Master of Science in Health Services Research

The Master of Science (MS) in Health Services Research offers opportunities to study both quantitative and qualitative research methods, with an emphasis on analyzing questions of health care quality and outcomes, and of health economics.

Through the SPH Health Services Research degree programs, students focus on developing into independent research scientists and scholars with excellent methodological skills, strong substantive knowledge of health care settings and policies, and an understanding of diverse interdisciplinary perspectives. MS students develop the necessary skills to conceive, design, and execute innovative research projects of high quality within the peer review process. The program’s practical context enables students to produce research findings that address challenging problems in clinical and management settings, and to translate and apply them in those settings.

The program seeks to enable students to apply or develop theoretical and conceptual models relevant to health services research. Along with epidemiology, students in the MS program study at least one other field that provides a conceptual framework for health services research, and begin to develop the ability to create transdisciplinary models. Conceptual frameworks available for study include social sciences (e.g., economics, sociology, anthropology); the management sciences (e.g., organizational theory, operations research); epidemiology and clinical sciences; and law and political science.

The program ties classroom education closely to practical experience in research. Students are encouraged to begin thesis research projects early in their studies and most students work directly with a faculty mentor to gain hands-on experience in current health services research.

The MS program in Health Services Research equips graduates with an expansive breadth of knowledge and advanced technical skills and distinguishes an individual in both the professional world and academia. The MS functions as a distinct degree, enhances a clinical career, or serves as preparation for a doctoral program. Graduates go on to pursue careers as health care consultants, project and research managers, and analysts for insurance entities or provider-based organizations.

Find out: What is health services research?

See Eligibility for Admission and Funding Information for program details. For complete program information, download the MS Guide.

Program Competencies

Upon completing the requirements for the MS in Health Services Research, graduates are able to:

  • Evaluate current trends in health care spending, finance, utilization of services, changes in organization, and health care status and incidence of disease
  • Choose appropriate solutions to issues in the measurement of health care outcomes and quality
  • Describe contributions (and limitations) of perspectives derived from the fields of sociology, political science, law, economics, epidemiology, and medicine
  • Locate, obtain, and apply appropriate publicly available data to solve health services research problems
  • Formulate testable hypotheses and choose the appropriate research methods to test those hypotheses
  • Apply methods and data analysis using both qualitative and quantitative techniques
  • Conduct a critical and analytical review of the health services literature
  • Identify design options that might compromise the efficiency of a study
  • Apply advanced statistical concepts, including confidence intervals and hypothesis testing, sample-size and power considerations, analysis of variance and multiple comparisons, correlation and regression, logistic regression, and survival analysis
  • Locate and utilize a broad range of databases and other resources for conducting health services and health policy research
  • Develop and conduct a peer-review publishable research study in a topic area of interest
  • Communicate research findings to managers and policymakers

MS Requirements

The MS program consists of a minimum of 31 graduate credits of coursework (21–22 core and 10 elective). A full-time student can complete the MS degree in 18 months. Course listings are available in the SPH Bulletin and the MS Guide.

    Eligibility for Admission to the MS Program

    1. Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree in a field related to health services research (i.e., social/behavioral science, epidemiology, management, the biological sciences, or health professions) or must have completed substantial coursework in one of these fields.

    2. A high level of past academic performance is expected, particularly in courses within the applicant’s undergraduate major/master’s field, or his/her coursework related to health services: recommended GPA > 3.2/4.0.

    3. Applicants must have completed a minimum of one semester of college-level calculus and one semester of college-level statistics, each with a passing grade of B or better.

    4. All candidates will be required to submit GRE or equivalent (MCAT, GMAT) test scores. It is recommended that relevant test scores (verbal, analytic, and quantitative) be above the 50th percentile, with substantially higher scores in at least one area to strengthen an application.

    5. Applicants must demonstrate competence in English. Candidates from countries where English is not the language of instruction must submit official results of either the TOEFL or IELTS to the Admissions Committee. Scores of 100 and above on the internet-based TOEFL, 600 and above on the paper-based TOEFL, or 7.0 total band score on the IELTS are required. Test scores may be up to two years old, and certain international applicants may request a waiver of the testing requirement; however, provision of current TOEFL or IELTS scores is preferred.

    6. At least 1–2 years of research experience is strongly encouraged. MS students also need an understanding of the US health care system, financing, and structure. Applicants who lack this knowledge will need to obtain it through additional study.

    7.  Documentation of academic skills and interests from three references will be required. The committee will be especially interested in references from former undergraduate (or graduate) school professors and former supervisors of health- or research-related employment.

    8. Applicants must provide evidence of their preparedness, interest, and elementary understanding of the health services research field in the form of a concise personal statement. This statement should include the following elements:

    • the candidate’s reason for studying health services research
    • his/her desired particular area of study within the department
    • the anticipated value of health services research training at Boston University to the candidate’s personal career plans
    • the relevance of his/her prior education and experience

    Please see SPH Admissions for more information on the application process.


    MS Funding Information

    Physicians entering clinical fellowship programs at the Boston University School of Medicine have access to University funds to pay for credits in the Boston University School of Public Health. These programs are designed to facilitate the pursuit of MS degrees in the School of Public Health. Applications for such funds must be made through the fellow’s department in the School of Medicine.

    Students will also be eligible to work as research assistants on funded research projects in the Department of Health Policy & Management and we expect that a large number will do so in the course of their studies.

    In addition to research within the department, many faculty members conduct research and have funding opportunities at our affiliated US Department of Veterans Affairs research centers: the Center for Health Quality, Outcomes, and Economic Research (CHQOER); the Center for Organization, Leadership, and Management Research (COLMR), and the Office of Productivity, Efficiency, and Staffing (OPES).

    Lastly, the program director, department faculty, and program manager will actively assist students in obtaining funding and identifying employment opportunities on funded faculty projects.


    Recent MS Thesis Abstracts