The Harvard PhD Program in Health Policy trains students for research and teaching careers in health policy. The interdisciplinary and interfaculty nature of the program results from the philosophy that most graduates will carry out much of their research as part of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research teams rather than as isolated scholars. For this reason, the program trains students in the specialized skills of a single discipline, but also develops their ability to understand the conceptual frameworks contributed to the field by researchers from other disciplines. Students specialize in one of six concentrations: decision sciences; economics; ethics; evaluative science and statistic; management; or political analysis.
The program involves six Harvard University Faculties—the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health—which provides students with access to more than 100 faculty members, and students are free to take classes throughout the University. Students in the Harvard PhD Program in Health Policy are enrolled in and receive a PhD from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, even though they may work with faculty throughout the University.
Concentrations and Policy Areas
Students choose a concentration and meet specific curriculum requirements in one of six disciplines.
Decision sciences are the collection of quantitative techniques 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.
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, 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.
The ethics concentration integrates quantitative, qualitative, and normative approaches to the analysis of ethical issues in health policy and clinical practice. Students in this track 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. 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, all students in this track develop core skills for the conduct of both normative analysis and empirical research in ethics.
Evaluative Science and Statistics
Training in this concentration enables 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 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).
The management concentration prepares students to conduct 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 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.
This concentration is intended for students who wish to conduct research on the relationship between politics and health policy. Students study theories of individual opinion formation, voting behavior, legislative organization, and interest group formation. In addition, students 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.
In addition to choosing a concentration, students specialize in one of four areas of policy interest:
- Global Health—for students interested in focusing on the economic determinants and consequences of health and health care in countries other than the US, especially less developed countries.
- Health Care Services—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—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—for students 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.
All applicants must apply to a specific concentration of the program and must indicate this choice in their statement of purpose. Up to two concentration areas may be specified. Additionally, applicants should indicate policy areas that are of interest.
Applications are reviewed by faculty from the relevant concentration and by a general admissions committee, which is comprised of faculty from multiple concentrations. All applicants to the PhD Program in Health Policy must include the following in the application:
- Statement of Purpose that includes the concentration(s) and policy area(s) of interest
- 3 letters of recommendation, submitted online
- Official GRE general test or GMAT scores (GRE scores are preferred)
- Official TOEFL scores (if necessary)
- Official transcripts for all college/university degrees and courses
- Fall term grades should be sent when available if attending school while applying to the program (prospective students may add this information to the Fall Grade Report section of the online application after they have submitted their application).
Those interested in earning an MD/PhD in Health Policy apply through the American Medical College Application Service. Once enrolled, MD/PhD students submit application materials to GSAS prior to beginning their PhD studies.
For the coordinated JD/PhD, applicants must apply separately to each program and indicate in the application to the PhD Program in Health Policy that a concurrent application has been submitted to Harvard Law School.