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School of Public Health
School of Public Health

University of Washington School of Public Health

Competencies for All Degrees

All SPH Students

Competencies for all SPH students, regardless of degree program
Upon satisfactory completion of all degree programs at the SPH, graduates will be able to:

  • Distinguish between individual and population health.
  • Apply evidence-based decision making and critical thinking to public health problems.
  • Communicate effectively and persuasively, both orally and in writing.
  • Recognize the means by which social inequities and racism, generated by power and privilege, undermine health.


Competencies for all undergraduate students, regardless of degree program:

  • Compare and contrast prevention vs. treatment and health vs. healthcare.
  • Discuss the determinants of health and illness and the contribution health care and public health make to the health status of the population with particular attention to inequities in and among populations.
  • Describe the history and structure of public health systems.
  • Describe the role of advocacy and civic engagement in public health.
  • Practice teamwork, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community partnerships.

Masters of Public Health

All MPH programs, regardless of department or track, share a common set of core MPH competencies, that include competencies in biostatistics, environmental and occupational health sciences, epidemiology, health services (health administration and policy),  and social and behavioral sciences.

Generic competencies for all MPH students

  • Describe the factors influencing the balance between individual susceptibility and population determinants of health.
  • Demonstrate creativity, inquisitiveness, and evidence-based rigor in the application of public health problem-solving skills.
  • Critically read and evaluate quantitative and qualitative research findings contained in medical, public health, and social science literature.
  • Work effectively in and with diverse cultures and communities (cultural competency).
  • Apply appropriate analytic tools and emerging technologies to defining, describing, and intervening public health problems.
  • Describe major quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research study designs and their advantages and limitations.
  • Identify and respond with integrity to ethical and social issues in diverse contexts and promote accountability for the impact of policy decisions upon public health practice at local, national, and international levels.
  • Demonstrate professional and ethical behaviors within the appropriate management structure (academic, governmental, or other), including ability to work effectively with professionals from other disciplines.

Biostatistics competencies for all MPH Students

  • Select and interpret appropriate graphical displays and numerical summaries for both quantitative and categorical data.
  • Explain the logic and interpret the results of statistical hypothesis tests and confidence intervals.
  • Select appropriate measures of association of nominal and continuous variables.
  • Select appropriate methods for statistical inference to compare one group to a standard, or two or more groups to each other.
  • Develop or evaluate a statistical analysis plan to address the major research questions of a public health or biomedical study based on the data collected and the design of the study.
  • Explain the roles of sample size, power, and precision in standard study designs.

Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences competencies for all MPH Students

  • Specify the major chemical, microbial, and physical health hazards found in air, water, food, soil, and wastes, and describe their principal effects on health.
  • Describe basic strategies for identifying, evaluating, preventing, and controlling exposures to health and safety hazards in environmental and occupational settings.
  • Describe methods for assessing health risk and identifying acceptable levels of risk associated with environmental and occupational hazards.
  • Describe the potential influence of biological, behavioral, socioeconomic, political, and cultural factors on environmental and occupational health risks.
  • Identify major environmental and occupational health problems associated with morbidity and mortality, in industrialized countries and in developing countries.
  • Describe potential impacts of demographic change, economic development, built environments, environmental pollution, and climate and ecosystem change on health, food security, and water resources.
  • Describe major regulations, policies, and institutions involved in controlling or mitigating environmental and occupational health risks.
  • Discuss the importance of environmental justice and sustainability in addressing problems related to the environment and health.
  • Communicate information to a target audience about environmental and occupational health risks, influential factors, and prevention strategies, and anticipate or identify risk perceptions and relevant concerns in the target audience.

Epidemiology competencies for all MPH Students

  • Define and appraise the health status of populations, determinants of health and illness, factors contributing to health promotion and disease prevention, and factors influencing the use of health services.
  • Evaluate the integrity and comparability of data and identify gaps in data sources.
  • Define and calculate measures of disease frequency and measures of association between risk factors and disease.
  • Describe the major epidemiologic research study designs and their advantages and limitations.
  • Describe the major sources of bias in epidemiologic research (confounding, selection bias, and measurement error) and the ways to evaluate and reduce bias.
  • Apply guidelines to support whether an association is causal.
  • List and define the basic terms and methods used in outbreak investigation, infectious disease epidemiology, chronic disease epidemiology, disease prevention trials, and evaluation of screening tests.
  • Appropriately select and use modern information technology tools to identify, locate, access, assess, and use health information and data to inform public health decision-making.
  • Critically review the relevant scientific literature, synthesize the findings across studies, and make appropriate public health recommendations based on current knowledge.
  • Interpret results of an epidemiologic study, including the relation to findings from other epidemiologic studies, the potential biological and/or social mechanisms, the limitations of the study, and the public health implications.
  • Explain the importance of epidemiology for informing scientific, ethical, economic, and political discussions of health issues.
  • Recognize the basic ethical and legal principles pertaining to the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of epidemiologic data.
  • Communicate epidemiologic information to lay and professional audiences.
  • Apply epidemiologic skills in a U.S. or global public health setting, specifically in the formulation or application of public health programs or policies.

Health Services (Health Administration and Policy) competencies for all MPH Students

  • Describe how the health care and public health systems contribute to the public’s health and to the intermediate goals of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
  • Describe the history, components, organization, and operation of the health care and public health systems.
  • Explain how the structure and functioning of health systems affect its performance.
  • Discuss the determinants of health and illness and the contribution health care and public health make to the health status of the population with particular attention to inequities in and among populations.
  • Describe the major public policy issues that affect health and health care.
  • Describe the major strengths and weaknesses of the health care and public health systems and their underlying causes.
  • Illustrate how health care and population health interventions can be better integrated.
  • Identify and evaluate the major challenges facing a health system and identify alternative approaches to improving the system’s performance.
  • Describe the pros and cons of health care financing strategies and programs that can be achieved through either government or private mechanisms, and illustrate using either domestic or international examples.
  • Explain how socioeconomic, political, behavioral, and biological factors can determine health and disease and how this knowledge can be used to assess population health and develop strategies for disease prevention and health promotion.
  • Articulate the health status of the United States in comparison to other countries over the past several decades.

Social and Behavioral Sciences competencies for all MPH Students

  • Describe the key components of core theories and models of behavior and behavior change, and assess how these theories apply to specific public health problems that are influenced by individual, community, institutional, and societal determinants;
  • Outline and explain a conceptual model of the factors affecting population health and health inequalities, define the individual-level and contextual-level social determinants of population health and health inequalities in the conceptual model, and explain their relationships and potential mechanisms of influence.
  • Apply evidence and theory-based approaches in developing social and behavioral science interventions to improve individual and population health and reduce health inequalities.
  • Specify multiple targets and levels of intervention for social and behavioral science interventions and policies.
  • Identify and describe health promotion principles and strategies for designing programs to improve health care using U.S. and/or international public health systems
  • Identify and describe a community: its demography, culture, formal and informal organizations, interactions, leadership, relevant stakeholders, physical attributes, and how the community views itself.
  • Define cultural competency as it applies to working with diverse individuals, organizations, and health care and public health systems and communities.
  • Identify and describe tools to assess and improve organizational and community assets and resources, and explain their application in addressing health needs.
  • Describe strategies for collaborating with communities in assessing health needs, designing and implementing programs to address these needs, evaluating program outcomes, promoting community health, and conducting research (e.g., community based participatory research).

Masters of Health Administration

Upon satisfactory completion of the MHA degree programs, graduates will have developed managerial, financial and leadership competencies in the following areas:

  • Accountability: The ability to hold people accountable to standards of performance or ensure compliance using the power of one’s position or force of personality appropriately and effectively, with the long-term good of the organization in mind.
  • Achievement Orientation: A concern for surpassing a standard of excellence.
  • Analytical Thinking: The ability to understand a situation, issue, or problem by breaking it into smaller pieces or tracing its implications in a step-by-step way.
  • Change Leadership: The ability to energize stakeholders and sustain their commitment to changes in approaches, processes, and strategies.
  • Collaboration: The ability to work cooperatively with others, to be part of a team, to work together, as opposed to working separately or competitively.
  • Communication Skills: The ability to speak and write in a clear, logical, and grammatical manner in formal and informal situations to prepare cogent business presentations, and to facilitate a group.
  • Community Orientation:  The ability to align one’s own and the organization’s priorities with the needs and values of the community, including its cultural and ethnocentric values and to move health forward in line with population-based wellness needs and national health agenda.
  • Financial Skills:  The ability to understand and explain financial and accounting information, prepare and manage budgets, and make sound long-term investment decisions.
  • Human Resources Management:  The ability to implement staff development and other management practices that represent contemporary best practices, comply with legal and regulatory requirements, optimize the performance of the workforce, including performance assessments, alternative compensation and benefit methods, and the  alignment of human resource practices and processes to meet the strategic goals of the organization.
  • Impact and Influence The ability to persuade, convince, influence, or impress others (individuals or groups) in order to get them to go along with or to support one’s opinion or position.
  • Information Seeking:  An underlying curiosity and desire to know more about things, people, or issues, including the desire for knowledge and staying current with health, organizational, industry, and professional trends and developments.
  • Information Technology Management:  The ability to see the potential in and understand the use of administrative and clinical technology and decision-support tools in process and performance improvement.
  • Initiative:  Identifying a problem, obstacle, or opportunity and taking action in light of this identification to address current or future problems or opportunities.
  • Innovative Thinking: The ability to apply complex concepts, develop creative solutions, or adapt previous solutions in new ways for breakthrough thinking in the field.
  • Interpersonal Understanding:  The ability to understand other people as well as to accurately hear and understand the unspoken or partly expressed thoughts, feelings, and concerns of others.
  • Organizational Awareness:  The ability to understand and learn the formal and informal decision-making structures and power relationships in an organization or industry (e.g., stakeholders, suppliers).
  • Performance Measurement:  The ability to understand and use statistical and financial methods and metrics to set goals and measure clinical as well as organizational performance; commitment to and employment of evidence-based techniques.
  • Process Management and Organizational Design: The ability to analyze and design or improve an organizational process, including incorporating the principles of quality management as well as customer satisfaction.
  • Professionalism: The demonstration of ethics, sound professional practices, social accountability, and community stewardship.
  • Project Management: The ability to plan, execute, and oversee a multi-year, large-scale project involving significant resources, scope, and impact.
  • Relationship Building: The ability to establish, build, and sustain professional contacts for the purpose of building networks of people with similar goals and that support similar interests.
  • Self-Confidence:  A belief in one’s own capability to accomplish a task and select an effective approach to a task or problem.
  • Self-Development: The ability to have an accurate view of one’s own strengths and development needs, including the impact that one has on others.
  • Strategic Orientation:  The ability to consider the business, demographic, ethno-cultural, political, and regulatory implications of decisions and develop strategies that continually improve the long-term success and viability of the organization.
  • Talent Development: The drive to build the breadth and depth of the organization’s human capability and professionalism, including supporting top-performing people and taking a personal interest in coaching and mentoring high-potential leaders.
  • Team Leadership: Sees oneself as a leader of others, from forming a team that possesses balanced capabilities to setting its mission, values, and norms, as well as to holding the team members accountable individually and as a group for results.

Masters of Science

Generic competencies for all MS students:
Upon satisfactory completion of the MS program, all graduates will be able to:

  • Describe major research study designs used in their field of study.
  • Critically review the scientific literature, synthesize the findings across studies, and make appropriate recommendations based on current knowledge.
  • Organize data and information, prepare technical reports, and give oral presentations appropriate to the scientific community and/or the general public.
  • Demonstrate disciplinary knowledge.
  • Demonstrate professional and ethical behaviors.
  • Work effectively with professionals from other disciplines.
  • Analyze, interpret, and use data for addressing questions relevant to an area of research.
  • Formulate a hypothesis or practical research question, design a study or plan to obtain experimental or observational data, and conduct an appropriate analysis to support an evidence-based assessment of the results.

Doctor of Philosophy

Generic competencies for all PhD students:
Upon satisfactory completion of the PhD program, graduates will be able to:

  • Meet the generic SPH learning objectives for the MS degree (see section above).
  • Demonstrate comprehensive understanding and in-depth knowledge of a methodology or subject area.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the discipline within the context of the field of public health.
  • Conceive, conduct, and disseminate independent research.

Competencies for specific programs can be found on the program detail pages.