Online PhD in Health Care Services

Online doctorate programs in health care services train experienced health care professionals in addressing and repairing the growing issues within the health care industry through research and practical applications. Students in these programs contribute to the needs of the field of health care by developing ways to reform the current system. Many online PhD programs in health care services, such as the Health Services doctoral program currently offered at Walden University, allow PhD candidates to select a specialization for study. Specializations in accredited health care services PhD programs include:

  • Community Health Education and Advocacy
  • Health Management and Policy
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Leadership
  • Public Health Policy
  • Health Services Research and Policy
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Population Health and Social Determinants

Students can also create their own self-designed area of specialization in most doctoral programs in health care services. Accredited online doctorate degrees in health care services combine intense science-based reasoning with cross-disciplinary training to respond to health care problems. An online PhD in health care services usually takes 4 to 5 years to complete. With an emphasis on research, the courses offered online help students develop ways to maximize the amount of patients being treated, successfully implement programs and technologies, and improve the quality of health care services to patients.

About Online PhD Programs in Health Care Services

Online doctoral programs are usually more interactive than traditional courses. PhD candidates are expected to participate in weekly discussion boards, group projects, study scholarly readings, and write lengthy papers. In addition to course work, health care services doctoral students conduct in-depth research within their area of interest and write a dissertation reporting the findings and discussing future implications. Most online PhD programs in health care services require a number of foundation courses, core courses, research courses, specialization courses, and dissertation courses. The best online programs in health care services will also require a number of on-campus residencies for doctoral candidates.

Year One:

  • Foundations of Graduate Study. Assignments in this introductory course offered at Walden University involve the practical application of writing and critical thinking skills and push students in achieving professional and academic excellence.
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis. In this introductory research course, statistics are approached from a problem-solving perspective that students will use to apply and synthesize their knowledge and skills by developing a quantitative research plan.
  • Writing a Quality Prospectus. Students use a preliminary research plan to develop a problem statement to be used in their dissertation and further refine it by conducting the research that will bring them to the formulation of a dissertation prospectus.

Year Two:

  • U.S. Healthcare Delivery System. Patients, organizations, health care professionals, public and private third-party payers, regulators, reimbursement methods, and technology are identified in relation to health care systems in the United States, in addition to the continuum of health services such as hospitals and hospital systems, ambulatory care services, long-term care services, wellness/prevention services, and community/public health services.
  • Health Economics. Students advance their knowledge of economic principles as reflected in the population's demand for health and medical care; the supply of health organizations and practitioners; the role of insurance; and the challenges that health care organizations face in the pricing, production, allocation, and distribution of health and medical services.
  • Healthcare Financial Management. Students gain an understanding of the terminology, theory, concepts, and techniques used in the accounting and finance functions within health care organizations.

Year Three:

  • Advanced Mixed-Method Reasoning and Analysis. Students gain more of an understanding of different types of mixed-method designs and how to select the most appropriate approach for their dissertation questions.
  • Health Law and Ethics. Students explore law, regulation, and court decisions that affect health care organizations as well as the key ethical principles involving patient care in the United States.
  • Health Services Dissertation. Students must independently complete their dissertation with the guidance of a supervisory committee chair and committee members.

Most online PhD programs in health care services will require twenty credits or more of dissertation courses. Students complete a prospectus and proposal, fill out an Institutional Review Board application and then complete and defend their dissertations. Two examples of dissertations are Cross-cultural comparison of medical ethical decision making and Comparison of hospital CEOs and quality management directors with regard to quality initiatives.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Health Care Services

With a wide variety of specializations to choose from—including bioinformatics, sociology & demography, and occupational health, to name a few—earning an online PhD in health care services can prepare you for advancing your career in a constantly evolving discipline. A PhD in health care services can lead to a career such as nurse practitioner, health care consultant and physician assistant. All three careers were chosen by CNNMoney as the 100 Best Jobs in America in 2010. However, doctoral degrees in other subjects like nursing, nursing science, health care administration and more can also lead to these careers. As such, one criticism of the health care services PhD program is that it may not be necessary if one already has a master's degree or several years of experience in health care. Furthermore, not many institutions offer PhD programs in health care services online, but there are traditional bricks-and-mortar universities that do offer similar programs. Examples include the Harvard University PhD Program in Health Policy and the PhD programs in health services research currently offered at University of Rochester Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Application & Admission Requirements

To be considered for acceptance in most accredited online PhD programs in Public Administration, prospective candidates should already possess a master's degree from an accredited institution and a cumulative grade point average of 3.00. The best online PhD programs in health care services require applicants to possess an MBA or a master's degree in health care services, sociology, health care administration, nursing, health specialties, health care management, or public health. Applicants must also submit a completed application, official transcripts from an accredited post secondary institution, a detailed résumé, and a statement that outlines your professional and personal goals in addition to your academic, research and work experience. PhD applicants should have at least three years of relevant work experience. Relevant work experience usually entails professional success as program managers, administrators, educators, consultants, analysts, or human resources leaders in government, non-profit organizations, and private sector health care organizations.

Career Options & Job Market

Health care is an expanding field with many in-demand jobs, and graduates of online PhD programs in health care services can join this industry by impressing potential employers with a mastery of research skills and expertise in their chosen specializations. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for medical and health services managers is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Applicants with work experience in health care and strong business management skills have the best prospects. Exciting career opportunities include nurse practitioners, who are in high demand and can earn up to $92,000 annually; health policy analysts, who research and report on health issues for private, public and government organizations, earning a mean salary of $75,000 to $100,000 a year; health services researchers, who solve health care problems and can earn roughly $112,070 a year.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

Tuition for Walden University's PhD in health services program is $455 per quarter credit hour, not including a $60 technology fee and a $935 fee for each 4-day residency required to complete the program. Walden University has more information about funding at their financial aid web site. Students in need of financial assistance can also annually file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or a FAFSA to qualify for Federal Stafford Loans, while is a great database to search for scholarships.

  • Health Services Research Dissertation Awards. Offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, grants are given to doctoral candidates in good academic standing and attending an accredited health services research doctoral program.
  • Stuart A. Wesbury, Jr. Fellowship. Offered by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), this fellowship allows the fellow an opportunity to work within a major ACHE division for one year.
  • National Public Service Scholarship. Offered by Walden University, this scholarship provides an annual tuition remission of $1,500 for PhD students demonstrating a continued commitment to public service as it relates to health care issues.

Essential Advice

  • Weigh your options and do the research. You'll need to know for sure whether an additional degree will increase your earning potential more than a bachelor's or master's degree in a similar field would.
  • Try to obtain a scholarship, fellowship or grant. Studying at a PhD level is costly, and you may not be able to predict how many years it will take you to complete it.
  • Talk to current health care services doctoral candidates and graduates in online doctoral education programs about course load, time management, what admission materials they submitted, and so on. This is the best way to learn if the program is right for you.
  • Check the school's credentials. Once you find a program, make sure it is accredited by an accrediting institution recognized by the United States Department of Education.