HSR PhD Overview

Health services research is a field of scientific investigation that studies how financing systems, health technologies, organizational structures and processes, personal behaviors, social factors, and policies affect access to health care, quality and cost of health care, and societal health and well-being.  It is an interdisciplinary field that draws on a wide range of disciplines, including biostatistics, epidemiology, sociology, social work, economics, medicine, nursing, public health, engineering, management, and policy studies.  Health services research provides knowledge to guide the decisions of those who direct the billions of dollars allocated to health care each year in the United States and globally.


The Institute of Medicine of The National Academy of Sciences offers a similar definition:

Health services research is a multidisciplinary field of inquiry, both basic and applied, that examines the use, costs, quality, accessibility, delivery, organization, financing, and outcomes of health care services to increase knowledge and understanding of the structure, processes, and effects of health services for individuals and populations.  (Committee on Health Services Research: Training and Workforce Issues.  (1995).  Health Services Research: Workforce and Educational Issues.  M.J. Field, R.E. Tranquada, and J.C. Feasley (Eds.).  Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.


The PhD Program in Health Services Research at UNC Charlotte is an interdisciplinary program.  It includes course work in health economics, health organizational structures and processes, epidemiology, health policy, health behavior, social factors that affect access to health care and health disparities, quality and cost of health care, societal health and well-being, grant writing, statistical analysis, research design and implementation, program evaluation, and research ethics.  Graduates are prepared to conduct interdisciplinary research using quantitative and qualitative methods, to create new knowledge supporting innovations in health care delivery systems and health policy.  Students complete core courses, courses and projects sufficient to develop an individual area of emphasis, and a dissertation.  The dissertation is the capstone of the program and is expected to be a significant contribution to knowledge.  It is original and independent research of sufficient quality to warrant publication in peer-reviewed, indexed journals.  Our program also emphasizes development of skills in grant writing, which are useful for obtaining research funding.  Students are encouraged to submit grants to support their PhD studies and their dissertation research, as well as their research expenses and professional travel.

Mission of the Program in Health Services Research

The PhD program in Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is committed to providing students the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills needed to excel in research and education that improves health and human services in diverse socioeconomic groups and geographic settings.

Core Competency Goals of the PhD Program in Health Services Research

The PhD Program in Health Services Research encompasses fourteen core knowledge and skill competencies common to all health services research professionals trained at the doctoral level.  These competencies were developed by key stakeholders from schools of public health accredited by the Council on Education of Public Health (CEPH) in a report to the U.S. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (visit website)

Health Services Research (HSR) Doctoral Level Core Competencies

To develop doctoral competency in health services research, HSR PhD students at UNC Charlotte will:

1.   Know how to apply alternative theoretical and conceptual models from a range of relevant disciplines to HSR.

2.   Apply in-depth disciplinary knowledge and skills relevant to health services research.

3.   Use knowledge of the structures, performance, quality, policy, and environmental context of health and health care to formulate solutions for health policy problems.

4.   Pose innovative and important research questions, informed by systematic reviews of the literature, stakeholder needs, and relevant theoretical and conceptual models.

5.   Select appropriate interventional (experimental and quasi-experimental) or observational (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods) study designs to address specific health services research questions.

6.   Know how to collect primary health and health care data obtained by survey, qualitative, or mixed methods.

7.   Know how to assemble secondary data from existing public and private sources.

8.   Use a conceptual model to specify study constructs for a health services research question and develop variables that reliably and validly measure these constructs.

9.   Implement research protocols with standardized procedures that ensure reproducibility of the science.

10.    Ensure the ethical and responsible conduct of research in the design, implementation, and dissemination of health services research.

11.   Work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary teams.

12.    Use appropriate analytical methods to clarify associations between variables and to delineate causal inferences.

13.   Effectively communicate the findings and implications of health services research through multiple modalities to technical and lay audiences.

14.    Understand the importance of collaborating with policymakers, organizations, and communities to plan, conduct, and translate health services research into policy and practice.

Source, Table 1. Health Services Research (HSR) Doctoral Level Core Competencies; available online.