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 Ayres Heller 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. It is recommended that applicants obtain additional information about the PhD Program in Health Policy from Ayres Heller, 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. 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 admission 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, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Library of Medicine, 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 underrepresented 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 seven 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 PhD in Health Policy 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, chair). 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 Graduates' Positions

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

  • "Cost-Effectiveness of Imaging and Surgery inPatients with Colorectal Cancer Liver Metastases," 1999. Current position: Professor of Radiology, Harvard Medical School; Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health; Director, Partners Radiology; Director, Institute for Technological Assessment, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • "Empirical Approaches to Modeling HIV and Hepatitis C," 2001. Current position: Professor of Global Health, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health
  • "The Cost-Effectiveness of Early Antiretroviral Therapy for HIV-Infected Adults," 2001. Current position: Associate Professor of Public Health and Chief, Division of Health Policy, Department of Public Health, Weill Medical College of Cornell University
  • "Decision Analysis in the Evaluation of Breast Cancer Treatment," 2003. Current position: Assistant Attending Outcomes Research Scientist, Health Outcomes Group, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
  • "Decision-analytic Approaches to Evaluating Prevention Policy Alternatives," 2008. Current position: Assistant Professor of Decisio n Science, Stanford Medical School, Stanford University
  • "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 & Seattle Children's Research Institute

Economics

  • "Risk Sharing in Managed Care," 1998. Current position: Professor of Health Economics and Policy, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health
  • "Economic Analyses of Medicare HMOs," 1999. Current position: Senior Director, Pricing and Market Access, Envivo Pharmaceuticals.
  • "The Economics of Long-Term Care Decision-Making Among the Elderly," 2002. Current position: Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation
  • "Empirical Essays on Major Forces in Health, Population, and Development," 2005. Current position: Associate Professor of Medicine, Stanford University
  • "An Empirical Evaluation of the Kyrgyz Health Reform: Does It Work for the Poor?" 2007. Current position: Senior Health Financing Policy Specialist, Barcelona Office for Health Systems Strengthening, WHO Regional Office for Europe
  • "Essays on Information, Competition and Quality in Health Care Provider Markets," 2009. Current position: Assistant Professor of Health Care Management, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania
  • "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

Ethics

  • "Corporate Form of Hospitals: Behavior and Obligations," 2002. Current position: Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law
  • "The Consumer's Role in Nursing Home Quality," 2004. Current position: Associate Professor of Health Policy, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School
  • "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: Postdoctoral Fellow, Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program

Evaluative Science and Statistics

  • "How Tribes Choose between Tribal and Indian Health Service Management of Health Care Resource; Drug Coverage and Drug Use by Medicare Beneficiaries; Bias in Measures of Guideline Adherence," 1999. Current position: Research Scientist and Section Chief, Healthcare Delivery and Policy, Kaiser Permanente Division of Research
  • "Firearms: Storage and Use at Home and Use in Suicides by Children," 2001. Current position: Research Associate, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health; Associate Director, Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center and Co-Director, National Violent Injury Statistics System, Harvard School of Public Health
  • "Evaluating Infant Experience Under Medicaid Managed Care," 2003. Current position: Managing Director, Centers on Quality Measurement and Community Research, Children's Hospital Boston
  • "A Cost and Outcomes Analysis of Emergency Transport, Inter-Hospital Transfer and Hospital Expansion Policies in Cardiac Care," 2006. Current position: Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation
  • "Longitudinal Methods for Investigating Pharmaceutical Advertising, Adherence and Prior Authorization Policies," 2008. Current position: Assistant 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
  • "With or Without: Empirical Analyses of Disparities in Health Care Access and Quality," 2012. Current position: Young Professionals Program, The World Bank

Management

  • "Organizational Learning in Health Care: Insights from a Multi-Method Study of Quality Improvement Collaboratives," 2007. Current position: Associate Professor of Public Health and Management, Yale University School of Medicine – Public Health
  • "Safety Climate in US Hospitals: Its Measurement, Variation, and Relationship to Organizational Safety Performance," 2008. Current position: Assistant 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 & School of Public Health, University of Michigan

Political Analysis

  • "Political Institutions, Participation and Media Evaluations: Influence on Health Care Policy," 1995. Current position: Vice President, Director of Public Opinion and Media Research, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
  • "Consumer's Values on Health Care Services," 2003. Current position: Professor, Department of Public Administration, College of Social Science, Ewha Women's University, Korea
  • "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: Health Insurance Specialist, Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, US Dept. of Health and Human Services
  • "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.