The health behavior students posing here with Professor Carol Golin conducted community-based participatory research with the residents of public housing through the I’m Fully Empowered (IFE) Project in Durham, N.C. in 2018.

Students applying to enroll in fall 2019

Please see information about the Gillings MPH, Health Behavior concentration or 10 other concentrations.

Enrolled master’s students

The Master of Public Health in health behavior prepares individuals for positions in public health practice. Master’s students are trained to use social and behavioral science to study, develop, and evaluate interventions to promote health, prevent disease and injury, and reduce health inequalities at all levels of the social ecological model. The master’s curriculum integrates theory, research, and practice through core courses, community-based fieldwork, and professional development.

The Health Behavior Master’s Program Quick Guide (2018) is a useful resource for entering students. The most complete source of information is the Master’s Program Handbook. The 2018 version of the program handbook will be available at registration. 

Core competencies

The Department of Health Behavior is committed to ensuring that its master’s program meets all UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) MPH-specified competencies. The health behavior MPH curriculum also addresses National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC) competencies and Galway Consensus Conference Core Competencies.

ASPH cross-cutting competencies

Upon completion of their program of study, a student should be able to demonstrate competencies in six domains: communication, diversity and cultural competency, leadership, professionalism and ethics, planning, and systems thinking. Coursework, prior experiences, relationships with mentors, committees, conferences, papers and  poster presentations are examples of ways students can document progress toward achieving the competencies. The ASPH cross-cutting competencies and the ASPPH discipline-specific competencies serve as the basis of the Certification in Public Health (CPH) exam.

  • Communication and informatics: The ability to collect, manage and organize data to produce information and meaning that is exchanged by use of signs and symbols; to gather, process, and present information to different audiences in-person, through information technologies, or through media channels; and to strategically design the information and knowledge exchange process to achieve specific objectives.
  • Diversity and cultural competency: The ability to interact with diverse individuals and communities to produce or have an impact on an intended public health outcome.
  • Leadership: The ability to create and communicate a shared vision for a changing future; champion solutions to organizational and community challenges; and energize commitment to goals.
  • Professionalism and ethics: The ability to demonstrate ethical choices, values and professional practices implicit in public health decisions; consider the effect of choices on community stewardship, equity, social justice and accountability; and commit to personal and institutional development.
  • Program planning: The ability to plan for the design, development, implementation and evaluation of strategies to improve individual and community health.
  • Systems thinking: The ability to recognize system-level properties that result from dynamic interactions among human and social systems and how they affect the relationships among individuals, groups, organizations, communities and environments.

The other competencies the master’s curriculum addresses are listed in Appendix C of the Master’s Program Handbook. Appendix B shows how courses address the competencies.


Students complete 54 credit hours of coursework, including 27 hours of required coursework within health behavior, 12 hours of Gillings core requirements and a minimum of 15 hours of elective credits. The sequencing of coursework provides flexibility for students to take a variety of electives, complete certificate programs, and pursue independent study options. Required courses  are listed on page three of the Master’s Program Handbook followed by course sequencing.

Required fieldwork

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) requires “All graduate professional public health degree students [to] develop skills in basic public health concepts and demonstrate the application of these concepts through a practice experience that is relevant to students’ areas of specialization.” The curriculum for the MPH degree in health behavior features two field training opportunities: the practicum (HBEH 742) and Capstone (HBEH 746/992).

Practicum (HBEH 742) The practicum is an individualized, mentored and hands-on learning experience that bridges academic training and public health practice. Students work with a public health agency during the summer between their first and second years in the program and are mentored by a preceptor in the organization. View the HBEH 742 syllabus. More information is also available in the program handbook.

Capstone (HBEH 746/992)  is a group-based, mentored, service-learning course whose products serve as the master’s thesis substitute for second-year master’s students in health behavior. View the HBEH 746/992 syllabus. More information is also available in the program handbook.

Comprehensive exam

The purpose of the MPH comprehensive exam is to assess students’ ability to apply the knowledge and skills in public health and health behavior-related theory, practice, and applied research methods (both qualitative and quantitative) that were covered in the core courses. Students take the comprehensive examination during the week before classes begin for the fall semester of their second year.

After earning the master’s degree

The master’s program prepares students for leadership positions in a wide range of public health settings. Alumni of the program hold positions at leading public health organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Employers include local and state health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Red Cross, FHI 360 and the American Cancer Society.


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