Master of Public Health

Promoting thriving, healthy, connected communities for all


The mission of the UNC Gillings School’s MPH Program in Asheville is to foster thriving, healthy, and connected communities in Western North Carolina by equipping the next generation of public health advocates through place-based learning, community connection, justice-oriented relationships, and community-driven solutions that bridge the gap between research and practice.

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

Why Public Health in Western North Carolina?

Community and individual health starts in our families, schools, workplaces, playgrounds and public parks, and in the access every individual has to systems of care at every stage of their life. Here in WNC, we have a higher percentage of children living in poverty, a large uninsured population, a greater proportion of older adults, a growing number of adults with asthma, higher rates of opioid-related deaths, and racial inequities in infant mortality. While these public health challenges are daunting, WNC also has a long tradition of collaboration among hospital systems, health departments, and non-profits at the local and regional levels.

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 individuals 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 health and research 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 25-35 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 in interprofessional teams.

Place-Based Health Concentration

The Place-Based Health concentration is delivered through the UNC Gillings School’s MPH Program in Asheville, located on the campus of the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) in Asheville, NC. Place-based public health centers people and their communities as the catalyst for transforming systems to promote wellbeing for all. Local residents, not institutions, hold the history, knowledge and ways of interacting with place. As such, a place's inhabitants and institutions work in relationship, using interdisciplinary and participatory processes, to create and lead efforts to sustainably improve the social drivers of health and ultimately actualize health equity. Through our Place-Based Health concentration, you will increase your confidence in developing, supporting, and sustaining collaborations that contribute to more equitable systems and better lives. You will develop skills to:

  • Assess, promote, and enact health equity in systems, organizations, and communities.
  • Learn place-based approaches through courses, field trips, guest panels of practitioners, hands-on experiences, and culminating team projects that help WNC communities. 
  • Practice transforming systems through problem-based learning, by assessing system dynamics and leverage points, clearly and persuasively sharing critical health information, developing and sustaining relationships, and informing policy makers. 
  • Support and engage in community transformations using community-based participatory research and action methods.
  • Conduct research and evaluate programs to contribute to the knowledge base and advance public health practice.
  • Deepen knowledge and awareness to lead transformation of self, public health teams, and change efforts.

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 equipped to work in health systems, education, local and state government agencies, and community-based organizations.