May 22, 2024  
School of Graduate Studies Calendar, 2023-2024 
School of Graduate Studies Calendar, 2023-2024

Health Policy, Ph.D

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Ph.D. Degree

The purpose of the Ph.D. in Health Policy is to train intellectual leaders in the field who will make seminal contributions to policy understanding and practice. The curriculum provides the student with theoretical and empirical tools for answering a range of questions about health policy, and the ability to develop new investigation approaches to move the field forward. An emphasis on theoretical and conceptual frameworks for policy analysis distinguishes this program from health degrees with a primary focus on empirical methodologies or on specific substantive problems.

The Ph.D. program integrates intellectual resources for education and research across McMaster University. Participating faculty members have appointments predominantly in departments within the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the School of Business. Graduates with a Ph.D. in Health Policy will be well prepared for academic appointments in interdisciplinary departments or institutes. Their training will also prepare them for fruitful engagement with policy makers as providers of useful knowledge, insightful research, and innovative solutions to policy problems. Outside of academia, graduates would be qualified for leadership positions in government, policy consulting, non-governmental organizations throughout the health sector, and private industry.


 The program offers three fields of specialization: Health Economics, Political Studies, and Health Systems and Society.

Health Economics

The health economics field addresses the economic analysis of health policies and health systems, as well as the economic analysis of responses to health policies. Topics may include, for example, health resource allocation, configuration of health human resources, economic evaluation of policy options, public and private financing of health care, societal investments in health production, etc. The dominant disciplinary perspective is that of microeconomics, but insight into economic behaviour may also be provided by perspectives such as business, psychology, and others.

Political Studies

The political studies field emphasizes the political aspects of health policy including the influences by political institutions, actors, values, and ideas operating within state and global jurisdictions. Topics of interest, for example, may include the role of historical institutional arrangements in shaping health governance reforms, the impact of global trade agreements on domestic home care and pharmaceutical policy, the role of the public, stakeholders, and prevailing values on policy agendas, etc. Political science is the dominant disciplinary perspective, with related areas including, public policy analysis and administration, comparative public policy, law, political theory and philosophy.

Health Systems and Society

The Health Systems and Society field emphasizes the analysis of the social influences that shape the production of health (and illness), the organization of health systems and services, and their associated policies. Topics of interest may include the generation and use of information to inform policy, political economies of health and its production, policies to address the social determinants of health and professional roles and behaviour, etc. Relevant disciplinary perspectives include anthropology, business administration or management, health systems, history, philosophy, political science, psychology and sociology.


Admission to the Ph.D. program requires previous graduate training in a relevant field (e.g., social sciences, health professions, policy, business, legal or administrative professions), with at least an A- grade average in past graduate coursework. A Master’s degree is preferred. At least one graduate-level statistics half-course should be passed prior to admission. Students without this preparation in statistics may be admitted, but would be required to take a graduate statistics course in addition to normal program requirements. Successful applicants must also meet all School of Graduate Studies admissions requirements. Current admission procedures, forms, and deadlines are available on the Health Policy program website:

Degree Requirements

The Health Policy Ph.D. curriculum has three parts, which will normally be completed over a four-year period: (1) coursework (first and second years); (2) comprehensive examinations (first and second years); (3) the doctoral dissertation, which involves the approval and defense of the proposal for the doctoral research (third year), dissertation research (third and fourth years), and the completion, approval, and defense of the written dissertation (fourth year).

Course Requirements

Coursework is normally completed during the first and second years of full-time study. Between 4-10 half courses are required. Courses are chosen from the list of recommended courses for each curriculum area (listed below). Required coursework includes 2 terms of the Doctoral Seminar in Health Policy, 2-3 specialty field courses, 0-2 breadth field courses outside the student’s specialty field, and 0-3 half courses, including both quantitative and qualitative or mixed methods.

Students without prior graduate training in a given area are required to take the maximum number of required courses for that area. Students who have completed some relevant training prior to admission may have relevant course requirements waived at the time of admission to the Health Policy Ph.D. program. A minimum of 4 half-courses (including the 2 doctoral seminar half-courses) may not be waived and must be completed while the student is enrolled in the Health Policy Ph.D. program.

Breadth field courses

0-2 half courses, one from each of two fields other than the student’s specialty:

Specialty field courses

2-3 half courses in 1 of the following 3 fields:

Health Economics:

Required for all Health Economics field students, unless waived:

Political Studies:

Required for all Political Studies field students, unless waived:

Health Systems and Society

Required for all Health Systems and Society field students, unless waived:

Methodology courses

0-3 half courses, including both quantitative and qualitative or mixed methods:

Quantitative Methods:

Required for Health Economics specialty field students, unless waived

Comprehensive Examination

Comprehensive examinations are completed during the first and second years of full time study, as the relevant coursework requirements are completed. Students complete three required comprehensive examinations in the following areas:

  • Two breadth fields outside the student’s specialty area (health systems and society, political studies, and health economics);
  • One chosen specialty area (health systems and society, political studies, or health economics); and
  • Research methods (qualitative and quantitative empirical approaches).

Doctoral Dissertation

All Health Policy Ph.D. students are required to research, write, and successfully defend a doctoral dissertation, which constitutes an original contribution to knowledge in the field of health policy. The dissertation is developed and completed under the guidance of the student’s primary supervisor and a dissertation supervision committee consisting of at least two additional faculty members.

  • Normally by the beginning of the third year of full time study, the doctoral dissertation proposal is formally presented and defended before a committee;
  • The doctoral dissertation research is normally completed during the third and fourth years of full time study, with the completion, approval, and defense of the written dissertation by the end of the fourth year.


Each student will be assigned a provisional faculty supervisor upon admission to the program. A final faculty supervisor and a three member supervisory committee will be appointed within 6 months of the student’s enrollment in the program. At least two (of three) supervisory committee members must be core faculty members of the Health Policy Ph.D. Program. The faculty supervisor and supervisory committee provide guidance and monitor the student’s progress. The supervisory committee is expected to meet with the student twice annually to assess the student’s progress and to file a written progress report with the Program.

Additional Regulations

Students and prospective applicants should consult the Graduate Calendar for a complete description of regulations concerning the Ph.D. degree and graduate studies at McMaster University.

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