PhD in Health Services & Policy Research

The Doctor of Philosophy in Health Services & Policy Research (PhD) degree program offered by the Department of Health Law, Policy & Management is designed to provide individuals with excellent research skills for use in academic, industry, or government settings. Students have the opportunity to collaborate with senior faculty in innovative research crucial to the improvement of healthcare delivery, treatment outcomes, and government policies. Graduates are known for their excellent methodological skills and substantive knowledge of healthcare settings and policies, competencies that enable students to translate research findings into practical applications.

The doctoral program supports a focus on quantitative methods and qualitative methods, while fostering facility with mixed methods designs.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the PhD in Health Services & Policy Research (HSPR), the graduate is able to:

  • Analyze key factors that have the potential to influence health and provision and use of health services. These may include policy, organization, and financing of healthcare services. They may also include social, economic, cultural, political, and biological factors that influence population health, health equity, and the use of services.
  • Critique, adapt, and develop theoretical analyses of health services and policies, including explanations of their structures and processes, the use of health services, the effectiveness and implementation of health policies, and the effects of health services and policies on individual and population health and health equity. This may be done by drawing upon the foundational fields of sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, psychology, demography, epidemiology, management, and/or organizational science.
  • Develop original, relevant, and important research questions to pursue in HSPR that are grounded in both a critical analysis of prior HSPR literature and relevant theoretical perspectives.
  • Identify and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of possible study designs that can appropriately address specific HSPR questions. Appropriate methods may employ experimental or observational approaches, qualitative or quantitative analytic techniques, and a variety of data types.
  • Based on relevant theory and selected research question(s), develop an HSPR design, specifying study constructs, research objectives, hypotheses, and methods that reliably and validly measure outcomes of interest. Select optimal analytical approaches, in combination as necessary, to investigate hypotheses.
  • Acquire and manage appropriate data to answer HSPR 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 an original research design.
  • Apply appropriate analytical techniques to data in order to investigate HSPR questions. Utilize appropriate combinations of analytic techniques to enrich data analysis and interpretation.
  • 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.
  • Effectively communicate the process, findings, and implications of HSPR using multiple modes, including via peer-reviewed publications, oral presentations, and electronic media. Translate findings to multiple stakeholders and audiences including funders, research participants, colleagues, policymakers, news media, and managers.

Program Requirements

The doctoral program includes the coursework requirements outlined below, which typically total at least 42 credits. Students with an earned master’s degree may take fewer courses, if course waivers are granted based on previous relevant graduate coursework. However, in all cases, students are required to take no fewer than 32 credits of PhD coursework in residence at Boston University post-matriculation into the PhD program. A minimum grade of a B is required in all PhD coursework.

Foundations of Public Health

Effective public health requires expertise from many disciplines, and students need to have a broad foundation of knowledge across these diverse disciplines in order to collaborate effectively with other health professionals.

SPH PH 700 Foundations of Public Health (0 credits) is an online course designed to provide students with foundational knowledge in the profession and science of public health and factors related to public health. PH 700 meets the foundational knowledge criteria (as outlined by CEPH) for all SPH students.

Core PhD Courses

  • SPH PH 842 Research Theory and Design (2 cr)
  • SPH PH 843 Quantitative Methods for Health and Social Policy Research (2 cr)
  • SPH PH 844 Introduction to Qualitative Methods for Health and Social Policy Research (2 cr)
  • SPH PM 820 Introduction to Quality Measurement and Evaluation (2 cr)
  • SPH PM 822 Advanced Quantitative Methods for Health and Social Policy Research (4 cr)
  • SPH PM 828 Advanced Qualitative Methods (4 cr)
  • SPH PM 842 Health Economics for Health and Social Policy Research or equivalent (4 cr)
  • SPH PM 846 Advanced Quantitative Policy and Program Implementation and Evaluation (4 cr)
  • SPH PM 864 Contemporary Structures of Health Services (2 cr)
  • SPH PM 866 Theory in the Analysis of Health Services (2 cr)

Additional Course Requirements

  • A minimum of 10 credits is required in elective courses. These 10 credits can and should be used to define one of the following areas of emphasis:
    • Economics
    • Healthcare Policy
    • Implementation Science/Organizational Change
    • Quality/Outcomes

Students are required to complete all the requirements for graduation within seven years of matriculation. PhD students are required to successfully complete the qualifying process, and complete and orally defend a dissertation.

Students who have completed the PhD coursework must register for SPH PM 980 Continuing Study each fall and spring semester until the dissertation is defended and accepted. PM 980 is ungraded and zero credits; it allows a student to be certified as full time and carries the equivalent of a 2-credit tuition charge plus the fee for student health insurance (unless waived). Students must adhere to dissertation submission deadlines and requirements.

All PhD students must adhere to the Doctoral Graduation Calendar in preparing and submitting the dissertation.

All SPH students will need a laptop or tablet for classes, purchased according to the recommendations of the Medical Campus Information Technology professionals.