning opportunities in which critical reflections and constructive feedback can be exchanged.

All core DrPH courses are offered at the Penn State College of Medicine campus in Hershey, PA, with the exception of ADTED 550 Qualitative Research Methodologies for Adult Education, and some ethics courses offered at Penn State Harrisburg, nine miles from the Hershey campus. Courses available at other campuses (e.g., Harrisburg and University Park) may be taken as electives within the DrPH students’ planned area of focus. Students may but will not be required to take courses at all five regional Penn State campuses.

Focused Study Track Electives Expand answer

Students develop a focused study plan with a DrPH faculty advisor for 9 credits of additional coursework in their respective tracks in the following areas (but not limited to): health policy, health services administration, public health policy and law, community health, social and behavioral health, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, occupational health, health disparities, maternal and child health, evaluation, qualitative methodologies, public health ethics, social marketing and behavior, economics of public health interventions, health communication, nutrition, global health, advanced public health leadership, public health preparedness and emergency response, aging research, cancer epidemiology, prevention and control, evidence-based intervention design and evaluation, tobacco regulatory research, and women’s health.

Track electives must be approved by each student’s Administrative Advisor.

Areas of Specialization Expand answer

Students develop a focused study plan with a DrPH faculty advisor for 12 credits of additional coursework in areas such as (but not limited to):

  • Advanced Leadership
  • Aging Research
  • Cancer Epidemiology, Prevention & Control
  • Economics of Public Health Interventions
  • Evidence-Based Public Health Interventions
  • Global Health
  • Public Health Policy & Law
  • Public Health Preparedness & Emergency Response
  • Regulatory Science
  • Social Marketing and Behavior
  • Women’s Health

In addition, students will be required to complete six advanced field experience credits and nine IDR credits. Future program expansion may allow for other areas of emphasis drawing from other disciplines.

Students should be taking focused study electives that will also complement their Advanced Field Experience and inform their IDR project.

Students must receive approval of their DrPH Program Plan by the DrPH Executive Committee prior to taking any elective requirements. Failure to do so in advance may result in an unnecessary delay of graduation or taking additional courses. Students must receive Committee approval of their DrPH Program Plan a minimum of three months in advance of enrolling in an elective course. To be approved by the DrPH Program Executive Committee, an elective must meet at least one DRPH program competency. The DrPH competencies to be followed are those listed in the handbook in effect the year that the student joins the program. Later amendments to the competencies will not be applicable.

Global Health Certificate Expand answer

DrPH students may choose to pursue a Global Health Certificate as part of their DrPH studies with the advisement of their Administrative Advisor. The Certificate requires 12 credits that must be compatible with their program plan and total credits (60) of the DrPH degree.

See more about the Global Health Certificate here.

Program Extensions Expand answer

When the Candidacy Exam Has Been Completed

PSU Graduate Bulletin reads: “A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral thesis, within eight years from the date of successful completion of the candidacy evaluation. Individual programs may set shorter time limits” (p. 46). Accordingly, the Penn State Public Health Program adopts the following procedures for doctoral enrollees who wish to be reinstated, who have not completed their degree within the eight-year limit.

  • The student completes and submits a Resume Study form, and includes a current CV with her/his application.
  • A team of two graduate faculty members, appointed by the DrPH Program Coordinator, reviews the student’s application.
  • After reviewing the application the faculty team may, at its discretion, schedule a consultation with the student to gather additional information.
  • Based on the information gathered the faculty team makes one of the following a recommendations:
    • Reinstate Unconditionally: The student is allowed to resume study without having to take a second candidacy evaluation or to complete additional course work. Only students with exceptional scholarship, as demonstrated by publication record covering the previous 3 years, may be granted this option.
    • Reinstate Conditionally: The student is allowed to resume study on one or more of the following conditions:
      • The student is required to pass a second candidacy evaluation
      • The student is required to take additional course work, specified by the faculty team, and to maintain a 3.5 GPA in them.

When the Comprehensive Exam Has Been Completed

PSU Graduate Bulletin reads: “When a period of more than six years has elapsed between the passing of the comprehensive examination and the completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second comprehensive examination before the final oral examination [IDR defense] will be scheduled” (p. 49).

Accordingly, the Penn State Public Health Program adopts the following procedures for doctoral candidates who wish to be reinstated, who have not completed their IDR defense within the six year limit.

  • The student completes and submits a Resume Study form, and includes a current CV with the application.
  • A team of two faculty members, appointed by the DrPH Program Director, reviews the student’s application.
  • After reviewing the application the faculty team may, at its discretion, schedule a consultation with the student to gather additional information.
  • Based on the information gathered the faculty team makes one of the following a recommendations:
    • Reinstate Unconditionally: The student is allowed to resume her/his study without having to take a second comprehensive examination or to complete additional course work.
      Only students with exceptional scholarship, as demonstrated by publication record covering the previous three years, may be granted this option.
    • Reinstate Conditionally: The student is allowed to resume her/his study on one or more of the following conditions:
      • The student is required to pass a second comprehensive examination
      • The student is required to take additional course work, specified by the faculty team, and to maintain a 3.5 GPA in them.
Change of Degree or Major Expand answer

Students who are currently enrolled in a doctoral degree program at Penn State may apply to the DrPH Program by submitting an application packet which includes the following:

  • A completed “Resume Study/Change of Graduate Degree or Major” form, obtainable from the Public Health Program staff assistant
  • Transcripts
  • Test Scores
  • Writing Sample – such as a published article; master’s paper; master’s thesis; or a paper from your master studies – if submitting a paper from your master’s studies, this paper must be between 10-100 pages long
  • A statement of purpose describing the applicant’s short and long range career objectives. This statement includes an explanation of how the proposed study of adult education relates to the stated career objectives
  • Letters of recommendation – One of the letters must be from either your faculty advisor or faculty member from the program you are leaving, the other two letters may be from professional or academic references
  • A current vitae or resume

The application packet should be sent to:

DrPH Admissions Committee Chair
Penn State College of Medicine
Department of Public Health Sciences
90 Hope Drive, Suite 2200, A210
Hershey, PA 17033

Student Assessment Expand answer

Across the DrPH program, students’ mastery of the program’s competencies will be assessed. This assessment serves two purposes:

  • It helps students track their academic progress across the program.
  • It helps the DrPH program leadership determine the effectiveness of the DrPH program.

The assessment includes three main components. Each component is described below.

Student Self-Assessment of Core and Track-Specific Competencies

Four times before graduation:

  • Candidacy Exam (after core coursework)
  • Comprehensive Exam (after track electives completion)
  • Proposal Defense
  • Integrative Doctoral Research and Portfolio Defense

Also, during the Penn State College of Medicine Annual Review (see program staff assistant).

Faculty Committee Assessment of Students’ Mastery of Core and Track-Specific Competencies

Four times before graduation:

  • Candidacy Exam (after core coursework)
  • Comprehensive Exam (after track electives completion)
  • Proposal Defense
  • Integrative Doctoral Research and Portfolio Defense

Also, during the Penn State College of Medicine Annual Review (see program staff assistant).

Assessment of Student by Preceptor and Self through the Advanced Field Experience

Two times before graduation:

  • Mid-course through Advanced Field Experience
  • End of the Advanced Field Experience

At every milestone students defend academic knowledge and Penn State DrPH program competencies. The progress of each DrPH student will be reviewed annually by the program and the Graduate School. If it is determined that the student is not making satisfactory progress, then a plan of correction (learning contract action plan) may be required with specific timelines and deliverables. Failure to meet this commitment will cause the student’s record to be formally reviewed and a recommendation may be made by the Program Director for dismissal from the program.

DrPH Online Portfolio

Overview Expand answer

Development of students’ online DrPH Portfolio will begin on the first day of the program and will be built upon with every course, semester, and academic milestone students accomplish in the program.

The DrPH Portfolio is intended to:

  • provide a platform in which students may showcase their work using images and interactive content in unique ways that standard resumes and curriculum vitae do not allow
  • give students tools to promote their professional career both inside and outside of Penn State
  • provide evidence that DrPH competency goals are met as part of the Candidacy Exam, Integrative Doctoral Proposal Defenses, and Integrative Doctoral Research Final Defense

Students should exhibit professionalism and keep their DrPH portfolio up to date. Students will also be asked to provide important feedback on ways they think the DrPH Portfolio system may be improved in the future.

Portfolio development will include the following pieces:

  • Development of personal/professional profile
  • Development of work philosophy or mission statement and career goals
  • Contributions to research and manuscript development
  • Contributions to the community and service
  • Teaching experiences
  • Reflections on integration of research, teaching, and community service in relation to manuscript development
  • Reflections on translation of research into practice
  • Development of resume/CV
  • Identification of references
  • Inclusion of artifacts pertaining to formal and informal education and training
  • Inclusion of artifacts pertaining to data collection and analysis, communication, systems thinking, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and manuscript development
  • Reflection on in-class and out-of-class experiences
  • Other demonstration of students’ broad public health knowledge, specialized knowledge, translation of this knowledge into evidence-based public health practice, and leadership style
Portfolio Review Criteria Expand answer

The Portfolio is reviewed against the competencies at three levels: understanding, application, and synthesis, based generally on Bloom’s taxonomy for competency based learning.

  • Knowledge and Understanding gained through: (a) successful completion of coursework or formal trainings, and (b) exposure through active participation in work related activities, conferences, or volunteer work.
  • Application demonstrated through: (a) direct application of concepts/tools in a practice setting; (b) use of concepts or tools in analysis or evaluation of a practice example, e.g. serving as a reviewer on a grant proposal review committee, and; (c) making a presentation at a professional conference.
  • Synthesis demonstrated through the integrated use of concepts to: (a) create an original application model, tool or approach; (b) contribute to the evidence base of public health practice; or (c) appraise or critically review methods, practices, or paradigms in the field (e.g. serve as a lead instructor for a graduate level course on the subject matter).

Advanced Field Experience

Overview Expand answer

The Advanced Field Experience provides students with a unique opportunity to gain professional leadership experience by applying knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to real-world public health settings and public health issues.

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), the public health program accrediting agency, requires that each DrPH student be able to demonstrate the DrPH competencies through an advanced field experience. The professional development of a DrPH student is central to the academic experience. The structured involvement of the DrPH students in the community facilitates relevant, actionable translational research and is one differentiating feature of the DrPH from the PhD programs.

The Advanced Field Experience provides the opportunity for students to take on a significant professional challenge, to broaden their leadership perspective and to explore research and career interests. The Advanced Field Experience site preceptor will be an experienced public health professional with expertise in the assigned project areas, experience and status within the organization, and an interest and competence in supervising and mentoring. Practical knowledge and skills are essential to successful practice as public health professionals. Students will have the opportunity to develop and strengthen skills in public health concepts and demonstrate the application of these concepts through an AFE that is relevant to their area of concentration.

The AFE is intended to build upon both prior practice experience and the content of the DrPH Curriculum. It will incorporate higher level skills (policy development, epidemiologic analyses, program management, evaluation, teaching, etc.) compared with the MPH practicum experiences, although the settings may be similar. The principal objective of the AFE is to bridge the academic environment and the field of practice for the student. This objective is achieved by placing the student in a practice environment where he or she has the opportunity to utilize the knowledge and skills developed during the initial course of study to produce advanced-level
academic project work. The student’s AFE allows for the observation and participation in a public health environment and allows students to gain a better understanding of what to expect and what is expected of them after graduation. In addition, AFE activities and assignments are designed to meet individualized learning goals and skills, and to evaluate progress toward those competencies. The AFE will be evaluated on an ongoing basis with the DrPH student, site preceptor, and/or faculty member involved in the process.

The AFE is designed to provide doctoral-level field experience. All DrPH students are required to complete 3 credits of an AFE in a public health practice setting. Students are also required to complete an additional 3 credits in an AFE that may include teaching, research and/or service. Students can work on the six required credits incrementally.

  • AFE in public health practice (3 credits)
  • AFE to include education, research and/or service (3 credits)

Before these course credits are pursued, students will have completed a Pre-Planning Form (see Canvas) with the DrPH AFE Director to explore student interest and possible AFE sites, along with completing 20 hours of community service (must be documented in DrPH portfolio). After a potential site is selected, the student will complete Memorandum of Understanding and Statement of Expectations (see Canvas). These documents will outline experiences for each student during the AFE, as well as specific academic and professional expectations for both student and site preceptor. Further, these forms summarize particular tasks and job responsibilities to be performed by the student and supervised by the site preceptor.

Approved AFE responsibilities are crafted to meet individualized student goals and skills based on their future career or curriculum track. Progress towards these goals will be evaluated at the mid-point and conclusion of the AFE by the student, the site preceptor, and DrPH Associate Director.

Academic work required for the course will be focused on fostering the connection between prior coursework and professional growth and includes assignments such as site-specific research projects, reflective field journals, preparation of scholarly articles, curriculum development, and teaching, among others. Other forms may be required during the AFE as
recommended by the AFE course director. Students may choose to pursue a community-service project similar to the AFE in Public Health Practice with the approval of their academic advisor and DrPH Program Director. Assignments completed during the AFE are expected to be incorporated in the DrPH Portfolio.

The AFE provides students with important experience to gain professional experience and to lead their Integrative Doctoral Research (IDR) project to real-world public health issues. The AFE is critical to students’ academic and professional development and their ability to become competent in the practice of public health.

Students complete their AFE experiences at AFE Sites (e.g., public health agencies, organizations, institutions) and work on substantive projects that (1) contribute to their growth as future public health professionals and (2) help advance the mission of the sites at which they are placed. A student completes a minimum of 135 hours for every three semester credit hours at the AFE site. The AFE is for academic credit. However, an AFE site may choose to offer a stipend. The possibility of monetary compensation is to be negotiated directly between the student and AFE site. The Penn State DrPH program is not involved in salary negotiations.

Students should identify AFE Sites based on their respective academic and professional interests and goals. At each AFE Site, students report to an on-site preceptor. The preceptor supervises the student’s AFE experience, monitors student progress and performance, and serves as the student’s primary point of contact at the AFE site. AFE sites, preceptors, and students are supported by the Penn State DrPH Director of Public Health Practice, Dr. Yendelela Cuffee, who oversees the AFE requirements and serves as a contact for AFE sites, preceptors, and students’ DrPH program academic advisor.

The AFE organizations that participate in this program have the opportunity to observe and evaluate potential recruits, to expand particular programs and services, to provide better or additional services to their clientele, or to complete special projects or educational programs. They also provide input to the Penn State DRPH program on issues from curriculum relevancy to professional needs and concerns.

Definition of Roles

AFE Site: The public health agency, organization, or institution at which the Penn State DrPH student completes the AFE experience.

Preceptor: A staff member, employed by the AFE Site, who supervises and mentors the Penn State DrPH student on site during the AFE experience.

AFE Director: Yendelela Cuffee, PhD, MPH, the Penn State DrPH program representative who oversees the DrPH program’s AFE requirement.

Doctoral Candidacy

Overview Expand answer

The DrPH degree is designed to be completed in four years by students pursuing full-time studies. However, actual length of time to complete the degree varies depending on the individual student’s time and effort. The DrPH degree consists of three phases involving core course work, course work related to an area of specialization, the DrPH Portfolio, Advanced Field Experience, candidacy and comprehensive examinations, the writing of two manuscripts that fulfill the Integrative Doctoral Research Requirements.

Doctoral Candidacy Evaluation Expand answer

The policies and procedures set forth below apply to DrPH students.

Please Note: additional policies and procedures are found in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin.

Students should be aware that the Candidacy Exam constitutes a second doctoral admissions process. The Candidacy Exam is conducted within the semester after the core coursework is completed.

Eligibility

To be eligible to have the candidacy evaluation, the student must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 at the time the examination is given for graduate work done at Penn State.
  • Have no deferred or missing grades.
  • Be registered as a full-time or part-time student for the semester in which the comprehensive examination is taken.

Candidacy exams are not offered in summer.

Purpose

The evaluation has four purposes. One is to determine the “fit” between the student’s academic and professional aspirations and what the program offers. The evaluation provides an opportunity to discuss the student’s goals and progress and to determine if the Doctor of Public Health Program has the faculty and resources to meet the student’s educational objectives.

The second purpose of the candidacy evaluation is to assess the student’s abilities in areas critical to completion of the dissertation process, including skills of writing, critical thinking, and research.

A third purpose is to make recommendation concerning advancement to candidacy in the program and of courses to take to remedy any deficiencies.

Finally, the candidacy evaluation allows opportunity to discuss and make recommendations concerning formation of the student’s Doctoral Committee and potential topics for IDR requirements.

The Evaluation Process

The Candidacy Exam includes two parts:

  • a written exam and preparation of prospectus materials
  • oral defense of written closed-book exam, prospectus materials, the DrPH Portfolio with the Candidacy Committee

The Candidacy Committee is comprised of at least two Graduate Faculty members in the Public Health Program. One of the faculty members is the student’s academic advisor.

Written Exam

A closed-book exam will be scheduled over a three-hour period, although students may take less time to complete the exam. Questions for the written exam are submitted to the DrPH Program Director by faculty members teaching the DrPH Core Courses. The DrPH Executive Committee is responsible for finalizing the questions to appear on the written exam in consultation with the Candidacy Committee members.

Candidacy exam questions will consist of key themes and major concepts learned in core courses, requiring students to engage in higher order thinking in which students apply what they have learned to solving a hypothetical public health issue/problem.

Prospectus Materials

At the time of the written exam students must submit copies of the following materials to the program staff assistant to be forwarded to program committee members no later than 14 days before the scheduled Candidacy Oral Defense:

  • A cover sheet with name; date, time, and place of Candidacy, degree being sought (DrPH) and the names of the members of the Candidacy committee
  • A brief report (2-3 typewritten, double-spaced pages) of progress to this point and plans for completing the program
  • A copy of two term papers (at least one from a DrPH course)
  • A current transcript (obtainable from the program staff assistant)
  • A copy of the current Program Plan and an anticipated schedule for completion of the comprehensive exam and IDR requirements
  • A short prospectus of initial ideas for a doctoral research idea (5-7 typed, double-spaced pages) that includes:
    • A statement of the proposed topic area
    • A statement of how this research topic is significant to the field of public health
    • An indication of the areas of literature the student plans to review (include key references)
    • An attached bibliography of literature examined to date
    • A discussion of proposed research methods
    • An explanation of how the plan of studies will assist in the accomplishment of proposed research

The prospectus should be well written, coherent, and should demonstrate a logical rationale for the topic area. Writing the prospectus and meeting with the faculty provides the student an opportunity to focus coursework on an area of research.

Scheduling the Candidacy Exam

It is the full responsibility of the student to schedule the candidacy exam with the Candidacy Committee with guidance from their advisor. Students will need to coordinate with Program Staff to schedule both portions of the Candidacy Exam. Students will first schedule a time to complete the closed-book, written exam portion, as well as schedule the oral defense portion of the exam for no more than two weeks from the date of the written exam. At the time of the written exam, students must also have their completed prospectus materials; the Program Staff will distribute these materials to the Candidacy Committee.

Oral Candidacy Defense

Following completion of the written exam, the Candidacy Committee reviews and critiques the written Candidacy Exam responses, the prospectus materials and the DrPH Portfolio prior to the oral defense. The Oral Candidacy Defense is scheduled within two weeks of the written exam; the student presents his/her approach to the public health issue/problem for a 45 minute presentation in which the Candidacy Committee asks key questions regarding the approach. The Candidacy Committee then discusses the oral response to the questions, the prospectus materials and the DrPH Portfolio, and then decides whether the student exhibits sufficient skills needed to continue in the program. The Candidacy Committee Chair summarizes the comments from the Committee and provides a brief summary of comments and the committee’s decision to the student during the Oral Candidacy Defense. A written summary of the Committee’s review and assessment will be completed and given to the student within two weeks of the Oral Candidacy Defense.

After the oral portion of the Candidacy Exam, the Candidacy Committee will make one of the following decisions by a majority pass/fail vote by completing the Report on Doctoral Candidacy Form.

Both student and Candidacy Committee members will also complete the Competency Defense Form.

If a majority of the committee is unable to reach a decision, the Vice Dean of Education will cast the deciding vote.

  • Admit student to candidacy for the DrPH degree. Successful completion of the candidacy represents full admission into the program and the student will be officially recognized as a doctoral candidate. From that point on, the student will take the coursework outlined in the plan of studies, as amended by the program committee in light of the proposed research. Doctoral candidates should remember this date; this is the point at which the clock starts ticking for the eight-year time limitation to
    complete the degree. Extensions are possible but rare.
  • Postpone a decision until further conditions are met. These may include taking additional courses or improving certain skills, such as writing skills. The Candidacy Committee will set forth those conditions in writing.
  • Not admit student to candidacy. If this option is selected, alternative steps that may help the student achieve her/his academic and professional goals will be discussed prior to adjournment.

Reinstatements and Extensions

Applicants to the DrPH program must take the candidacy evaluation after completion of all prerequisites and required core courses.

Full-time students are expected to take the candidacy evaluation within 18 months of enrollment. Full-time students who have not taken the candidacy evaluation within 18 months from their first day of enrollment in classes may be terminated from the program.

Part-time students are expected to complete the candidacy evaluation within 36 months from their first day of enrollment in classes as regular students. Part-time students who have not taken the candidacy evaluation within 36 months from their first day of enrollment in classes as regular students may be terminated from the program.

Students who are terminated for not taking the candidacy evaluation within the allotted time period will be treated as new applicants, should they desire reinstatement.

Integrative Doctoral Research

Course Descriptions Expand answer

Integrative Doctoral Research I (PHS 896A)

Integrative Doctoral Research I is the first of two courses required for the integrative culminating experience for Doctor of Public Health students and is delivered on an individualized basis. DrPH students will be required to develop two major components for their DrPH integrative experience that are conceptually linked through production of two publishable-quality manuscripts.

With individualized guidance from their doctoral advisor and doctoral committee, students will develop two manuscripts that comprehensively address, generate, and/or interpret and evaluate knowledge applicable to public health practice. Manuscripts are encouraged to be of an applied nature and must demonstrate students’ abilities to conduct independent research on a contemporary public health issue. Students will demonstrate the application of advanced public health practice skills and knowledge in the design, analysis, interpretation of results, and the application of the new knowledge to advance public health practice.

This work should contribute to the evidence – base of public health practice, be of publishable quality, be linked to the doctoral portfolio contents, and demonstrate critical thinking and rigorous analytic strategies. Manuscripts will build upon work completed in PHS 892 Directed Studies in Public Health. Although not required, a strong student portfolio will link doctoral research to the previously required Advanced Field Experience.

Integrative Doctoral Research I will demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Data collection and analysis
  • Communication
  • Systems thinking
  • Leadership
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving

Written and oral presentation of this work will be required. Work completed in PHS 896A will be included in the Integrative Doctoral Research Proposal and Final Defense.

Integrative Doctoral Research II (PHS 896B)

Integrative Doctoral Research II is the second of two courses required for the culminating experience for Doctor of Public Health students and is delivered on an individualized basis. In addition to two publishable manuscripts, DrPH students will be required to complete the components of their DrPH portfolio.

With guidance from their IDR advisor and IDR committee, students will develop a doctoral portfolio that comprehensively addresses, generates, interprets and evaluates knowledge applicable to public health practice.

The portfolio will build upon work completed in PHS 892 Directed Studies in Public Health, prior coursework, the advanced field experience, and other related integrated doctoral research. Students will develop a doctoral portfolio throughout their program that will document how their advanced field experience and doctoral research has informed their leadership in advancing and integrating research into public health practice.

Components of the portfolio may include, but are not limited to:

  • Research (e.g., publications, conference presentations)
  • Teaching (academic and non-academic, community-based teaching)
  • Field and other service learning experiences

Portfolios will require reflection on in-class and out-of-class experiences and demonstrate students’ broad public health knowledge, specialized knowledge, translation of this knowledge into evidence-based public health practice, and leadership style. Work completed in PHS 896B will be included in the Integrative Doctoral Research Proposal and Final Defense. Students will be required to discuss and defend core and track competencies achieved through their courses, AFE and IDR.

Committee Formation Expand answer

In the second phase of the doctoral process, the student conducts an in-depth exploration of her/his chosen area of study or practice. During this phase, the student (with assistance from the IDR Committee) sharpens the subject and focus of the research undertaking, and develops theoretical frameworks/perspectives, and research methods and techniques suitable for studying a wide range of problems associated with her/his area of specialization. This is a highly individualized phase; with students pursuing interests that are representative of the faculty’s expertise and of the broader field of Public Health. Students engage in various sequences of advanced courses and seminars, independent study, advanced field experiences, internships, and related research activities. This phase begins with the formation of the IDR Committee and culminates with a comprehensive examination. The term integrative is used to reflect the fact that students are required not only to defend their final research project, but also to defend their competencies achieved throughout the program.

The Committee Expand answer

Committee Responsibilities and Composition

Prior to passing the candidacy evaluation, the doctoral degree is directed largely by one’s academic advisor. Beyond the candidacy evaluation, the DrPH experience is directed by the IDR Committee selected by the student. This constitutes a major shift in orientation—requiring the student to consult regularly with at least three faculty advisors instead of one. The IDR Committee approves the graduate study plan, periodically reviews academic progress, advises the student on her/his area of specialization, guides the student’s IDR and DrPH portfolio, prepares and administers the comprehensive and final oral examinations (the IDR defense), and evaluates the student’s IDR and DrPH portfolio. Continuing communication between the student and her/his IDR Committee members is strongly recommended to preclude misunderstandings and to develop a collegial relationship.

According to Graduate School policy, the Doctoral Committee must consist of four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty, which includes at least two faculty members from the student’s major field. The Doctoral Committee is comprised of at least four Graduate Faculty members:

  • Two members from the Public Health Program/Public Health Sciences
  • One member from outside the Department
  • A fourth member from within OR outside the Department

Establishing the Doctoral Committee

The student should carefully select the Doctoral Committee soon after passing the candidacy evaluation. In the letter notifying the student that the candidacy evaluation has been successfully passed, the student will be reminded to formulate a Doctoral Committee as soon as possible.
Committee members should bring different but complementary strengths. The student should choose individuals who can provide expertise in the chosen area(s) of specialization, the general field of public health, and the research methods specific to the IDR.

It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the Doctoral Committee is established as early as possible. The doctoral candidate is expected to establish her/his committee within 12 months of passing the candidacy evaluation.

Committee Chair

The academic advisor serves as the Doctoral Committee chair or co-chair. Immediately after passing candidacy evaluation, the student and academic advisor should discuss whether s/he would remain in that role, and hence assume the role of committee chair. If a change of advisor is desired, the guidelines outlined below must be followed. Once the student has designated a committee chair, s/he must begin working with the chair to select the other committee members. Co-chairs may be appointed.

The committee chair or at least one co-chair must be a member of the Public Health Program/Public Health Sciences. A retired or emeritus faculty member may chair a doctoral committee if the member began chairing the committee prior to retirement and has the continuing approval of the Program Director.

The primary duties of the chair are:

  • to maintain the academic standards of the Public Health Program and the Graduate School
  • to conduct an annual review of the doctoral student’s progress
  • to ensure that the comprehensive and final examinations are conducted in a timely fashion
  • to arrange and conduct all Doctoral Committee meetings
  • to ensure that requirements set forth by the committee are implemented in the final version of the IDR

Integrative Doctoral Research Advisor

The doctoral student must designate an IDR advisor. Quite often the committee chair or co-chairs also serve as the IDR advisor(s). However, the advisor may be someone different from the committee chair. The IDR advisor directs the student’s research. As such, the IDR advisor must specialize in the area of the chosen research problem. The IDR advisor may be a member of the Public Health Program/Public Health Sciences or a faculty from another program.
The conditions outlined above do not preclude other members of the Graduate Faculty from serving on the committee, and potentially in dual roles, for example, as co-chair.
Special committee members: A doctoral student may add to the committee a person not affiliated with Penn State who has particular expertise in that student’s research and/or practice area—upon the recommendation of the Program Director and approval of the graduate dean (via the Office of Graduate Education). A special member is expected to participate fully in the functions of the Doctoral Committee. If the special member is asked only to read and approve the IDR, that person is designated a special signatory of the IDR.

Graduate School Approval

Once the student has selected the committee and has gained the commitment of each member, the student should complete a Committee Appointment Signature Form. To obtain the form and to get assistance completing it, the student should contact the program staff assistant. After completing and signing the form, it must be submitted to the public health program staff assistant who will forward the form to the appropriate coordinator in Graduate Enrollment Services at University Park. The student will be notified in writing when approval is complete.

Replacing Committee Members

A student has the right to replace any and all members of the Doctoral Committee. To make changes to the committee, the student must complete a new Committee Appointment Signature Form, have it signed by the new committee member(s), and submit it to the program staff assistant who will forward it to Graduate Enrollment Services at University Park. Either the student or the incumbent (committee member) may suggest a replacement. Common courtesy dictates that whoever decides that a replacement is in order informs the other prior to making the switch. The student must consult with the committee chair before replacing a committee member.

It is the responsibility of the Program Director to periodically review the membership of Doctoral Committees to ensure that its members continue to qualify for service on the committee in their designated roles. For example, if budgetary appointments, employment at the University, etc., have changed since initial appointment to the committee, changes to the committee membership may be necessary. If changes are warranted, they should be made as soon as possible to prevent future problems that may delay academic progress for the student (e.g., ability to conduct the comprehensive or final examinations).

Sample Integrative Doctoral Research Proposal Outline Expand answer

Background and Problem Statement

  • Study Objectives: a high-level description of the broad issue the thesis will address and the study purpose and scope.
  • Background and Context: background and contextual factors that will help frame the issue. These may be historical, legal/ethical, population need, political, service delivery, policy, and socio-economic dimensions that are relevant to understanding of issue.
  • Problem Statement and Study Questions: a more detailed statement of the problem/issue including specific questions presenting research/program hypothesis and rationale.
  • Leadership Implications and Relevance: factors that make this a leadership issue and the broader relevance for public health policy and practice. This is an important element that partially distinguishes the DrPH thesis from the PhD dissertation and therefore should be an integral part of the work, as opposed to a secondary consideration that gets addressed in a conclusion, as is often the case with traditional research topics.

Conceptual and Analytical Framework

  • Literature Review: what scholarly and practice literature is relevant to the issue, problem statement, and study questions? Include evaluation criteria for the literature review (i.e. Downs and Black). Developing a large part of the literature review is desirable to help focus the proposal.
  • Conceptual/Theoretical Framework: How will the literature be used to operationalize the study questions through the development of indicators and measures that will focus data collection and analysis? What theoretical framework will be used? Why was this theoretical framework selected over others?
  • Logic Model: a preliminary logic model that graphically connects key elements of the study.

Study Design, Data, and Methods

  • Analytical Approach: specify an integrated research type and approach for how data will be collected and analyzed to answer the study questions. This might be a case study, policy analysis, action research, a high-level evaluation or a mixed methods design. Identify the unit of study (e.g. organization, jurisdiction, geographic area). Provide a justification for why this design is effective.
  • Data Sources, Data collection and Management: Describe the data collection instruments, subject selection rationale (sampling), and data collection procedures. Provide sample instruments if possible. A table which maps data collection instruments to research questions is valuable. Describe data collection and management procedures.
  • Analysis Plan: how will the data be analyzed? What analytical or statistical procedures will be employed? Anticipate and include data table examples where possible.
  • Validity Considerations: discuss strengths of selected study design. Describe study limitation and threats to validity and how they will be addressed.

Integrative Doctoral Research Products and Work Plan

  • IDR products will be two publishable papers. What journals will be targeted?
  • Outline of the IDR product – working draft report of publishable papers.
  • Work Plan: Major study activities, milestones, anticipated due dates, and committee review points, preferably in Gantt chart format.
  • Summarize procedures to meet IRB concerns including IRB training, and obtaining approvals.
Proposal Defense Expand answer

Integrative Doctoral Research is probably the most challenging and exciting aspect of a DrPH student’s graduate studies. It represents the culmination of coursework and other professional development experiences related to a particular area of specialization. The IDR proposal serves as the first formal step in the doctoral research. It documents a personalized plan for conducting the study, and, in addition, serves as a contract between the student and the Doctoral Committee regarding what is expected in the ensuing research. Led by the IDR advisor, the IDR Committee supervises the development of the student’s proposal, conducts the proposal hearing, and approves the proposal. Regular consultation with committee members is encouraged.

Formal development of the IDR proposal typically runs simultaneously with preparation for the comprehensive examination. However, the informal process would have begun a year or so earlier when the student started preparing for the candidacy evaluation. To begin the formal process the student should review all relevant materials s/he has developed since Candidacy (e.g., candidacy prospectus, relevant course work and final papers, pertinent conference papers and journal articles authored by the student, and so on). Having conducted the review, the student should start drafting a detailed plan for the research.

This plan is typically reviewed by IDR advisor several times before it goes to the other committee members.

Communication between the student and the Doctoral Committee members is strongly recommended at this stage and throughout the rest of the research process—to make optimal use of their expertise, to preclude any misunderstandings, and to develop a collegial relationship. The student should consult with her/his advisor before initiating communication with other committee members.

The IDR proposal reflects the results of the topic selection and development process described above and should contain the following elements:

  • A discussion of the specific problem or issue being investigated. This should include a clear statement of the problem, why it is important, and to whom.
  • Discussion of a conceptual framework and the relevant research and practice literature, and how that literature will be used within the conceptual framework to investigate the problem. Students should also describe how the proposed work fits in with the existing literature. Does it fill a gap, resolve a discrepancy, advance prior work, or open a new line of inquiry or area of practice?
  • Identification of the public policy/practice leadership issues associated with the subject and a preliminary assessment of how the dissertation work may contribute to resolving such issues.
  • Discussion of the methodology to be used. Students proposing the application of new analytical frameworks or methodologies to previously defined problems should identify alternative ways of approaching their topic and justify the approach they intend to use.
  • Identification of data or information needs, their sources, and methods of collection.
  • Selection of the final IDR product of two publishable papers.
    Additionally, the proposal should identify potential obstacles or other issues pertinent to the investigation and how they will be resolved, and should also include a preliminary outline of the completed dissertation.

Scheduling and Conducting the Proposal Defense

When the thesis advisor gives approval, the student consults with the rest of the committee members and program staff assistant to schedule a two-hour proposal hearing. The student MUST submit a copy of the proposal to each doctoral committee member and the program staff assistant at least 14 days in advance of the hearing. Students should include in their proposal a cover sheet with name, title of proposal, the date and time of the hearing, and the names of the committee members. They must also remember to request of the program staff assistant any equipment needed for the hearing.
The purpose of the proposal defense is to evaluate the student’s preparedness and competence to carry out the integrative doctoral research. The examination takes the form of a dialogue between the student and the doctoral committee. Before that dialogue begins, the committee chair gives the student an opportunity to provide a brief (less than 15 minutes) oral presentation of the work, including the DrPH Portfolio. Demonstration of a deep understanding of relevant theoretical and research literature and familiarity with the specific research methods planned to be used is expected during the hearing. It is important that the student is well-prepared for this meeting.

Committee members may attend the proposal defense in person or remotely via phone, Skype, etc. The doctoral committee may, at its discretion, allow other students to attend the proposal hearing.

Immediately following the proposal defense, the IDR Committee meets to formally assess the proposal and a vote is cast. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing. Both student and IDR Committee members must complete the Competency Defense Form (Appendix F).If the student does not pass, the committee determines whether another proposal hearing may be scheduled. A student shall not be allowed more than one retake of the proposal hearing. The program staff assistant will communicate the results to the student.

In the event of a failure, two options are available:

  • retaking the proposal hearing
  • withdrawal from the program

If the decision is that the student withdraws from the program, alternative steps that may help the student achieve her/his academic and professional goals will be discussed prior to adjournment.

Final Oral Thesis Defense Expand answer

After the proposal is approved by the Doctoral Committee, the student must make any necessary revisions and submit it in final form to the Public Health Program office. If the proposed research involves human subjects, the student must apply for and receive approval by the University’s Office for the Protection of Human Subjects before beginning data collection.
Without this approval, the student’s research will not be accepted. The student should work with her/his thesis advisor to complete the approval process.

Time Limitation

A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including passing the Final Integrative Doctoral Research Defense, within eight years from the date of successful completion of the candidacy evaluation and within six years of successful completion of the comprehensive examination. On the recommendation of the Program Coordinator, extensions may be granted by the Director of Graduate Enrollment Services in appropriate circumstances.

The final examination for DrPH students is an oral examination administered and evaluated by the candidate’s entire Doctoral Committee. The meeting is chaired by the student’s IDR Committee chair. The exam consists of an oral presentation of 1) the doctoral candidate’s IDR; 2) DrPH Portfolio; and 3) a period of questions and responses. These questions (and the dialogue that ensues) relate in large part to the IDR, but may cover the entire field of public health, because a major purpose of the examination is also to assess the student’s general scholarly attainments. The portion of the examination in which the IDR is presented is open to the public, and other students are encouraged to attend.

Scheduling the Final Oral Examination

The length of the exam is two hours and it may be scheduled any time during the semester. However, the examination may not be scheduled until at least 90 days have elapsed after the comprehensive examination was passed. The director of Graduate School may grant a waiver of the 90 days in appropriate cases. The examination is officially scheduled through the Graduate School, on the recommendation of the Program Director of the Public Health Program. Two weeks’ notice is required by the Graduate School for scheduling the examination. The doctoral candidate is responsible for scheduling the examination by completing Examination Request Form (Appendix H). The student must do so on the advice of the IDR advisor.

Final Oral Examination Checklist

To schedule the examination, the candidate must do the following:

  • Ensure that the student is registered and in good standing for the semester in which the final oral examination is taken
  • Ensure that at least 90 days have elapsed between passing the comprehensive examination and the proposed final oral examination date
  • Make sure that all other requirements for the degree have been satisfied
  • Gain the IDR advisor’s approval of the draft elements
  • Negotiate, with ALL doctoral committee members, an examination date that is appropriate to ALL
  • Complete the Examination Request Form
  • Notify the program staff assistant at least four weeks prior to the proposed examination date
  • Arrange for each committee member to receive a copy of the final IDR packet at least 14 days prior to the proposed examination date
  • Consult the Graduate School Calendar to ensure Final Defense and Intent to Graduate processes have been met

Conducting and Evaluating the Final Oral Examination

The student and all committee members (including the IDR advisor or chair) must be physically present at the final oral examination unless prior approval for remote participation is received from the Graduate School. For a four-person committee, one person may participate remotely. For a five-person committee, two people may participate remotely. To request permission to participate remotely, send a memo via email to the program staff assistant. The memo must state the member’s name, the reason they will not be physically present, and the mode of participation (telephone, Skype, etc.). The Final IDR oral exam is a public event and will be publicized for campus–wide and stakeholder attendance.

If a committee member is unable to attend the final oral defense, the member may sign as a special signatory. The program staff assistant within the Public Health Program submits (on behalf of the DrPH Program Director) a revised Committee Appointment Signature Form, removing the faculty member as a regular committee member and moving the member to a special signatory. Ample time should be planned for this to occur (at least 14 days).

If there are then not enough members serving on the committee (i.e., four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty) another Penn State Graduate Faculty member will need to replace that member to constitute a legitimate doctoral committee. (Substitutes are not permitted.) These changes and approvals shall occur before the actual examination takes place.

Immediately following the oral examination, the Doctoral Committee meet to formally evaluate the candidate’s work and a vote is cast. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing the oral examination (three out of four for a four-member committee; four out of five for a five-member committee; four out of six for a six-member committee, and so on). If the student fails, it is the responsibility of the IDR Committee to determine whether another examination may be taken. A candidate shall not be allowed more than one retake of the final oral exam. The candidate’s Program Director will communicate the results to her/him.

In the event of a failure, two options are available:

  • retaking the examination
  • withdrawal from the program

The final IDR must be signed by each committee members. Both students and IDR Committee members must complete the Competency Defense Form.

Final IDR Documents

After passing the final oral examination, doctoral students must make the necessary corrections or revisions suggested by the committee members and prepare the IDR in final form. Students must allow enough time to make revisions in order to meet the deadlines of the Public Health Program. Students must present their final IDR to the Public Health Program office for signature no later than three weeks before the deadline set by the Graduate School.

All signatures of the committee members must be present on the appropriate page in proper form when the IDR is presented to the Public Health Program office. Once signed, the student’s final manuscripts must be uploaded to be made publically available through ScholarSphere and one soft-bound copy submitted to the Public Health Program Office.

Publishing an article in a professional journal is an excellent way to communicate one’s research. Therefore, prior to graduation, all doctoral candidates in DrPH program are required to submit both manuscript articles for publication in a (preferably refereed) professional journal. Although it is not necessary that the article be published, a copy of the letter of receipt from the journal, along with a copy of the article, must be present in the student’s file prior to the scheduling of graduation. If a student submits an article for publication based on her/his IDR research, it is considered appropriate to include her/his IDR advisor and others as a co-author if those persons have given substantial input to the article.

Preparing and Writing the Integrative Doctoral Research and Portfolio Expand answer

Conducting the Research

Conducting and writing the IDR typically takes between one and two full years, depending on the student’s expertise and efforts, and the types of research methods employed. For this reason, it is strongly encouraged that students make every effort to focus on their research/area/topic by Year 2 of the program. This is facilitated by PHS 892 Directed Studies, and the Advanced Field Experience.

Qualitative research typically takes longer than quantitative research.

The Public Health Program wholeheartedly endorses mixed-methods research, when it is done well; however, such studies can take considerably more time and resources than either a straightforward qualitative or quantitative study.

Creating and Submitting the Final Draft Proposal

The student accomplishes the research according to the plan set forth in the proposal. Major changes require approval of the Doctoral Committee and the University’s Office for the Protection of Human Subjects if the study involves human subjects.

While conducting the study, the student should be in regular communication with her/his IDR advisor and other committee members, as the IDR advisor deems necessary. Typically, students prepare multiple drafts of the IDR for submission to their IDR thesis advisor.

The IDR advisor must ensure that the final draft includes all appropriate sections, is prepared according to an acceptable style, and is ready to be submitted to the other committee members. The student is responsible for the content and style. In addition, the student should know the rules and deadlines of the Public Health Program concerning IDR manuscript preparation and submission to the Penn State Web Portal and posting on the DrPH Student Portfolio.

Preparing the Final Draft of the Integrative Doctoral Research

Both the IDR advisor and the student are responsible for ensuring the completion of a draft of the IDR and for adequate consultation with members of the Doctoral Committee well in advance of the oral examination. Major revisions to the IDR must be completed before the examination. The IDR should be in its final draft, with appropriate notes, bibliography, tables, etc., at the time of the oral examination; both the content and style must be correct and polished by the time this final draft of the IDR is in the hands of the committee.

Part I of the IDR is two publishable manuscripts that will be submitted for publication in a public health related journal. The student’s manuscripts will conform to the format required by the journal to which they will be submitted. Manuscripts must actually be submitted for publication. Students should work with their committee to determine the most appropriate journal to which the manuscripts will be submitted.

The IDR report must follow the following format:

  • Abstract of 600 words or less single sided, double-spaced on a separate sheet(s) to include the title and authorship
  • Introductory chapter to include:
    • Over-arching theme, study questions, or hypotheses which tie the papers together
    • Leadership issues and practice significance
    • Literature review
  • Methods chapter
  • Paper 1 – formatted for journal submission
  • Paper 2 – formatted for journal submission
  • Conclusion – to include a discussion of the impact of the research on practice
  • Appendices (to include, as appropriate, such items as survey instruments, foundational tables, organizational charts, additional tables, and other items not appropriate for a journal article nor the body of the dissertation document)

Part II of the IDR is the presentation of the DrPH Portfolio.

DrPH Comprehensive Exams

Overview Expand answer

Additional policies and procedures are found in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin.

Purpose

The doctoral comprehensive examination is a single examination consisting of integrated written and oral portions. The purpose of the examination is to assess students on the following areas:

  • Knowledge of foundational issues that transect the broad field of public health. This purpose includes students’ recognition of important questions and issues, as well as their resourcefulness, judgment and understanding regarding information acquisition, integration, and synthesis within the field.
  • Mastery of an area of specialization within, or complementary to, the field of public health.
  • Student’s readiness for the research phase, including their knowledge of research methods appropriate to their particular area(s) of specialization.

Eligibility

To be eligible to take the examination, the student must meet the following criteria:

  • Complete all core and track courses, and other requirements as determined by the student’s IDR Committee.
  • Have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 at the time the examination is given, for graduate work done at Penn State.
  • Have no deferred or missing grades.
  • Satisfy the English Competence requirement.
  • Be registered as a full-time or part-time student for the semester in which the examination is taken.

There are two steps to the comprehensive examination:

  • the written exam
  • the oral defense of the written materials
Preparing for the Comprehensive Exam Expand answer

Carefully select a Doctoral Committee soon after passing the candidacy evaluation. Details regarding the composition, roles, and responsibilities of the doctoral committee are described in a previous section of this Handbook. More information may also be obtained in the Graduate Degree Requirements section of the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin, and in the Graduate Student Committee Procedures.

Meet regularly with the committee chair and IDR advisor to discuss the process of the examination and to help clarify and develop chosen area(s) of specialization.

Review papers, readings and assignments from previous courses.

Also, review other pertinent literature and consult with the Doctoral Committee to help sharpen the subject and focus of the dissertation, and develop appropriate theoretical frameworks, perspectives, research methods and techniques suitable for studying a wide range of problems associated with chosen area(s) of specialization. This step may involve taking PHS 896 (Individual Studies) with a student’s academic advisor.

It typically takes students six months of intensive study, after completing core and track coursework, to adequately prepare for the comprehensive examination. Inquire about forming a study group with fellow students. This is often an effective way to share the workload and discuss key concepts from various perspectives.

Procedures for Writing the Exam Expand answer

Complete the Committee Appointment Signature Form (see Canvas): For the doctoral committee to be made official, the student must complete a Committee Appointment Signature Form and the form must be approved by the Graduate School. To obtain the form and to get assistance completing it, students must contact their program staff assistant. After completing and signing the form, it must be submitted to the program staff assistant who will forward the form to Graduate Enrollment Services at University Park. The Graduate School will notify the student when it is approved.

Develop the questions: The comprehensive exam comprises no less than three and no more than four questions that address the three areas described in the purpose statement above. The student’s IDR Committee chair will acquire 2-3 questions from each member of the IDR Committee.

The IDR Committee chair will then develop the exam using these questions so that there will be five final questions, and so that the candidate answers at least one question for each member of the committee.

The IDR Committee chair develops the questions in consultation with the student and other IDR Committee members. For instance, the chair may work with particular committee members to develop questions collaboratively. Note: all IDR Committee members must be consulted on this process.

Schedule the written examination: The student must complete the Examination Request Form available from the Public Health program staff assistant. Although the oral exam will occur within 30 days of the IDR Committee’s review of the written portion of the exam, both parts should be scheduled at the same time. Two weeks’ notice is required by the program for scheduling the written examination. It is the student’s responsibility to initiate the scheduling process. It must be done upon the advice of the IDR Committee chair and in consultation with the other committee members and the program staff assistant. Once the date is set, the IDR Committee chair delivers the written examination questions to the appropriate program staff assistant. The program staff assistant types the questions and either mails them to the student (email is acceptable) or notifies the student when they can be picked up. The student has two weeks from the date of receipt of the questions to write her/his responses.

In the event of an unexpected emergency (e.g., critical illness, death in the family) during the exam period, a student may ask the committee to extend the deadline. All committee members should agree on whether or not to grant an extension and the length of the extension, if granted. The IDR Committee chair should send an email notifying the student, other committee members, and administrative assistant of the decision.

Comply with academic integrity policies: The written comprehensive exam is a take-home exam, representing the student’s independent work. In preparing to write the examination, any learning resource deemed appropriate, may be used. However, the comprehensive questions should not be discussed with anyone, including members of the committee, except in cases where clarification is needed. The final written product must represent the student’s unassisted work. Prior to the submission of the examination, no one except the student should read or edit the written responses for any reason. A signed statement certifying that the comprehensive exam answers are the student’s original work and that the exam has been completed without the assistance of other students, colleagues, or faculty members is required as part of the cover page to the exam.

Formatting the essays (style): The examination document should consist of separate, coherent essays in answer to the questions. The essays should conform to APA, University of Chicago, or another style manual as determined by the student and the advisor. Each essay must be free standing. However, the entire document should be packaged as a single, consecutively paginated document and ending with a single reference list containing the citations used in ALL essays. Be sure to include the exam questions in the body of the text.

Formatting the essays (length): Answers to each question need not be of equal length. However, the entire text of the total examination document (excluding references, cover page, etc.) should not exceed 60 typed, double spaced pages. One inch margins should be used and type size should not be smaller than 12 point. Students should be careful to allocate these pages reasonably, though not necessarily evenly, between the essays. Submitted examinations of more than 60 pages will not be considered.

Submitting the essays: After completion of the written exam, deliver one copy of the entire document directly to the program staff assistant. To conserve paper your comps may be printed back-to-back. The cover sheet should include the date on which the examination was received. Also include the signed statement certifying that the comprehensive exam answers are original work. Electronic copies should be sent to all committee members, and hard copies should also be provided to those who request them.

Reviewing student responses: The program staff assistant provides a full copy of the responses to the questions to each IDR Committee member. Each committee member reviews the entire document; four weeks is allowed for reviewing the exam. Although individual committee members may choose to return the written examination with comments, this is not required.

Taking the written exam during the summer: Students planning to take the written portion of the comprehensive examination during summer must ensure that all procedures are completed prior to the end of the spring semester, in May, according to the timeframes identified for specific procedures. Committee members are not obligated to review comprehensive examinations during the summer. Accordingly, if the comprehensive exam is written during summer, the four weeks allotted for reviewing responses would begin on the first day of the subsequent fall semester.

Oral Examination Expand answer

Scheduling the Oral Examination

The oral examination should be scheduled at the same time that the written examination is being scheduled. Upon the advice of the committee chair, and in consultation with the other committee members and the program staff assistant, a two-hour meeting should be scheduled to conduct the oral examination. The oral examination must be conducted within 30 days of the committee’s review of the written portion of the examination.

Notify the program staff assistant, well in advance of the examination date, of any special arrangements or equipment needed (e.g., use of Skype, teleconferencing, computer, Mondopad). The Graduate School requires at least two weeks’ notification. The program staff assistant submits all examination requests and requests for exceptions (if necessary) to Graduate Enrollment Services for approval at least three weeks prior to the date of the oral examination. It is the student’s responsibility to work with the program staff assistant(s) to ensure that these requests are submitted in a timely manner.

The student and all IDR Committee members (including the IDR advisor or chair) must be physically present at the oral comprehensive examination unless prior approval for remote participation is received from the Graduate School. For a four-person committee, one person may participate remotely. For a five-person committee, two people may participate remotely. To request permission to participate remotely, send a memo via email to the Program Director. The memo must state the member’s name, the reason they will not be physically present, and the mode of participation (telephone, Skype, etc.). The IDR Committee may, at its discretion, allow other students to attend the oral portion of the examination.

Conducting the Oral Examination

At the scheduled date and time, the committee convenes to conduct the oral portion of the examination. The purpose of the oral portion of the examination is to give the student an opportunity to defend the written responses and to demonstrate knowledge of the field in general. The examination takes the form of a dialogue between the student and committee members. Before that dialogue begins, the IDR Committee chair may give the student an opportunity to provide a brief (less than 10 minute) oral supplement to her/his written responses.

Evaluating the Comprehensive Exam Expand answer

Immediately following the oral examination, the student is asked to leave the room and the IDR Committee meets to formally assess the student’s work—both written and oral portions—and a vote of (pass/fail) is cast. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing the comprehensive examination (three out of four for a four-member committee; four out of five for a five-member committee; four out of six for a six-member committee, and so on). If a majority of the committee is unable to reach a decision, the Vice Dean of Education will cast the deciding vote. Both student and members of the IDR Committee must also complete the Competency Defense Form (see Canvas). If the student fails the examination, the IDR Committee determines whether another examination may be taken by a majority vote. A student shall not be allowed more than one retake of the comprehensive exam. The program staff assistant will communicate the results to the student and to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services.

In the event of a failure, three options are available:

  • Retaking those questions deemed to be unsatisfactorily addressed
  • Retaking the entire examination
  • Withdrawal from the program

If the decision is withdrawal from the program, alternative steps that may help the student achieve her/his academic and professional goals will be discussed prior to adjournment.

If a committee member is unable to participate in any of the doctoral examinations and this results in not enough members serving on the committee (i.e., four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty), another Penn State graduate faculty member will need to be appointed officially to the Doctoral Committee to replace the absent member in order to constitute a legitimate doctoral committee. A revised Committee Appointment Signature Form must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services, removing the individual as a regular committee member and requesting the replacement committee member. These changes and approvals must occur before the actual examination takes place (ad hoc substitutes are not permitted).