The requirements to complete a PhD in Health Policy are:

  • Advanced coursework in the theoretical frameworks and empirical methods in three interdisciplinary areas: Health Economics, Political Studies and Health Systems & Society;
  • Comprehensive examinations to ensure mastery of key concepts, content, and methods in health policy after coursework is completed; and,
  • A dissertation that constitutes a new contribution to knowledge, based on the student’s original research.

Prospective applicants should consult the Graduate Calendar for a complete description of regulations concerning the PhD degree, degree requirements, and graduate studies at McMaster University.


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. Courses offered are subject to change each year. A list of courses offered during the 2020-21 academic year is available here.

Required courses include:

  • 2 terms (half-courses) of the Doctoral Seminar in Health Policy;
  • up to 3 specialty field courses in a single field (health economics, political studies, or health systems & society);
  • up to 2 breadth field courses outside the student’s specialty field, one in each of the two fields other than the chosen specialty; and,
  • up to 3 methodology 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 relevant graduate courses prior to admission may have selected course requirements waived at the time of admission to the program. A minimum of 4 half-courses (2 doctoral seminar courses, 2 specialty field courses) may not be waived and must be taken while the student is enrolled in the Health Policy PhD program.


Each student will be assigned a faculty supervisor upon admission to the program, with a three-member supervisory committee to be appointed within 6 months of the student's enrolment in the program. At least two (of three) supervisory committee members must be core faculty members of the Health Policy program. The primary faculty supervisor and the supervisory committee members provide guidance and monitor the student's progress. The supervisory committee is expected to meet with the student at least twice annually to assess the student's progress, and to file a written progress report with the Program to ensure timely advancement is being made.

Comprehensive Examinations

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, typically in the following sequence:

  • Breadth comprehensive exam: demonstrate basic understanding of each of the three core fields (political studies, social organization and health economics)
  • Methods comprehensive exam: demonstrate understanding of qualitative and quantitative empirical approaches
  • Speciality comprehensive exam: demonstrate mastery in your chosen specialty area (health economics, political studies, health systems & society), while demonstrating a refined and sophisticated level of conceptual/theoretical understanding


All Health Policy PhD 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 supervisory committee consisting of at least two additional faculty members.

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

  • “As I was surveying other programs..there was no doubt that McMaster's Health Policy program was the right fit for me”

    - HP PhD Student

Important: The information on this website is frequently updated and may change at any time. Please consult the McMaster Graduate Calendar for policies during the current academic year. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the Health Policy PhD Program directly for specific up-to-date information.

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