Master of Public Health

This place-based MPH program is focused on advancing health equity in rural and underserved communities. The program is delivered by UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, the number one public school of public health in the nation, at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC.

Why Public Health?

Research demonstrates that public health has a strong influence on individual and community well-being, with some estimates showing public health factors accounting for more than 80% of health outcomes such as life expectancy, quality-adjusted life years, and mortality rates.1

Public health interventions are upstream solutions designed to prevent disease and promote wellness through individual, community, and systems-level change.

Why this Public Health Leadership Program?

The UNC Gillings School's MPH Program in Asheville offers the Place-Based Health concentration within the Public Health Leadership Program at the Gillings School. 

To be effective, public health practitioners need to build strong relationships, not just with members of their own teams, but also with leaders from other sectors, disciplines, and political parties. Mobilizing people and systems requires public health professionals who understand the context of the place in which they are working and who are equipped to use a variety of leadership approaches to engage others in supporting and promoting public health priorities.

This UNC Gillings degree program leverages UNC Asheville’s and MAHEC’s strong partnerships with WNC communities and regional health systems and draws on the interdisciplinary liberal arts teaching expertise of UNCA faculty and interprofessional healthcare expertise of MAHEC.  

The program design involves small cohorts (maximum 24 per cohort), case-based and community-based activities, and instruction by interdisciplinary faculty and community practitioners who bring real-world experience to the classroom. Courses include synchronous onsite classes as well as online recorded lectures. Classes are held one day a week so that students can work part-time while pursuing their degree. Note that the degree plan is considered a full-time course of study and students can expect to work 30-40 hours a week on their graduate study. 

We recruit interprofessional cohorts representing various academic backgrounds and life experiences. This diversity of background deepens students’ understanding of health issues and gives them important experience working interprofessionally.

Place-Based Health Concentration

Students learn multisector approaches for understanding and addressing public health problems in the context of place—how problems are impacted by a community’s history, culture, beliefs, behaviors, traditions, art, geography, and social structures. Engaging and collaborating with diverse communities and regional institutions, students focus on health transformation of individuals, communities, and systems. Students learn in the context of the mountains of Western North Carolina and develop competencies that can be applied in any place locally, regionally, nationally, and across our globe. 

Our place-based concentration emphasizes

  • a historic multidimensional understanding of place and its effects on health
  • exemplary leadership and innovation capacities in rural health
  • experience, connection, and partnership with communities in WNC
  • exceptional ability to conduct research, innovate, and advocate to address needs of WNC communities
  • skills for advancing health equity
  • understanding community-driven research

Place-Based Health Competencies

In addition to the 22 foundational core public health competencies, you will learn the following place-based competencies:

  1. Analyze the concept of place in the context of key public health issues locally in Western NC and adapt these concepts to communities in state, regional, national, and global settings.
  2. Integrate place-based sociological, anthropological, educational, economic, environmental, and other theoretical perspectives with public health practice.
  3. Expand personal leadership skills to engage and motivate individuals, teams, and communities for health.
  4. Apply the principles of community change models to support and promote healthy and safe physical and social environments and advocate for health equity.
  5. Apply the principle of systems and design thinking in the framework of local health systems to promote health and social equity.
  6. Design applied research studies to investigate a question of public health importance.

For what jobs, positions, and settings will this concentration prepare graduates?

The Gillings School's Place-Based Health concentration is designed to support people at every level of public health practice. Graduates will be leaders in health systems, education, local and state government agencies, and community-based organizations.


1Hartley, D. Rural health disparities, population health, and rural culture. American Journal of Public Health 2004; 94; 1675-1678.