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Health Policy - PhD



The PhD in Health Policy is designed to develop scholars who are skilled at critically assessing the political, economic, legal and social aspects of health policy and management and learning to apply innovative research tools to analyze processes and outcomes in the health care delivery and public health settings to inform policy decision-making. Special emphasis is placed on US health policies, systems, and population health.  The PhD in Health Policy is a 48-credit program (with a requirement of a previous Master’s degree) that culminates in a defended dissertation. 

Based in Washington, DC, the PhD in Health Policy will immerse students in a multidisciplinary, scholarly environment working with faculty in the Department of Health Policy and Management and other GW experts who are conducting research and policy analyses in pursuit of improvements in health access, equity, costs and outcomes and shaping the health and public health policy debate at national, state and other levels  From Day One, PhD students will benefit from faculty mentorship and proximity to experts and agencies immersed in the most current topics of health policy and public health in the hub of health policy decision-making and debate.  This program will prepare PhD candidates with the proper training to be an integral part of the future creating solutions to public health challenges and a transformed health care system.

Our research strengths include:

  • Health Policy, Law, and Regulation
  • Medicaid and Medicare Policy
  • Health Reform
  • Public Health Policy
  • Workforce Policy
  • Health Economics and Financing
  • Cost-effectiveness of Health Interventions
  • Health Disparities
  • Health Services Research
  • Research Methods
  • Payment and Systems Transformation



The Health Policy PhD is a 48-credit program designed to be full-time, in-residence for the first two years.  Admitted students will be required to have:

  • a Master's degree; preferably in public health, public policy, and similar fields (e.g. economics, sociology, demography).
  • GRE taken within five years of application.
  • Evidence of introductory economics and introductory statistics coursework.
  • At least one year of multivariate statistics (e.g. biostatistics, econometrics) is desirable, but not required.
  • Prior experience conducting health policy or health services research.  Experience developing peer-reviewed articles or scholarly reports is desirable but not required.
  • Professional experience is helpful, but not required.

The PhD in Health Policy accepts students annually. Applications are due by  December 1st.  GWSPH uses the SOPHAS* application system for admissions.  Applications will be reviewed beginning in January and those applicants selected for a personal interview (in-person, telephone or videoconference) can expect to be contacted no later than late-February.   


Required Public Health Fundamental Courses

PUBH 6080 | Pathways to Public Health (0 credits)*
PUBH 6340 | Health Economics and Finance (3 credits)
PUBH 8401 | Foundations of Public Health Leadership and Practice (3 credits)
PUBH 8620 | Foundations of U.S. Health Policy (3 credits)
PUBH 8622 | Health Care Payments & Delivery Models (3 credits)
PUBH 8418/8610 | Statistical Analysis in Health Policy (3 credits)

*PUBH 6080 - Find FAQs on the Advising page here.


Required Core Methods Courses

PUBH 8404 | Health Systems & Health Policy Research (3 credits)
PUBH 8405 | Advanced Health Economic Research (3 credits)
PUBH 8417 | Qualitative Research Methods & Analysis (3 credits)
PPPA 8022 | Econometrics for Policy Research II (3 credits)


Elective Courses

10-12 credits minimum. See program guide for most up to date course listings.

All electives must be approved in advance by the program director. Electives offered by other departments at GW may also be acceptable. Students will access the syllabi and submit to ensure credit will be received.


Dissertation Seminars and Preparation

PUBH 8422 | Advanced Health Care & Public Health/Policy Research Design (2 credits)
PUBH 8435 
| Dissertation Proposal Development (2 credits)

Prerequisites: Prior to enrolling in dissertation prep courses, students must pass the Comprehensive Exams, submit a one-page abstract, and obtain the approval of the program director.

PUBH 8999 Dissertation Research (1-10 credits)

Prerequisites: Prior to enrolling in the dissertation course, students must successfully defend their dissertation proposal.


Comprehensive Exams

All students are required to pass a Comprehensive Examination, which typically occurs following the Spring semester of Year 2. Following completion of all required coursework, students will compile a 3-person comprehensive exam committee.

Non-Academic Requirements

Professional Enhancement

Students in the PhD, Health Policy program must participate in 8 hours of Professional Enhancement. These activities may be Public Health-related lectures, seminars, or symposia related to your field of study.

Professional Enhancement activities supplement the rigorous academic curriculum of the SPH degree programs and help prepare students to participate actively in the professional community. You can learn more about opportunities for Professional Enhancement via the Milken Institute School of Public Health Listserv, through departmental communications, or by speaking with your advisor.

Students submit a completed Professional Enhancement Form to the Office of Student Records which is required documentation to be cleared for graduation.

Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Training

All students are required to complete the Basic CITI training module in Social and Behavioral Research.  This online training module for Social and Behavioral Researchers will help new students demonstrate and maintain sufficient knowledge of the ethical principles and regulatory requirements for protecting human subjects - key for any public health research.

Academic Integrity Quiz

All Milken Institute School of Public Health students are required to review the University’s Code of Academic Integrity and complete the GW Academic Integrity Activity.  This activity must be completed within 2 weeks of matriculation. Information on GWSPH Academic Integrity requirements can be found here.

Past Program Guides

Program Guides from prior Academic Years

Students in the PhD in Health Policy program should refer to the guide from the year in which they matriculated into the program. For the current program guide, click the red "PROGRAM GUIDE" button on the right-hand side of the page.


Comprehensive Exam

The PhD in Health Policy requires successful completion of comprehensive exams which typically occurs following the Spring semester of Year 2.  Students will compile a 3-person comprehensive exam committee which will consist of his/her advisor and two other appropriate faculty members.  Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam, students move to the candidacy phase of the PhD program and may begin work on the dissertation. 


For the dissertation, students are expected to conduct original research on a contemporary public health problem or issue. They are expected to make a significant scholarly contribution and to gain the expertise and skills that enable them to make a continuing impact on the field. Students are guided by health policy, public health and social science theory in formulating their dissertation questions, which they address using quantitative and/or qualitative methods and through primary data collection and/or secondary analysis of already collected data.

Dissertations may take the form of a traditional dissertation or a “manuscript” dissertation where the student will prepare 3 papers in a related area that are publishable or have been published in peer-reviewed journals.  Additional information will be made available to PhD students well in advance of his/her candidacy.

PhD vs. DrPH


The Milken Institute School of Public Health offers both a PhD and a DrPH degree in Health Policy.


The PhD program in Health Policy focuses on training researchers and policy analysts who will contribute to research and scholarly knowledge in order to produce evidence or new insights that can be used to assess, evaluate or improve health policies and programs.  It is designed to be comparable to the program that was previously offered as the health policy concentration in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration’s PhD degree in Public Policy, building multidisciplinary skills and insights to health policy and health services research. 


The DrPH program in Health Policy trains health professionals and public health practitioners who are uniquely equipped to provide real world leadership at the national, state, and local levels in all phases of public health, healthcare, and health policy development and implementation.  DrPH Health Policy graduates are expected to contribute to the improved effectiveness of public health, healthcare, and health policy in the U.S. and around the world, including medically underserved and vulnerable populations.