Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy


The Health concentration prepares graduates for challenging careers developing research and policy that influence the quality, accessibility, and delivery of health care in the United States and globally.

The Heller School is ranked ninth in the U.S. among graduate schools that specialize in health policy and management by U.S. News & World Report.

U.S. Health

Global Health

Focus on U.S. Health

The U.S. health system is complex in its structure, processes, and outcomes. This trillion-dollar industry is the largest service industry in the nation, and is charged with the task of health promotion and prevention, and the diagnosis and treatment of ill health. Its knowledge base and technology expand at an exponential rate. The changes now redefining health care include: the continuing evolution of managed care, the concentration of provider institutions and insurers into fewer large competitors, the growing uninsured population, increasing concern with racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in health, increasing evidence for and awareness of the implications of behavior and lifestyle on health, and a search for lower-cost alternatives. In this environment, skilled health care managers, researchers, and educators who also have training in policy analysis are at a premium.

We examine the U.S. health care system and its political, social, economic, and technical contexts. We focus on topics such as factors in the causation of ill health, the structure and processes of health care organizations and service delivery systems, approaches to financing health care, racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities, and health care and its role in social change.

Focus on Global Health

Solving global health problems in countries around the world is complicated by not only the variation in type and structure of the health system in each country, but also the degree and severity of the specific health and development problems. For example, the recent Ebola breakout has highlighted not only the need for building resilient health systems, but also how specific health problems are intertwined with many other broader development issues. In other countries around the globe, humanitarian disasters, environmental degradation, climate change, and access to water all contribute to vulnerability.

Students will learn how to apply cutting-edge research to solving health problems in low- and middle-income countries. The focus is on getting solutions implemented at scale with a specific focus on the poor. Achieving universal health coverage is another global agenda that will need work to ensure risk pooling and insurance mechanisms are expanded to cover those in the informal sector as well as poor and disadvantaged populations. Problems and disease threats constitute serious challenges, threatening to undermine hard-won gains in many countries and contributing to poverty. Poverty and its vulnerabilities constitute serious challenges to raising and sustaining public health standards. Graduates will contribute to national capacity to make sound and effective decisions regarding resource allocation, organization of the health sector, and evaluation of policy reforms that will enable countries to achieve wider goals of good health for their citizens.

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

The Institute on Healthcare Systems conducts groundbreaking research to educate private and public health care policymakers and develops organizational solutions in the areas of payment options, delivery systems and patient care practices, particularly for vulnerable populations, and hosts state and national forums on health care policy issues. With a focus on the poor and social justice, the Institute for Global Health and Development engages in direct government advising, policy-relevant research and evaluation and advocacy to impact policymaking in partnership with like-minded institutions in the U.S., the international community and the developing world.

Required Concentration Courses

Sample Dissertations

  • Marion Cros, 2019. "Unlocking Challenges of Universal Health Coverage in Haiti."
  • William Brandel, 2018. "The Impact of Teamwork on Technology Acceptance in a High-Risk Patient Care Delivery System."
  • Hyosin Kim, 2018. "The Relationship Between Early Accountable Care Organizations and the Aggressiveness of End-of-Life Cancer Care and Hospice Use Patterns for Medicare Beneficiaries."
  • Monica O'Reilly-Jacob, 2018. "The Frequency of Low-Value Back Imaging in the Care of Medicare Beneficiaries: A Comparison Across Clinician Types."
  • Rajan Sonik, 2017. "Poverty Alleviation, Health, and Health Care Costs Among People with Disabilities."

Students sitting in chairs

An Inside Look at Health Policy in Massachusetts

Each year, graduate students from seven Boston-area universities met with senior legislative and state administrative officials, as well as lobbyists and journalists, to get an inside look at how healthcare policy is created and implemented throughout Massachusetts. 

Cover of the 2020 Heller Social Policy Impact Report with coronavirus illustrationsThe 2020 Heller Social Policy Impact Report showcases a selection of high-impact research and public engagement from the faculty, researchers and students of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management from July 2019 through June 2020.