Environmental Health

Douglas W. Dockery, SM, SM, SD

Assistant Director of Faculty and Academic Affairs
Barbara Zuckerman

To fulfill its mission to advance the health of all people around the world through research and training in environmental health, the department emphasizes the role of air, water, the built environment, and the workplace as critical determinants. Faculty members study the pathogenesis and prevention of environmentally produced illnesses and act as catalysts for scientifically based public health advances. Research approaches range from molecular studies to policy evaluation.

The department examines complex problems that require the contributions of many specialties. The faculty, research staff, and students reflect the multidisciplinary nature of the field and include biologists, chemists, engineers, epidemiologists, applied mathematicians, physicians, occupational health nurses, physiologists, cell biologists, molecular biologists, geneticists, and microbiologists.

Degree Programs in Environmental Health

Students pursue degrees through one of three concentrations:

  • Exposure, epidemiology, and risk (80-credit SM, 42.5-credit SM).
  • Occupational health (80-credit SM, 42.5-credit SM).
  • Molecular and integrative physiological sciences (PhD offered under the aegis of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences).

Exposure, Epidemiology, and Risk (EER) Concentration 

Research and educational training in the EER concentration center on the investigation and mitigation of health risks associated with environmental and occupational hazards. These environmental challenges to society are addressed by EER through an interdisciplinary approach that involves the characterization of contaminant sources, hazards, and environmental transport; identification of routes of exposure; investigation of health effects; and the employment of risk assessment, engineering, and management strategies to minimize adverse outcomes.

EER Concentration Requirements
All students in EER acquire core competencies in each of the three domains in which faculty members focus their research:

  • Exposure assessment, which emphasizes the chemical, physical, microbiological, and engineering aspects of environmental and occupational exposures. Faculty members study the transport and fate of environmental contaminants by measurement and modeling of ambient, indoor, and personal exposures to environmental and workplace contaminants and hazards. They also develop instruments and methods for collecting, analyzing, and assessing the effects of physical, chemical, and biological stressors.
  • Epidemiology, which focuses on identifying and measuring the influence of environmental factors (physical, chemical, and biological) on human disease in communities to provide scientific evidence for sound environmental and health policies.
  • Risk assessment, which integrates evidence from exposure assessment, epidemiology, toxicology, and other disciplines to inform policy decisions in the presence of uncertainty. Faculty members are involved in research and training on analytic methods and applications to quantify human health risks. These applications include evaluations of new products, fuels, water supplies, technologies, remediation strategies, and development of policies to protect both ecological
    and human health.

Beyond these core competencies, students choose one of the following areas of interest and take additional courses to develop expertise in this chosen area:

Environmental epidemiology     This area is for students interested in measuring the influence of environmental factors (physical, chemical, and biological) on human disease in communities to provide scientific evidence for sound environmental and health policies.

Ergonomics and safety     Providing a public health and engineering approach to the prevention of work-related injuries and musculoskeletal disorders, this area encompasses exposure assessment, occupational biomechanics, and epidemiology.

Environmental exposure assessment     This area prepares students to identify and characterize human and ecological exposures to environmental contaminants, model their fate and transport, and develop strategies to control environmental hazards, allergens, and pathogens.

Occupational hygiene     Focused on training, this area addresses the anticipation, identification, evaluation, and control of occupational hazards.

Risk and decision sciences     This area provides an integrated education in environmental science, risk analysis, and decision science applied to environmental

EER Degree Program Prerequisites and Requirements

All concentration requirements are in addition to the schoolwide degree requirements. Both master’s and doctoral students take core courses in human physiology and toxicology, exposure assessment, environmental and occupational epidemiology, and risk assessment. Beyond the general core requirements, the areas of interest have specific course requirements. Advanced courses are oriented toward specific pollutants or media such as air or water. They may focus on monitoring, modeling, or controlling pollutants; health effects; or management, regulation, and policy.

Many students also take courses at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and at other Harvard schools, including the Kennedy School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

SM in Environmental Health, 80-credit program
Minimum prerequisites for entrance: Bachelor’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent. Applicants generally have undergraduate degrees and limited work experience. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the concentration, a broad range of undergraduate or graduate degrees is acceptable. Among these are environmental science, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, meteorology, and decision analysis. Applicants are expected to have evidence of strong quantitative skills. Occasionally, applicants with social science, business, or policy backgrounds are successful if they can demonstrate some academic background in math, chemistry, physics, and biology. At times, applicants are accepted on the condition that they complete science and/or math courses.

Program requirements: AA set of core courses in the first two semesters, followed by more specialized courses in the later semesters. Within these constraints, students have some flexibility to change their focus in the program. Graduates of this research program assume positions in government, in private companies, or in research institutions. In the past few years, some graduates have gone to work as scientists in environmental consulting firms, as occupational hygienists, and as academic and government researchers. Some are working for nonprofit community and international organizations, and others have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees. On their personal statements, applicants should clearly state their preferred area of interest within the EER concentration and the ways in which the program will further their careers.

SM in Environmental Health, 42.5-credit program

Minimum prerequisites for entrance: Exceptional credentials, including a postbaccalaureate degree and significant professional experience. This program is designed for midcareer environmental health professionals interested in updating and strengthening their knowledge and technical capabilities.

Program requirements: Academic programs are developed on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration each student’s academic background and professional experience.


Occupational Health Concentration

The occupational health concentration is offered by the Environmental and Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology (EOME) program. This concentration is designed to train health and safety professionals to recognize and prevent disease and injuries associated with occupational and environmental exposures. The training programs in occupational health are offered through the NIOSH-sponsored Harvard Education and Research Center (ERC) for Occupational Safety and Health. Graduates are prepared for careers in fields such as occupational and environmental medicine and nursing, occupational hygiene, occupational and/or environmental safety, epidemiologic research, disease and injury surveillance, environmental and/or occupational health services, and molecular epidemiology.

In the EOME program, the SD degree may be earned by students who wish to concentrate in disciplines related to occupational health, including injury prevention, occupational epidemiology, or environmental molecular epidemiology. The disciplines of medicine and epidemiology are the focus of the EOME program; depending on the orientation of the student, these disciplines are brought to bear on occupationally and environmentally related exposures. Practicing physicians and nurses can choose courses with a medical orientation; industrial hygienists, safety professionals, and those seeking careers in academia and research can emphasize epidemiology. The academic degree programs are organized so that students can choose courses in both medicine and epidemiology.

Faculty research is focused on a wide variety of exposures and research approaches to identifying the association between exposure and disease or injury. Areas of faculty research include the following:

  • Respiratory disease among exposed populations, including indoor and outdoor workers and building occupants.
  • Reproductive and chronic disease studies of populations exposed to petrochemicals, heavy metals, and persistent organic compounds.
  • Pediatric environmental health; neurodevelopmental studies.
  • Environmental neuroepidemiology, including neurodegenerative disease in occupationally and environmentally exposed populations.
  • Assessment of biological and chemical hazards.
  • Occupational and environmental cancers, such as lung, skin, and bladder.
  • Biomonitoring and medical surveillance.
  • Occupational and environmental health in developing countries.
  • Environmental genetics, including the development of biochemical, molecular, and genetic markers and their applications in environmental epidemiologic studies.
  • Gene-environment interactions.
  • Occupational epidemiology.
  • Environmental and molecular epidemiology and occupational epidemiology.
  • Epidemiology of acute injury and cumulative trauma disorders.
  • Ergonomics and workplace injury prevention.


Occupational Health Degree Program Prerequisites and Requirements

All degree requirements are in addition to the schoolwide degree requirements.

SM in Environmental Health, 80-credit program
Minimum prerequisites for entrance: Bachelor’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent. Applicants typically have a bachelor’s degree and advanced training in science, including college level organic and inorganic chemistry. It generally is expected that students without a prior doctoral degree will wish to enroll in a subsequent doctoral program.

Program requirements: Students take courses in toxicology, pathophysiology, ergonomics and human factors, occupational safety, occupational health policy and administration, the work environment, environmental and occupational epidemiology, the practice of occupational  health, advanced biostatistics, and ethics. The program offers areas of interest in ergonomics and safety or occupational health.

SM in Environmental Health, 42.5-credit program

Minimum prerequisites for entrance: PhD or JD degree or non-U.S. equivalent, or a master’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent in a related field with significant professional experience.

Program requirements: Students take courses in toxicology, pathophysiology, ergonomics and human factors, occupational safety, occupational health policy and administration, the work environment, environmental and occupational epidemiology, the practice of occupational health, advanced biostatistics, and ethics. The program offers an area of interest in ergonomics and safety.


Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency/MPH

The Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency (OEMR) is a two-year preventive medicine program incorporating the MPH degree. It is fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and leads to the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM) eligibility in the discipline of occupational medicine.

Minimum prerequisites for entrance: Applicants must be graduates of an approved school of medicine or osteopathy and must have completed (or be enrolled in) at least one year of internship training in an accredited and approved U.S. or Canadian allopathic clinical program; board eligibility or certification in a primary care specialty is preferred. Physicians currently holding positions in the field of occupational safety and health who plan to return to these positions are considered strong candidates for admission.

Residency requirements: The first year consists of academic coursework leading to the MPH degree and four months of clinical experience, including a continuity clinic. The second year is devoted to the further development and refinement of skills in clinical occupational and environmental medicine and epidemiologic research. During the second year, acquired knowledge and skills are applied to patient and population management and workplace/community problem solving, and at least one publication-quality research project is designed, executed, and documented under faculty supervision. Field experience in both years includes rotations through hospital- and community-based occupational and environmental health clinics. Additional rotation choices are available in corporate medical departments and governmental agencies.

Admission to the residency is a separate process from admission to the MPH degree program. In addition to submitting an electronic Schools of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS) application to the MPH degree program, residency candidates must apply to the residency by sending documents to the program administrator. Please consult the OEMR website for a complete set of prerequisites and application requirements. The OEMR encourages prospective applicants to send a curriculum vitae (CV) listing medical training and experience, research experience, and publications to the program director before beginning the SOPHAS and residency application process. Residency applicants who already have an MPH degree are welcome to apply; they should consult the OEMR website and send a complete CV to the program director or program administrator before beginning the application process.

Applicants to the MPH program who also are applying to the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency must apply for both the degree program (MPH with a field of study in Occupational and Environmental Health — OEH) and the residency by October 15, 2014, for 2015–16 matriculation. Continuation into the second year of the residency is contingent upon having exemplary clinical experience and academic performance in the first year of the program.

Some financial support for residency candidates who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents may be available through traineeships.

Contact Information
For the EER concentration:
EER Program Office
HSPH Landmark Center, Box 15677
401 Park Drive West
Boston, MA 02215
Email: envsci@hsph.harvard.edu
Web: hsph.harvard.edu/eer

For the Occupational Health concentration (OH/EOME), training in occupational epidemiology and environmental molecular epidemiology, ERC traineeships, and environmental traineeships:
David C. Christiani, MD, MPH, SM
Department of Environmental Health
665 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-1260
Fax: 617-432-3441
Email: dchris@hsph.harvard.edu
Web: hsph.harvard.edu/research/erc

For the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency:
Stefanos Kales, MD, MPH
Department of Environmental Health
665 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-665-1580
Fax: 617-432-0219
Email: skales@hsph.harvard.edu
Web: hsph.harvard.edu/research/oemr/

Molecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences Concentration

Training in molecular and integrative physiological sciences (MIPS) addresses the intersection between basic sciences and environmental exposures, often in the context of global public health. Faculty members focus on three main problems: air pollution, lung infection, and asthma. The theme of pulmonary inflammation spans these foci, as does an interdisciplinary approach bridging biological and physical sciences. Areas of research include biomechanical properties of cells and tissue in normal and inflamed lungs; smooth muscle and airway constriction in asthma; epigenetics and prenatal programming for susceptibility to lung disease; health effects of inhaled pollutants; nanotoxicology; lung infections; and genomic discovery approaches to cell biology and drug discovery. The approaches used are broadly based, ranging from molecular and cell biology to integrated organismic, environmental, and comparative physiology.

MIPS Concentration Requirements
The MIPS training program provides four major areas of interest: bioengineering, physiology, cell and molecular biology, and mechanisms of disease. All students participate in program-wide seminars and interactions that foster exposure to a robust menu of scientific fields, including physics, bioengineering, physiology, biomathematics, cell biology, molecular biology, proteomics and genomics, clinical science, and epidemiology. By working in this rich interdisciplinary environment, students learn many measurement technologies, discover a variety of approaches, and develop scientific thinking.

MIPS Degree Requirements
All MIPS degree requirements are in addition to the schoolwide degree requirements.

Most students admitted to the SD program receive a stipend, as well as tuition and health insurance support. Students are encouraged to apply for fellowships from outside sources since certain external fellowships provide higher stipends.

PhD in Biological Sciences in Public Health (Molecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences)

Students wishing to study cellular and molecular biology or pathophysiology as it pertains to major problems in public health may apply to the PhD program offered by the Division of Biological Sciences through the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The PhD program is designed to prepare students for research careers in pathophysiology and mechanisms of disease, respiratory physiology, cell and molecular biology, or bioengineering.


Contact Information

For research and training in molecular and integrative physiological sciences (MIPS) or the SD program,:
Lester Kobzik, MD
Department of Environmental Health
665 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-2247
Fax: 617-432-0014
Email: lkobzik@hsph.harvard.edu
Web: hsph.harvard.edu/research/mips

For Reference
Schoolwide degree requirements for the SM, SD programs

Detailed application requirements for the SM, SD programs

Online application to the PhD program in the Division of Biological Sciences is required. Use the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences online application form, available at: gsas.harvard.edu/prospective_students/application_instructions_and_information.php.