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 Guidebook.

Program Competencies

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

  • Identify key factors in the context of health and health care systems, institutions, actors, and environment that have the potential to influence provision and use of health services. These may include policy, organization and financing of healthcare services. They may also include social disparities and determinants that may affect access, as well as factors such as biology, behavior and culture that may influence individual health and the use of services.
  • Identify and describe contributions (and limitations) of conceptual models of health services use and theoretical perspectives derived from foundational fields, and choose relevant conceptual models to support HSR study topics.
  • Develop relevant and important research questions, grounded in critical and analytical reviews of the health services literature.
  • Identify and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of possible study designs that can appropriately address specific health services research questions. Methods include interventional, comparative and observational approaches; qualitative and quantitative approaches; and are derived from foundational health services fields and different types and sources of data.
  • Identify and apply research methods that are appropriate to HSR questions of interest, specifying study constructs, research objectives and hypotheses, and utilize methods that reliably and validly measure these constructs.
  • Identify appropriate data collection strategies to answer research questions. Collect and manage primary health and healthcare utilization data and/or assemble and manage existing data from public and private data sources in accordance with research design.
  • Choose and apply appropriate analytical techniques to data in order to explore HSR research question.
  • Develop, document and employ procedures that ensure the reproducibility of the science, the responsible use of resources, mutual accountability with collaborators, and the ethical treatment of research subjects.
  • Work collaboratively with teams and across disciplines to develop and disseminate HSR knowledge.
  • Effectively communicate the process, findings, and implications of health services research via multiple modes, including via peer-reviewed publications, oral presentations and via technology. Be able to communicate findings to multiple stakeholders and audiences including funders, research participants, colleagues, policy-makers and managers.

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 HSR 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