Jul 24, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2016-2017 
Graduate Catalog | 2016-2017 Previous Edition

Health Services Research, Ph.D.

This interdisciplinary program in Health Services Research includes coursework in biostatistics, health economics, healthcare organizational structures and processes, epidemiology, health policy, personal behaviors, and social factors that affect access to healthcare, quality and cost of healthcare, and health outcomes. Graduates are prepared to conduct interdisciplinary research utilizing quantitative methods supplemented with qualitative methods to advance knowledge to support innovations in healthcare delivery systems and health policy. All students are required to complete a series of core and special emphasis courses individually developed between the student and their advisor. The cornerstone of the program is the student’s dissertation, which is expected to be a significant contribution based on original and independent research leading to publications in peer reviewed, indexed journals. Graduates are prepared to work in healthcare delivery systems, academia, or government positions.

Additional Admission Requirements

In addition to the general requirements for admission to the graduate school, the following are required for study in the Ph.D. Program in Health Services Research:

  1. Master’s Degree from an accredited university in a health-related field
  2. An overall graduate grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.5 out of 4.0 from an accredited graduate program
  3. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required; visit the website for the Ph.D. in Health Services Research program for details.
  4. Completed at least one graduate level course with a grade of B or above in each of the following areas:
    1. Statistics or biostatistics
    2. Health policy
    3. Epidemiology

Note: Applicants will be considered for admission if they have not completed one or more of the above three prerequisite graduate courses. Admitted students lacking any of these courses are able to be admitted; however, the prerequisite courses must be successfully completed before enrolling in the corresponding doctoral level course. Master’s level courses in these areas that are taken to fulfill the prerequisite requirements are not counted toward the 57 credit total for the Ph.D.

  1. An essay addressing professional and academic experiences, motivation for pursuing the degree, specialty area of emphasis to pursue in the program, and how the program fits the applicant’s career plans. The essay should also identify at least two members of the HSR PhD Program Faculty or Participating Faculty with whom the applicant would like to work, based on shared research interests. The applicant must include a statement indicating how his or her specific research interests align with those of at least two specific member of the HSR PhD Program Faculty or Participating Faculty that the applicant may wish to have as a mentor.
  2. A current curriculum vitae (CV)
  3. A score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination, which meets university requirements for those applicants whose native language is not English
  4. An interview with the Director or the Director’s designee and possibly potential mentor(s) either in person or by telephone. Before the interviews, the applicant should provide the Program Director and potential mentor(s) with a current curriculum vitae and a record of completed degrees, with their grade averages.
  5. Three letters of reference, at least one of which is from a former graduate faculty member and one from a former supervisor

Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. acknowledges the value of coursework for background and preparatory to conducting research.  The program requires 57 post-master’s credit hours.  This program emphasizes courses in research methods and analysis, as well as experiences working with faculty on research to support the development of research skills in order to carry out the dissertation on a significant research problem in the area of health services research.

Core Courses

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the program, all students are required to take the general curriculum that includes this sequence of core courses.

Interdisciplinary Theoretical Base Courses (9 credit hours)

Select three courses from the list below.  Some courses below have required prerequisite courses.  If the prerequisite courses are not completed before admission, these courses must be completed before the student takes the course for which each is a prerequisite.  These courses cannot be applied toward the Area of Interest requirement.

Area of Interest Courses (6 credit hours)

Students each develop a set of courses in a chosen Area of Interest that is designed mutually with their advisor.  These courses may be at the Master’s or Doctoral level in areas such as research methods, mental health, gerontology, public policy, or health disparities.  These may be selected from courses with the following prefixes:  GRNT, HADM, HCIP, HLTH, HSRD, PPOL, and PSYC.

Elective Course (3 credit hours)

Select a course outside the Area of Interest.  Students each determine the appropriate elective courses mutually with their advisor.  This course may be at the master’s or doctoral level, and may be from programs with the following prefixes:  GRNT, HADM, HCIP, HLTH, HSRD, PPOL, and PSYC.

Dissertation (18 credit hours)

Proportion of Courses Open Only to Doctoral Students

Health Services Research Program courses are only open to doctoral students, except with written approval of the instructor and the Director. Students from other university doctoral programs may enroll.

Grade Requirements

A student must maintain a cumulative average of 3.0 in all coursework taken in the program. The seminars will be graded on a Pass/Unsatisfactory basis and therefore will not be included in the cumulative average. An accumulation of two C grades will result in termination of the student’s enrollment in the doctoral program. A second failure in any of the following results in dismissal from the program the candidacy examination; the dissertation proposal defense; or final dissertation defense. If a student makes a grade of U or NC on any course, enrollment will be terminated. A doctoral student whose enrollment has been terminated because of grades is ineligible to register in any semester or summer session.

Transfer Credit

Only courses with grades of A or B may be accepted for transfer credit. With approval of the student’s advisor, the Doctoral Program Director and the Doctoral Program Committee, a maximum of six hours of transfer credit for post-Master’s coursework earned at a regionally or nationally accredited university within the previous five years is accepted. The date for the first of these courses becomes the starting date for the 8-year period for completing the Ph.D. degree. Only courses appropriate for the program and curriculum in which the student is enrolled may be transferred.


Doctoral students are expected to attend seminars sponsored by the College of Health and Human Services.

Dissertation Process

Dissertation Chair Selection

The student selects a Dissertation Chair.  The Chair must be a member of the HSR Ph.D. Program Faculty, or a member of the HSR Ph.D. Participating Faculty with a co-Chair who is a member of the Program Faculty.  Students should consult with their faculty advisor and the Program Director as they develop their plans for selecting the dissertation committee chair, and for forming the dissertation committee.  The student should work closely with the Chair on identifying other committee members, and typically should approach other faculty about serving on the committee only after consulting with the Chair.

Dissertation Committee Selection

The student selects the Dissertation Committee, which must be at least 5 members. Four must be from the HSR Ph.D. Program Faculty or Participating Faculty (one of whom is the Chair). The student submits the “Appointment of Doctoral Committee” form. The Graduate School appoints the 5th member. The five members of the dissertation committee will serve as the student’s committee for the refinement of the dissertation topic, the development and defense of the dissertation proposal, the development of the dissertation, and dissertation defense.

Dissertation Topic Selection

The Chair of the dissertation committee and the student together select the dissertation topic.The Chair is responsible to ensure that all members of the committee are actively involved and agree to the direction and the specifics of the proposal (e.g., data, methods).Ensuring this involvement and agreement is a major goal of the Topic Approval Meeting.When the Chair approves the topic and approach to the dissertation, the student schedules the Topic Approval Meeting with the Dissertation Committee.The student submits a 2-3 page description of the dissertation plan to the Dissertation Committee at least 2 weeks prior to the Topic Approval Meeting. This single-spaced description of the topic includes the following sections: (1) Specific Aims, (2) Background and Significance, (3) Research Design and Methods.The topic approval meeting is not typically open to visitors.Students will present a brief oral summary of: the dissertation topic, the context of related research literature, data and methods, and implications for policy and practice, followed by questions and

Dissertation Proposal

Following the topic approval, the student writes the dissertation proposal and prepares for the Oral Proposal Defense.  The proposal is written in the form of a grant proposal.  The student is expected to use NIH PHS398 format, except that she or he is not required to use the NIH forms, and that the proposal does not require preliminary data, biographical sketches, letters of collaboration, or budgets.  Thus, the proposal includes the following standard NIH sections:

  • Specific Aims
  • Background and Significance
  • Research Design and Methods
  • Human Subjects

The entire proposal (not including the Literature Cited section) is limited to 15 single-spaced pages (12 point font).  At the discretion of the Chair, additional material may be included in appendices, such as additional details about the analysis, table shells, and so forth.  However, it is the expectation of the HSR Ph.D. program that the central elements of the dissertation proposal should be embodied in the 15 page maximum.  This requirement is designed to ensure that students have experience writing the dense prose required for a successful grant narrative.  It also provides a narrative that is appropriate for submission for funding the dissertation work.  All members of the committee must receive the full proposal at least 2 weeks before the Proposal Defense.

Oral Defense of the Dissertation Proposal

The submission of the proposal is followed by the Oral Proposal Defense. In the HSR Ph.D. program, the Oral Proposal Defense is open to HSR Ph.D. faculty and HSR Ph.D. students.The student must provide the title of the proposed dissertation, and the date, time, and location of the Oral Proposal Defense to the Program Director no later than two weeks prior to the Oral Proposal Defense.

The student should prepare a PowerPoint presentation approximately 20 minutes in length summarizing the research proposal. Following the student’s presentation, the committee will ask questions about the research plan.The student will be excused from the meeting to permit the committee to discuss the merits of the proposal, after which the student will return to the meeting to receive the committee’s comments and required modifications to the research plan.After successful completion of the Oral Proposal Defense, the student submits two forms: (1) “Proposal Defense for Doctoral Dissertation and/or Master’s Thesis/Project ” and (2) “Report of Comprehensive/Qualifying Exam, Portfolio Presentation, and Study Report for Doctoral and/or Master’s Students.”

Advancement to Candidacy

A doctoral student advances to candidacy after the dissertation topic and approach has been approved by the student’s advisory committee and the Dean of the Graduate School.If Human Subjects are involved, the Petition for Topic Approval requires the attachment of the IRB approval.

In addition to the oral examination on the dissertation proposal, the Qualifying Examination includes an oral examination on the HSR Ph.D. student’s doctoral portfolio.The doctoral portfolio presents all work completed by the student in the program, including:

  • A detailed cover letter
  • Current curriculum vitae
  • Papers completed during courses taken in the HSR Ph.D. program
  • Research papers published or in press since admission to the program
  • Abstracts representing research presented at professional conferences since admission to the program
  • A professional personal statement (typically 2 to 3 pages) covering, at a minimum, the student’s research focus area(s), and the student’s 2- to 3-year research plan
  • Additional manuscripts under development
  • Syllabi developed by the student since admission to the program (where relevant)
  • Student and faculty evaluations of the HSR Ph.D. student’s teaching (where relevant)
  • A statement of teaching philosophy (where relevant to the student’s career plan)

Retake of the Qualifying Examination

A student who fails to complete the Oral Proposal Defense / Qualifying Examination satisfactorily may be given the opportunity to revise components of the research proposal and/or the doctoral portfolio under the direction of the Chair and/or to repeat the Oral Proposal Defense, at the discretion of the Dissertation Committee; a second failure results in dismissal from the Ph.D. program.

Dissertation Research

Completion of the dissertation is the final component of the doctoral degree. A doctoral dissertation must demonstrate the candidate’s ability to conceive, design, conduct, and interpret independent, original, and creative research, and must make a unique contribution to knowledge in the field of health services research. Under the direct supervision of the Dissertation Committee Chairs, students are encouraged to consult regularly with their Dissertation Committee members during the planning, conducting, and writing of the dissertation. The dissertation defense is a public defense. Notice of the location and time will go to the campus community.

Following the approval of the dissertation topic and advancement to doctoral candidacy, students are required to maintain continuous enrollment in HSRD 8801  for dissertation study until work is completed. Continuous enrollment begins in the semester after the dissertation topic is approved.


A student must maintain a cumulative average of 3.0 in all coursework taken in the program. The seminars will be graded on a Pass/Unsatisfactory basis and therefore will not be included in the cumulative average. An accumulation of two C grades results in termination of the student’s enrollment in the doctoral program. Students are allowed to repeat the Candidacy Exam, proposal defense, dissertation defense only once. A second failure of the candidacy examination, the dissertation proposal defense, or the final dissertation defense results in dismissal from the program. If a student makes a grade of U or NC on any course, enrollment is terminated. A doctoral student whose enrollment has been terminated due to inadequate grades is ineligible to register in any semester or Summer session. Please also see the “Degree Requirements and Academic Policies ” section.

UNC Charlotte Residency Requirement

The student must satisfy the UNC Charlotte residency requirement for the program by completing 21 credit hours. Residence is considered to be continuous if the student is enrolled in one or more courses in successive semesters until 21 hours are earned.

Time Limits for Completion

All requirements for the degree must be completed within 8 years after the first registration as a doctoral student or the registration for any course transferred into the program toward degree requirements. The student must receive admission to candidacy within 6 years after admission to the program and complete all requirements within 6 years of admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. These time limits are maximums; students will be typically expected to complete the degree requirements within 5 years.