Public Health Sciences: Specialization in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences (PhD)

Admission Requirements

Applicants should have a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale and, in most cases, should have completed a master’s or other graduate degree related to the theme of the doctoral program. Applicants who have a master’s degree in a different discipline may be admitted with the stipulation that they complete foundational coursework during their enrollment for the doctoral degree. This coursework is in addition to the outlined curriculum, and does not count towards the credit hours required for the program. Additional coursework is negotiated with the student’s academic advisor on a case-by-case basis.

The application, curriculum vitae, personal statement, application fee, three professional or academic letters of recommendation, official transcripts of all college work,  and academic writing sample must be submitted through the Centralized Application Service for Public Health, SOPHAS.

The personal statement should be a one- to two-page essay and address the following:

  • Discuss your academic and personal background. Explain what attracts you to the field of public health and health promotion.
  • Describe your experiences with research, including your role in conducting research and designing research products (i.e., papers, presentations, reports, etc.).
  • Discuss your research interests and explain the role health equity and social justice play in framing your research. Describe the type of research you would like to pursue if admitted into the program. Describe any other personal or professional experiences you believe are relevant.
  • Explain your long-term career goals and how a PhD in public health sciences will help you reach these goals.

International students are required to submit TOEFL/IELTS/Duolingo scores and a foreign credential evaluation of their transcripts. TOEFL/IELTS/Duolingo scores can be waived for students with ECFMG (Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates) certification.

For specific information about the degree specialization or the application process, students should contact the PhD Program Committee Chair, Dr. Ryan Combs, at or (502) 852-1995 or the Department Chair, Dr. Monica Wendel, at or (502) 852-2305.

Application Deadline

Fall semester – March 1 (International applicants); March 31 (Domestic applicants).

Applications received by December 31 will receive first consideration for admission and funding. Those received after December 31 will be considered based on availability of space in the program.

Spring semester - Applications are not accepted.

Summer semester – Applications are not accepted. 

Program Requirements


Students with a Master of Public Health (MPH) and those with master’s degrees from other disciplines may be admitted to the PhD program. Possessing an MPH degree provides evidence of the 12 Foundational Competencies for the PhD. Students entering from other disciplines may be required to complete one or more of the MPH core courses for leveling purposes and to formally assess the 12 Foundational Competencies. The leveling courses include the MPH core courses, and they must be completed prior to beginning courses in the student’s PhD degree plan.

The PhD curriculum consists of a minimum of 48 credit hours of course work and a dissertation.


Foundational Requirements17
Theoretical Basis of Health Promotion
Health Promotion Research Methods and Design
Policy to Advance Health Equity
Philosophy of Science & Evaluation Theory
Social Justice and Health Equity Research
Doctoral Seminar in Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences 1
Methods & Analysis15
Introduction to Biostatistics for Health Sciences II
Qualitative Research Methods in Public Health
Additional courses in research design, instrumentation, and analysis (9 credit hours)
Teaching Seminar & Lab1-3
Teaching Seminar in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences (required for all PhD students)
Teaching Lab in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences (optional for students wishing to gain teaching experience)
Cognate Area of Study15
Coursework determined by student and faculty advisor.
Dissertationas needed
Minimum Total Hours48

Students are required to register for two semesters PHPB 750 Doctoral Seminar in Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences at one (1) credit each, but must attend at least four semesters while pursuing doctoral coursework. The full course is completed over four semesters, with students producing a complete professional portfolio of materials annually.

Qualifying Examination 

Upon completion of all formal course work, students will take a written qualifying exam to demonstrate their ability to synthesize and apply concepts from those courses. Results will be given to students within six weeks of completion of the exam. The exam will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis; students who do not pass the exam on their first attempt will be given time to prepare to sit for the exam one additional time. The retake of the exam must be attempted within 6 months at a regularly scheduled exam date (February, July, or October) following the first attempt at the discretion of the specialization and in consultation with the student. If a student fails to pass on the second attempt, the student will be dropped from the program. Once the qualifying exam is successfully completed, students will be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

See Student Handbook for additional information.


A dissertation, based on original research conducted by the student, is required of a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health Sciences with a specialization in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences. The dissertation is to be a scholarly achievement that demonstrates the student’s ability to conduct independent research and a thorough understanding of research principles, concepts, and techniques in health promotion. The dissertation must follow the guidelines of the Graduate School.

See Student Handbook for additional information.

Dissertation Committee
The student’s dissertation research will be guided by, and the final product approved by, a Dissertation Committee. The Chair of the Committee, who must come from within the department, will be appointed by the Dean of the School of Public Health and Information Sciences upon the advice of the Chair of the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences.

The Dissertation Committee shall consist of at least four members to a maximum of six members. The Chair of the Committee and at least one other committee member must be from the department. At least one of the additional members must be from outside of the department. Students are encouraged to meet with their committee chair regarding prospective committee members who will mentor them throughout this process. A committee member must have a doctoral degree, be credentialed to teach graduate-level courses relevant to the degree, and have recent involvement in research, scholarship, or creative activity within the previous five years. The Dean of Academic Affairs at SPHIS must approve the members to serve on the committee. The Committee will subsequently be approved by the School of Public Health and Information Sciences.

Dissertation Proposal
The student will work with the Dissertation Committee and especially with the Chair throughout the process of preparing their Dissertation Proposal. The student will schedule meetings to present their dissertation proposal for approval once it has been review by members of the committee. The final oral defense of the dissertation must be completed within four years of entering candidacy after passing the Qualifying Exam.

Dissertation Defense
Once the student has completed work on the dissertation, the student will schedule a date with his/her Dissertation Committee for the final oral examination during which the student will defend the dissertation. The dissertation must be approved by the committee and the Chair of the Department by majority vote before it can be submitted to the Graduate School. The defense is a public event to which members of the University community will be invited as well as those the student worked with on the project.

Dissertation Preparation
The dissertation copy must follow the guidelines of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Submission
The following steps must be taken to submit the final copy of the dissertation electronically after oral defense and approval of the committee:

  1. Final document must be converted to a PDF (following the guidelines as noted above) and sent to the Graduate School and the department’s administrative assistant.
  2. The document is submitted as advised by the Graduate School through the ThinkIR repository. The directions on submission will be provided upon review of the dissertation by the Graduate School.
  3. The signature page within the electronic version must have the names of your committee members typed under the signature line; the signatures cannot be scanned into the document.
  4. Submit a signed signature page, digital/electronic signature page can be found on the Graduate School web-site.