Core Competencies

Core Competencies

The School has identified the following school-wide competencies for the five core knowledge areas of public health for the Harvard Chan School professional master’s students:


  • Demonstrate the roles biostatistics serves in the discipline of public health.
  • Interpret graphical and descriptive techniques commonly used to summarize public health data.
  • Describe basic concepts of probability, random variation, and commonly used statistical probability distributions.
  • Apply common statistical methods for estimation and inference and use them appropriately according to underlying assumptions and type of study design.
  • Interpret the results of statistical analyses to provide evidence within the context of public health, health care, biomedical, clinical, and population-based studies and research.
  • Develop basic skills for utilizing statistical computing software for performing data analyses.


  • Describe the role of epidemiology as a quantitative approach to address problems in clinical medicine and public health.
  • Describe and apply the basic principles and methods of epidemiology, including: disease measures, association and causation, bias, confounding and effect modification, and susceptibility.
  • Interpret descriptive epidemiologic results in order to develop hypotheses of possible risk factors of a disease.
  • Develop a foundation for designing valid and efficient epidemiologic studies to address public health problems, including: understanding the strengths and limitations of descriptive, observational, and experimental studies.
  • Become a critical reader of epidemiologic literature by analyzing the appropriateness of study design, quality of data, methodological strategies, and interpretation of results.

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Environmental Health Sciences

  • Characterize the human health effects, both acute and chronic, of major environmental and occupational hazards such as: air pollution, metals, organic pollutants, microbial contamination of drinking water, and physical hazards.
  • Analyze sources, pathways, and routes of exposure to these environmental and occupational hazards (and safety), and determine the populations with a high risk of exposure.
  • Assess the factors that can modify the overall impact of environmental and occupational hazards on a population (e.g., age, genetic polymorphisms, nutritional and disease states).
  • Apply risk assessment and risk management concepts to develop effective guidelines and policies to mitigate and manage environmental and occupational hazards and improve health outcomes.

Health Services Administration

The Health Services Administration (HSA) core courses are classified into three groups for purposes of core competencies: health management, health economics, and health policy and politics. Students are required to fulfill the core competencies for one of these groups and in the cross-cutting HSA competencies.

Health Management

  • Develop financial literacy.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the human, social, and economic dynamics of organizational behavior.
  • Develop competency in making effective managerial decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

Health Economics

  • Articulate the functions of supply and demand.
  • Assess the extent to which real markets diverge from perfect markets.
  • Apply models of rational choice to markets.
  • Assess the effects of financial and payment incentives on the behavior of individuals and organizations.
  • Apply these tools of economic analysis to new policy issues and proposals.

Health Policy and Politics

  • Demonstrate capacity to apply a conceptual framework for understanding political and policy processes in health care.
  • Explain how political institutions and processes influence resource allocation in health care.
  • Understand basic organization, financing, and delivery of health services and public health systems.
  • Discuss the policy process for improving the health status of populations.

Cross-Cutting HSA Competencies

  • Work effectively as part of a team, including getting and receiving candid and constructive feedback.
  • Communicate clearly and succinctly, in writing and orally, to public health professionals and the public.
  • Advocate for a policy or strategy, including developing an appropriate communication strategy.

Social and Behavioral Sciences

  • Compare social, developmental, and behavioral theories of health, health behavior, and illness, and analyze their applicability to different types of health problems.
  • Formulate social and behavioral change interventions based on these theories that are appropriate and responsive to the social and cultural context.
  • Develop program and policy implementation skills, including communication, advocacy, and engaging the media.
  • Design and implement program evaluations using qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Critique the validity of basic behavioral and evaluation research.
  • Identify individual, organizational, and community concerns, assets, resources, and deficits for social and behavioral science interventions.