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Course of Study

The Ph.D. is the culmination of a sequential process of coursework, comprehensive examination, and the research, writing, and defense of a doctoral dissertation. Students take a series of courses in the core areas of public health, policy, health systems, and research design and methods. At the completion of coursework, there is an oral and written comprehensive examination that challenges students to apply what they learned to their dissertation work. Before advancing to Ph.D. candidacy, students complete and defend a dissertation proposal.  Students then design, implement, and analyze a research project. The last major step is a written dissertation and an oral defense.

Students admitted to the program who have completed a relevant masters previously such as an MPH in health management and policy or an MPA in health administration may receive substantial credit for relevant courses, decreasing the number of courses required for the PhD. Students with other master’s degrees may also request course credit for relevant, successfully completed graduate courses. Each student’s past courses are evaluated upon admission to the program and a determination will be made regarding which courses will be waived and which courses will comprise the student’s Ph.D. program of study in HS&P.

Core Coursework

Seven courses (21-27 credits) comprise the program’s foundational core coursework and share common themes of health systems and policy. The core is intended to provide a social scientific grounding in a variety of topics related to health systems and policy.

  • PAH 541/641 Organizational Behavior in Health (3)
  • PAH 571/671 Health Policy (3)
  • PAH 573/673 Values and Ethics in Health (3)
  • PAH 574/674 Health Systems Organization (3)
  • PAH 577/677 Health Care Law and Regulation (3)
  • PAH 586/686 Introduction to Health Economics (3)
  • PAH 660 Contemporary Research in Health Systems and Policy (3); students may take this up to three times to address and synthesize concepts towards their dissertation topic

NOTE:  A student who has completed an MPH in health management and policy or a comparable masters degree could potentially waive some or all of the first six courses in the core. A student who does not have an MPH would be required to take the masters level core courses Principles of Health Behavior (PHE 513) and Concepts of Environmental Health (PHE 580) in order to fulfill two of the five MPH core courses; they fulfill the other core course requirements through Health Systems Organization (PAH 574/674), the Advanced Epidemiological Research (PHE 624) and one of the data analysis courses. The six credits for Health Behavior and Environmental Health do not count towards the minimum degree requirements.

Doctoral Seminar in Health Systems and Policy

Students are required to enroll in a one-credit health systems and policy dissertation seminar (PAH 607) each quarter for the first two years of coursework to help prepare them for the dissertation process. The seminar will meet weekly with a selected faculty mentor to discuss research topics, including critical evaluation of health systems and policy research, framing research questions, proposal writing, the grant application process, data collection and synthesis, human subjects review, dissertation writing and presentation, the review process, program requirements, and publication opportunities.

Policy Coursework

Students must take six courses (19-21 credits) in health policy. Three are required and provide students with a strong foundation in policy process and analysis. Students select the other three courses from a list of approved courses to pursue policy topics related to specific interests.

Required: (10 credits)

  • PAH 575 Advanced Health Policy (3)
  • PAP 616 Policy Process (3)
  • USP 615 Economic Analysis of Public Policy (4)

Choose 3 from the following: (9-12 credits)

  • PA 554 Policy Analysis Research (3)
  • PAP 653 (formerly USP 661) Policy Analysis:  Theoretical Foundations (3)
  • PAP 656 Advanced Political Economy
  • PHE 657 National Long-term Care Policy (3)
  • PHPM 507 Genomics and Public Health:  Current Issues and Future Trends in Healthcare and Policy (3) (OHSU)
  • SOC 684 Social Inequality (4)
  • SOC 686 Health and Inequality (4)
  • SOC 687 International Health Inequalities (4)
  • SW 652 Advanced Social Policy Analysis (3)
  • USP 536 Policy Evaluation Methods

Health Systems Coursework

Students must take 12 credits in health systems courses.

Required: (3 credits)

  • PHE 622 Health and Social Inequalities (3)

Choose three: (9 credits)

  • Select 500 and 600 level courses across relevant departments at PSU and OHSU.  These classes are selected by the student with advisor approval to create a substantive field for the student and to complement their interests.

Research Design and Methods Coursework

To provide students with competencies in designing and conducting research, students will be required to take a total of six research design and methods courses (19-22 credits).  Three of these courses focus on research design, and the remaining three courses focus on analytic methods.

Research Design

Required: (6 credits)

  • PAH 589/689 Research Design in Health Services (3)
  • SW 610 Interdisciplinary Seminar on Research Methods in Social Determinants of Health (3)

Choose one from: (3-4 credits)

  • PAH 588 Program Evaluation and Management in Health Services (3)
  • PSY 669 Research Design in Applied Social/Community Psychology (4)
  • PSY 686 Social Program Evaluation (4)
  • USP 630 Research Design (4)
  • PHPM 540 Introduction to Research Design (3) (OHSU)
  • PHPM 571 American Indian/Alaska Native Health (3) (OHSU)
  • PHPM 573 Disability and Public Health (3) (OHSU)

Research Methods

Required if a student has not previously completed a graduate course in epidemiology:

  • PHE 624 Advanced Methods in Epidemiological Research I (3) 

Required: (4 credits)

  • PHE 520/USP 683 Qualitative Analysis (4)

Choose one or two (depending on epidemiology requirement) from: (3-8)

  • PAP 607 Research Methods (3)
  • PHPM 520 Ethics and Epidemiology (3) (OHSU)
  • PHPM 553 Women’s Health Epidemiology (3) (OHSU)
  • PHPM 563 PharmacoEcon Epidemiology (3) (OHSU)
  • PHPM 567 Global Health Epidemiology (3) (OHSU)
  • SOC 695 Advanced Quantitative Methods in Sociology (4)
  • USP 634 Data Analysis I (4)
  • USP 654 Data Analysis II (4)

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is taken after the student has finished all required and elective coursework. The exam is administered and evaluated by the student’s Field Committee and is designed to evaluate the student’s expertise in health systems and policy as well as the more specific chosen field of study. The written examination is followed by an oral defense at which the Committee determines the scope of the student’s expertise, and provides further direction as the student begins preparation of the dissertation proposal.


Ph.D. candidates are students who have completed “all but dissertation” (ABD). Candidacy requires the submission of a dissertation proposal to the Dissertation Committee and a successful oral defense. Strong dissertation proposals establish the viability of a project and its potential contribution to scholarship on health systems and policy. The dissertation is a book-length manuscript built upon a thorough review of the relevant academic literature, informed by theoretical reasoning, and based upon original research and analysis. It is defended in an oral presentation that lays out the dissertation project’s purpose, implementation, findings, and contribution to scholarship. While this presentation is directed mainly to the Dissertation Committee who question the candidate on the significance and limitations of the study, the actual dissertation defense is open to the public.