PhD in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research

The PhD in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research is offered through the Department of Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health. The mission of the PhD program is to provide students with the training necessary to become skilled research scientists who will have a significant impact on the health of the population by thinking critically and integratively about complex public health problems and applying scientific rigor to the design and evaluation of health promotion and disease prevention research and programs.

Research in the Department involves epidemiological, intervention, evaluation, and dissemination studies, using qualitative, quantitative, and/or systems tools. The faculty of the Department perform health promotion research and training in a broad spectrum of public health issues including adolescent risk behaviors, community-oriented primary care, cross-cultural health and health inequities, environmental sustainability and health, inter-professionalism, maternal and child health, nutrition, obesity prevention and control, physical activity and inactivity, health care ethics and law, school health, sexual health, social marketing, socio-behavioral economics, substance use and abuse, systems science and public health, tobacco control, and aesthetic and humanistic influences on health.

Graduates of the program will be prepared for careers as scientists in government and private research agencies, as faculty in colleges and universities, and as leaders in public health agencies in Nebraska, nationally, and internationally.

Degree Program Information

Admission Requirements

Any applicant desiring admission into the Ph.D. program must submit a fully completed application.  Below is a complete list of all documents required for application.  It is the applicant’s responsibility to request an official copy of the academic record be sent to the graduate office from each college or university that the applicant has attended.   A minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.00/4.00 on all graduate course work attempted at an accredited institution of higher education is required for admission.  Masters or other advanced degrees are required for admission, although exceptional students with Bachelor’s degree will be considered.  The official results from the GRE must be submitted to the graduate office.  The GRE must have been taken no more than five years prior to the application date.  Most successful applicants will have verbal and quantitative GRE scores at or above the 60th percentile.  All international applicants whose native language is not English and who do not have a MS from an accredited institution are required to submit a TOEFL of 550 (paper), 213 (Computer), or 80 (Internet).  The TOEFL must have been taken no more than two years prior to the application date.  Each applicant must submit a written statement of career goals.  This writing sample of 750-1000 words will be used to assess writing competence as well as career objectives.  Three letters of recommendation are required for admission.  At least one of these letters must be from a faculty member in the applicant’s previous program who can attest to the applicant’s ability to pursue successfully a PhD program.  The remaining two letters may be academic or professional references.

Complete list of documents and scores required of applicants:

Checklist for submitting all required forms – Please print this page to ensure you have submitted all required forms to ensure prompt review of your application file.

Please note: Under no circumstances will applications and supporting documents be accepted for any Program beyond these dates:
Fall Semester
US Applicants: April 1 
International Applicants: April 1

Apply online to UNMC Graduate Studies.

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Degree Requirements

Students enrolled in the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Research PhD Program are required to complete 90 credit hours in the following areas: health promotion, research, writing, ethics, directed research, elective courses, and dissertation work. The courses or categories to meet the credit hours required are specified below. It is possible that some of the courses needed to meet the credit hours for this PhD Program will be completed as part of a masters or other professional degree program and up to 50% of coursework could be transferred.  In order for graduate credits to be considered for transfer, they must have been earned at an institution fully accredited to offer graduate work and the Graduate Committee must evaluate their quality and suitability.  At least 50% of the coursework for the doctoral degree must be completed at the University of Nebraska.

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Advisor and Supervisory Committee

At admission, students will be assigned a temporary advisor. No later than the end of the second semester of coursework, students should choose a permanent advisor. After admission to the Graduate College and prior to completing half of the total hours for the degree, a doctoral student must work with an advisor and form a Supervisory Committee. The Supervisory Committee must consist of at least four members (including the student’s advisor) who are University of Nebraska Graduate Faculty Members. It is urged that one or more members of the Supervisory Committee be from a field or fields of study different from the major area of interest, whenever such representation will contribute to the student's program and/or the overall effectiveness of the graduate program. The Dean of Graduate Studies, upon recommendation of the department Graduate Committee, will appoint the committee. This committee will approve a proposed program of study for the degree. Additional members may be added to the committee for the purpose of the dissertation. The committee also approves the dissertation and final oral examination.

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Program of Study

Within four weeks of its appointment, the Supervisory Committee shall meet to designate and subsequently to file with the Graduate Studies Office a proposed program of study, including designation of all required courses and the general area of research for the dissertation. Any subsequent changes in the program or in the dissertation topic shall be approved by the Supervisory Committee and the action reported to the Graduate Studies Office.

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Health Promotion (18 Credit Hours)

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Research (24 Credit Hours)

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Writing (4 Credit Hours)

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Ethics (3 Credit Hours)

All students completing the PhD Program will have successfully completed 3 credit hours in ethics.

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Directed Research (6 Credit Hours)

All students completing the PhD program will have successfully completed at least 6 credit hours (i.e., two courses at 3 credit hours each, three courses at 2 credit hours each) of directed research. The intent of the directed research course is to allow students to acquire new research skills, expand their exposure to new research and increase publication opportunities. Each course involves hands-on research working closely with a faculty member and developing a publishable scholarly product (e.g., something that can be documented on a CV such as manuscript for peer-reviewed publication, national conference presentation, book chapter, policy brief, community report, technical report, or program manual). Under the supervision of the course instructor, the student is expected to develop and submit to the Graduate Program Director of HPSBH a course outline, timeline (including timeline for production of a scholarly product which may occur outside of the semester in which the credits are taken) and expected outcome(s) for each directed research course before the start of the semester. The instructor of the directed research course(s) does not have to be the student’s advisor.

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Elective Courses (23 Credit Hours)

All students completing the PhD Program will have successfully completed 23 credit hours of elective courses. Electives, which are selected by the doctoral student in concert with his/her Supervisory Committee, are used to strengthen and solidify the program of study.

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Comprehensive Exam

All students must successfully complete a take-home comprehensive exam, which cannot be taken before the final semester of coursework. The exam consists of questions that will be selected by the Supervisory Committee and pertain to the student’s course of study and/or dissertation topic. Students will have five days to complete the exam and the responses must be defended orally.

The Supervisory Committee will evaluate the student’s written and oral components and determine when the student has successfully completed the comprehensive exam.

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The student is admitted to candidacy for the PhD after the report of successfully completing the comprehensive exam is filed in the Graduate Office. This must be done at least seven months prior to the final oral defense of the dissertation. The term of candidacy is limited to three years. The PhD degree must be completed within seven years from the date of the initial registration as a PhD-objective student.

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Dissertation Hours (12 Credit Hours)

After successfully completing the comprehensive exam, the student must register for 12 hours of dissertation research. Students must register for at least one credit hour of dissertation for each semester and summer session until the completion of the degree.

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Within one year of successfully completing the comprehensive exam, the doctoral student should propose his/her dissertation research to the Supervisory Committee in writing and orally defend the proposal.

Upon successful defense of the proposal, the Supervisory Committee will grant the student approval to begin his/her proposed research. Once the dissertation research is completed, the student will submit the dissertation in writing to the Supervisory Committee and orally defend the dissertation.

Before completion of the degree there must be evidence that the dissertation material has been submitted for publication in a peer review journal.

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Teaching Requirement

All students completing the PhD Program will be required to gain a semester-long teaching experience through one of the following supervised activities:

  1. Secure a Graduate Teaching Assistantship through the university,
  2. Arrange directly with a professor to assist in teaching a course,
  3. Secure a position as a part-time instructor at a college or university.

The COPH generally seeks funds to support students' teaching activities, but these are not guaranteed. Faculty may also secure external grant support that would pay for students to teach courses in their area. In all cases it is expected that the experience will be supervised, with support, feedback and evaluation provided to the student. Many PhDs work in an academic setting and are expected to teach undergraduate and/or graduate courses. Those PhDs involved in community interventions often use educationally based methods. In both cases having actual experience in teaching better prepares the candidate to understand the process.

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Members of the Graduate Program Committee

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For additional information

Please contact the Graduate Program Director:

Melissa Tibbits, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health
College of Public Health
University of Nebraska Medical Center
Phone: 402-559-4325

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