Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Health Policy

The Heller School is ranked #13 for health policy and management in U.S. News & World Report’s graduate school rankings. 

The health policy concentration prepares PhD graduates for challenging careers in research and policies that influence the quality, accessibility, and delivery of health care in the U.S. and globally.

Top-Tier Doctoral Training in Health Policy

In today’s labor market, health care researchers and educators with policy analysis skills are at a premium. Heller PhD students in the health concentration are trained to analyze and research the U.S. health care system and its political, social, economic, and technical contexts. Key topics include the structure and processes of health care organizations and service delivery systems, approaches to health care financing, racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities, and the role of health care in social change.

The U.S. health system is complex. The challenges currently facing U.S. health care include: persistent healthcare disparities, unsustainable growth in healthcare spending, a fractured delivery system with limited linkages to home- and community-based settings, and payment incentives that favor volume (fee-for-service) over patient outcomes (value). Heller PhD students tackle these issues using health service research tools from survey research, economics, political science, sociology, and other disciplines.

Many Heller PhD graduates end up in academic or applied research careers, helping design and evaluate payment models, new technology, or new ways to address historic inequities and make healthcare more accessible for all. Graduates around the world contribute to country-level decisions regarding resource allocation, organization of the health sector, and policy reforms that enable countries to improve population health.

Connection to Flagship Research Institutes

Students entering this concentration attend a single doctoral seminar, are advised by faculty in the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy and Research and work on research projects in the Institute on Healthcare Systems and/or the Institute for Global Health and Development.

The Institute on Healthcare Systems (IHS) examines a range of substantive issues including access to and quality of care; how health care is financed, delivered, and utilized; the cost of care; and the role of organizations in each of these domains. In much of its research, IHS focuses on the special problems of vulnerable populations, including the elderly and individuals with chronic illnesses or those who have historically lacked access because of discrimination. 

With a focus on the poor and social justice, the Institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD) engages in direct government advising, policy-relevant research, evaluation and advocacy. At any given time, IGHD researchers are actively involved with many sponsored international health and development projects throughout the developing world.

Students in the health concentration focus on these core health policy issues:

  • Health care financing and reform, health insurance, costs and spending
  • Health care organization and delivery, organizational structure, quality of care
  • Healthcare disparities, health equity and population health 
  • Healthcare workforce, job design and worker satisfaction

Alumni Outcomes

Ramandeep Kaur, PhD'15

Ramandeep Kaur, PhD’15

Research Health Economist at RTI International

“From my very first day at Heller, I felt I belonged there…Support from faculty and peers created a feeling of community for me at Heller, something I truly valued and have continued to remember.”

Sasha Albert, PhD'20

Sasha Albert, PhD’20

Senior Researcher with the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission

“I had gone about as far as my previous expertise and training could take me; if I was going to commit to a research career, I needed more training, and Heller was the right place to get it.”

Rajan Sonik, PhD'17

Rajan Sonik, PhD’17

Director of Research, Institute for Health Equity, AltaMed Health Services

“Having the ability to run a regression or pick which econometric model you're going to use is critical, but it's not enough…Social issues are complex and messy and require creative thinking. Heller prepared me for that.”

Required Concentration Courses

Sample Dissertations

  • Andréa Harris, 2021. “The Burdening Hypothesis: Deconstructing Racial Identity Politics, Power, Otherness and Health in Immigrant and US-Born Women of Color.”
  • Lyoung Hee Kim, 2021. “Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Access to Mental Health Services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
  • Andrew Wilson, 2021. “Care Coordination in Patient-Sharing Networks: A Study of the Application of Network-Based Measures on Delivery System Reforms and Effects on Patient Resource Use and Outcomes.”
  • Sasha Albert, 2020.State-Level Policy and Abortion Clinics: Understanding How Clinics Adapt to Challenging and Changing Policy Environments.”
  • Siyu Ma, 2020.  “Impact of Cost Containment Strategies on Medication Treatment Adherence and Non-drug Healthcare Utilization and Costs Among Breast Cancer Patients in U.S.”
  • Xiaofei Zhou, 2020. “Understanding Urban-Rural Variations in Diabetes Preventative Care Among Older Adults with Diabetes Mellitus:  Causes and Consequences.”