PhD in Health Services Research

Changes to this program will take effect in the 2022–2023 academic year.

The Doctor of Philosophy in Health Services 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 Research (HSR), the graduate is able to:

  • Identify key factors in the context of health and healthcare 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.
  • Examine, critique, modify, and develop theory-based conceptual models of health services use. Identify and examine the use of theoretical perspectives derived from foundational fields that provide rationales for both HSR study topics and conceptual approaches to them. These fields can include anthropology, demography, economics, epidemiology, management, organizational science, political science, psychology, and/or economics.
  • Develop original, relevant, and important research questions to pursue in HSR that are grounded in both a critical analysis of prior HSR literature and relevant theoretical perspectives.
  • 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 as well as qualitative and quantitative approaches, and they are derived from foundational health services fields and different types and sources of data.
  • Based on relevant theory/concepts and the research question(s) at hand, develop and apply a health services research design, specifying study constructs, research objectives, and hypotheses. Utilize methods that reliably and validly measure these constructs and outcomes of interest. Select optimal methodological approach, in combination as necessary, to answering key health services research questions.
  • 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 a range of appropriate analytical techniques to data in order to explore various types of HSR questions. Utilize appropriate combination of analytic techniques to deepen 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.
  • Work collaboratively in teams within and across disciplines to develop and disseminate HSR knowledge, assembling and leading teams with the necessary combinations of knowledge and expertise.
  • Effectively communicate the process, findings, and implications of health services research via multiple modes, including via peer-reviewed publications, oral presentations, and technology. Be able to communicate findings to multiple stakeholders and audiences, including funders, research participants, colleagues, policymakers, 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

  • PH 842 Research Theory and Design (2 cr)
  • PH 843 Quantitative Methods for Health Services and Other Public Health Research (2 cr)
  • PH 844 Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods (2 cr)
  • PM 817 Introduction to Organizational Theory (2 cr)
  • PM 820 Introduction to Quality Measurement (2 cr)
  • PM 821 Advanced Quantitative Health Services Research Methods (4 cr)
  • PM 828 Advanced Qualitative Methods (4 cr)
  • PM 831 Implementation Science: Translating Research into Practice (2 cr)
  • PM 842 Health Economics for Health Services Research or equivalent (4 cr)
  • PM 844 Health Policy & Policy Making for Public Health Researchers (4 cr)
  • PM 864 Contemporary Structures of Health Services (2 cr)
  • 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 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.