Degree Programs

Health Policy

The PhD in Health Policy, awarded by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is a collaborative program of six Harvard University faculties: the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School. This degree is intended for students seeking teaching careers in institutes of higher learning and/or research careers in health policy. Joseph P. Newhouse, John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management, is chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Health Policy that administers the program; Katherine Swartz, Professor of Health Economics and Policy, is director of graduate studies; Deborah Whitney is administrative director of the PhD Program in Health Policy and Jessica Livingston is assistant director of the PhD program in Health Policy.

Candidates for the PhD in health policy will generally be in residence for two years before undertaking qualifying examinations. Satisfactory completion of those examinations is a prerequisite for writing a dissertation. Students are strongly encouraged to remain in residence in the Cambridge area until they have passed the dissertation proposal orals. However, the program encourages students to remain in residence throughout the dissertation stage as well. Continuation of candidacy is contingent upon suitable progress and achievement during each academic year.

For more information, visit the Health Policy program page. Applicants with specific questions  about the PhD Program in Health Policy may contact Jessica Livingston, assistant director, PhD Program in Health Policy, (617)-495-1357, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Admissions

A distinguished undergraduate record, as well as excellent performance in any graduate work undertaken, is required for admission to the PhD Program in Health Policy. Preference will be given to applicants who have had either some relevant work experience or graduate work after completion of a bachelor's degree, although a previous graduate degree is not required. Scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) that are five years old or less are required for all applicants. In addition, applicants whose native language is not English and who do not hold the equivalent of a US bachelor's degree from an institution at which English is the language of instruction must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
The PhD Program in Health Policy is particularly committed to increasing the diversity of its doctoral student population. Under-represented minority candidates, including students who self-identify as Black/African-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican American, Native American, or Native Pacific Islander are especially encouraged to apply.

Those wishing to apply to the MD program at Harvard Medical School, as well as to the PhD Program in Health Policy, must apply separately to each program and indicate in the application to the PhD Program that a concurrent application has been submitted to Harvard Medical School.
Similarly, applicants interested in the Coordinated JD/PhD program must apply to and be separately admitted to both Harvard Law School and the PhD Program in Health Policy before applying to the Coordinated JD/PhD Program. Applicants should indicate in the application to the PhD Program that a concurrent application has been submitted to Harvard Law School.

Applications must include: 1) a statement of purpose that indicates the concentration(s) and policy area(s) of interest; up to two areas of concentration may be specified; 2) three letters of recommendation, submitted online; 3) a curriculum vitae or resume; 4) official transcripts for all college/university degrees and courses; if applicant is enrolled in school while applying, send fall term grades when available; 5) GRE General Test or GMAT scores; GRE scores are preferred; 6) official TOEFL scores, if necessary; 7) a recent sample of written work that is no more than 20 pages in length (required only for applicants to the Ethics concentration).

The application deadline is in mid-December for matriculation in the following fall. The online application is available through the GSAS website.

Financial Aid

The department offers financial support for graduate study, based both on need and merit. For example, thanks to grants from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Institute of Mental Health, the program can offer some traineeships to students who are US citizens or permanent residents of the US. As the program is committed to increasing the diversity of the doctoral student population, Harvard provides Graduate Prize Fellowships (tuition for five years in the program and a stipend for three years) to under-represented minority applicants, with financial need, who are admitted to the program. Applicants are encouraged to apply for external grants and fellowships whenever possible.

Degree Requirements

The PhD program has the following components:

  • Two years (generally) of coursework, including a full-year Core course.
  • Concentration in one academic discipline (decision sciences, economics, ethics, evaluative science and statistics, management, or political analysis) and specialization at the dissertation stage in one policy area (global health, healthcare services, mental health, or public health).
  • Three one-term courses, chosen from three concentrations outside a student's field of concentration. The statistics requirement (noted below) may be used to satisfy one of the three requirements, except for students concentrating in evaluative science and statistics.
  • Two one-term courses in statistics.
  • One course in epidemiology.
  • A weekly research seminar starting in the third year.
  • Written general and concentration examinations following two years of coursework; the general examination also contains an oral component.
  • A dissertation prospectus and oral examination.
  • A dissertation based on original research and a dissertation defense

Concentrations

Students in the PhD in health policy program choose a concentration and meet specific curriculum requirements in one of the following six disciplines. For complete information on each concentration, including course requirements for each, please visit the program website.

Decision Sciences (Professor Milton C. Weinstein, chair). Decision sciences are the collection of quantitative techniques that are used for decision making at the individual and collective level. They include decision analysis, risk analysis, cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis, decision modeling, and behavioral decision theory, as well as parts of operations research, microeconomics, statistical inference, management control, cognitive and social psychology, and computer science. The concentration in decision sciences prepares students for research careers that involve the application of these methods to health problems.

Economics (Professor Joseph P. Newhouse, chair). The concentration in economics focuses on the economic behavior of individuals; providers; insurers; and international, federal, state, and local governments and actors as their actions affect health and medical care. In addition to examining the literature on health economics, the training emphasizes microeconomic theory, econometrics, and interactions with other disciplines, including clinical medicine. The concentration prepares students for research and teaching careers as health economists.

Ethics (Professor Norman Daniels, chair). The ethics concentration integrates quantitative, qualitative, and normative approaches to the analysis of ethical issues in health policy and clinical practice. Increasingly, the investigation of ethical issues in medicine and health policy has not only drawn on normative ethics and political philosophy, but has included empirical research concerning attitudes and practices in clinical and broader institutional settings. A grasp of normative theories and tools is important because ethical principles and approaches underlie, explicitly or implicitly, the formulation of particular health policies at both the macro and micro level. Students in this track will focus on developing skills in a range of disciplines, with the goal of evaluating how ethical and socio-cultural values shape—and should shape—health policies as well as clinical and public health practices. Students with a strong background in ethics and political philosophy will have a chance to deepen that understanding and apply it to issues in health policy while at the same time acquiring necessary quantitative skills. Students with degrees or training in related fields, such as law or medicine or public health, will acquire both normative and quantitative skills needed for research and teaching in ethics and health policy.

Research in health policy and ethics would include such topics as: policies for the allocation of scarce resources to individuals (e.g., human organs for transplantation, newly developed drugs, hospital beds) and across categories of patients (treatment vs. prevention for HIV/AIDS, or for HIV/AIDS vs. malaria); policies for care at the beginning and end of life; evaluation of informed consent protocols and their effectiveness; issues of equity in the evaluation of policies determining access to health services and the reduction of risk factors; policies responding to cross-cultural variation in ethical norms; ways in which health professionals are educated; policies regarding the balance between the individual and the collective (e.g., in bio-terrorism, epidemic control, etc.). While not abandoning the concerns of traditional work in bioethics, the program aims to produce students who are interested in the ethics of population health. Accordingly, students in this track will develop core skills for the conduct of both normative analysis and empirical research in ethics.

Evaluative Science and Statistics (Professor Stephen B. Soumerai and Professor Alan M. Zaslavsky, co-chairs). Training in this concentration will enable students to study the effects of a wide range of policies and health services (e.g., health insurance, health-care quality improvement, clinical decision-making, drug policy, cost-containment, and socioeconomic factors) on behaviors, access, processes and quality of health care, health outcomes, or costs. Students in this concentration will develop proficiency in experimental and quasi-experimental research design, statistics, relevant social sciences, and other methodological approaches (e.g., epidemiology, program evaluation, qualitative methods, and survey design).

Management (Professor Robert S. Huckman and Associate Professor Sara J. Singer, co-chairs). The management concentration prepares students to do research on the managerial, operational, and strategic issues facing a wide range of organizations in the health care industry including: health care providers; pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms; device and technology companies; and private and public insurers. Students in this track examine how theories and concepts from fields such as technology and operations management, organizational behavior, organizational economics, and competitive strategy can be applied to and further developed for understanding health care organizations. Key research themes include: learning and process improvement; organizational structure and performance in health care delivery; managing R&D organizations; managing teams in clinical and research settings; information technology and the management of health care processes.

Political Analysis (Professor Robert J. Blendon, chair). This concentration is intended for students who wish to do research on the relationship between politics and health policy. Students will study theories of individual opinion formation, voting behavior, legislative organization, and interest group formation. In addition, students will examine the role of public opinion, interest groups, the media, and institutions in influencing health policy outcomes. The research methodologies most utilized in this track include survey research methods and quantitative statistical methods appropriate for large-scale databases.

Policy Areas

In addition to choosing a concentration, students specialize in one of four areas of policy interest:

Global Health. This policy area focuses on the economic determinants and consequences of health and health care in countries other than the US, especially less developed countries.

Health Care Services. This area is designed for students whose primary interests are access to health care, medical technology assessment, quality of health care, and the costs and financing of health care services.

Mental Health. This area is designed for students who wish to specialize in mental health policy, including the financing of services, the roles of public and private sectors, and the links between mental health and human services.

Public Health. This area is designed for students who are interested in policies directed at the rates of disease and injury in the population. Major topics include smoking behavior, control of alcohol abuse, mental health, traffic accidents, dietary and nutritional recommendations, occupational safety, gun control, control of infectious diseases including AIDS, and food and drug regulation.

Committee on Higher Degrees in Health Policy/Research Interests

Dissertation Titles and Positions of Recent Graduates

The PhD Program in Health Policy has an excellent record of graduate placement. Selected graduates' dissertation titles and their current positions are listed here.

Decision Sciences

"Decision-analytic Approaches to Evaluating Prevention Policy Alternatives," 2008. Current position: Assistant Professor of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine
“Modeling Health Outcomes in Resource-limited Settings,” 2011. Current position: Technical Officer, Mortality and Burden of Disease, Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems, World Health Organization

"Examining Methods Used to Evaluate the Cost-Effectiveness of Childhood Obesity Interventions," 2012. Current position: Acting Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children's Research Institute

“Optimizing Cardiovascular Disease Screening and Projection Efforts in the United States,” 2012. Current position: Assistant Professor of Healthcare Policy and Research and Assistant Professor of Public Health in Radiology, Weill Cornell Medical College

“Examining Health and Economic Outcomes Associated with Pediatric Medical Conditions in the United States,” 2012. Current position: Associate Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation

Economics

"Essays on Information, Competition and Quality in Health Care Provider Markets," 2009. Current position: Assistant Professor of Health Care Management, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

“Essays in Health Economics: Using Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa,” 2011. Current position: Associate/Health Economist, International Health Division, Abt Associates

"Consequences of Government Provision and Regulation of Health Insurance," 2012. Current position: Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

“Quality-based Payment in Health Care: Theory and Practice,” 2013. Current position: Assistant Professor of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas

“Essays in Health Economics: Understanding Risky Health Behaviors,” 2014. Current position: Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Yale School of Public Health.

Ethics

"Conflicts of Interest among Oncology Clinical Trials Investigators and Among Patient Advocacy Organizations, and Patient Preferences and Health Care Disparities," 2010. Current position: Assistant Professor, Lerner College of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University and Associate Professional Staff, Bioethics Department, Cleveland Clinic Foundation

"Dimensions of Disadvantage: Normative and Empirical Analysis of the Effect of Public Insurance on Low-Income Children and Families," 2012. Current position: Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

“Empirical and Normative Implications of Social Networks for Health Disparities: The Case of Renal Transplantation,” 2013. Current position: Assistant Professor, Department of Community Health and Department of Occupational Therapy, Tufts University and Tufts University School of Medicine

“Contested Boundaries: Evaluating Institutional and Governmental Authority in Academia and Public Health,” 2014. Current position: Hecht-Levi Fellow, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University

Evaluative Science and Statistics

"Longitudinal Methods for Investigating Pharmaceutical Advertising, Adherence and Prior Authorization Policies," 2008. Current position: Associate Professor, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia
"Improving Maternal Health Services: Characterizing Risks and Measuring Program and Policy Impacts," 2009. Current position: Assistant Professor, Division of Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota School of Public Health

“The Health Impacts of Public Programs for the Poor in Brazil and the United States,” 2011. Current position: Associate, Analysis Group, Inc.

"With or Without: Empirical Analyses of Disparities in Health Care Access and Quality," 2012. Current position: Health Economist, The World Bank

“Quasi-Experimental Health Policy Research: Evaluation of Universal Health Insurance and Methods for Comparative Effectiveness Research,” 2013. Current position: Assistant Professor, Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care

Management

"Safety Climate in US Hospitals: Its Measurement, Variation, and Relationship to Organizational Safety Performance," 2008. Current position: Associate Professor of Health Care Management and Policy, Harvard School of Public Health
"'Everything for Everybody'? An Examination of Organizational Scope in the Hospital Industry," 2010. Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Administration, Pennsylvania State University
"The Use of Information Technology in US Health Care Delivery," 2011. Current position: Assistant Professor, School of Information andSchool of Public Health, University of Michigan

“Team Scaffolds: How Minimal Team Structures Enable Role-based Coordination,” 2013. Current position: Assistant Professor, Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University

Political Analysis

"Obesity Policy and the Public," 2007. Current position: Associate Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management and Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
"Polarized Politics, Public Opinion, and Health Reform," 2010. Current position: Program Officer, Health Care Quality, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

"Essays on Politics, Public Health Law, and Health Outcomes in the United States and Sub- Saharan Africa," 2012. Current position: Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

“Transformations in Health Policy: An Analysis of Alzheimer’s Disease Testing, Medicaid Enrollment, and Insurance Market Concentration,” 2013. Current position: Health Policy Legislative Assistant, U.S. Senator Dick Durban

“Religion, Parties, and Policymaking: Health Policy Debates in the United States and Brazil,” 2014. Current position: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Program in Global Health and Health Policy, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University