All health services research graduate programs aim to provide students with the theory, practical experience, and decision-making skills needed to address a wide range of health services-related problems affecting the world. However, because this field can encompass many different areas of interest, choosing the graduate program that will help you achieve your unique professional and personal goals can be challenging.
As the graduate program coordinator for the Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR) at the School of Pharmacy, I have assisted dozens of students in navigating the options available for graduate education in this dynamic field. Based on those experiences, I have come up with five tips from which I think all prospective students can benefit. It is my hope that these tips not only help you choose the advanced degree program in health services research that is right for you, but that they also help you learn more about yourself and the type of research you are interested in pursuing.
Tip No. 1: Understand Your (Research) Options
Health services research is a broad term used to describe research that examines how people gain access to health care, how much that care costs, and what happens to those individuals as a result of the care received. It incorporates elements from a number of disciplines, including pharmacy, medicine, geography, public health, public policy, economics, epidemiology, and biostatistics — just to name a few. To determine which health services research graduate program is right for you, you will need to identify which area of health services research you would like to pursue and choose a program that offers specialization in that area. The Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research at the School of Pharmacy offers an MS in PHSR and a PhD in PHSR that offer students the opportunity to specialize in four areas:
- Comparative Effectiveness and Patient-Centered Outcomes Research: Research that compares different health care and treatment approaches to help patients and providers make more informed decisions.
- Pharmaceutical Policy: Research that examines local, state, and national policies governing the development, provision, and use of medications within a health care system.
- Pharmacoeconomics: Research that examines the trade-offs in health outcomes and costs associated with the use of therapies, devices, and adherence programs.
- Pharmacoepidemiology: Research that analyzes the prevalence and use of pharmaceuticals in large populations as well as the health outcomes associated with medication utilization.
Tip No. 2: Location, Location, Location!
Unlike your experience as an undergraduate, which likely focused on the time that you spent in the classroom, pursuing a graduate education will present you with numerous opportunities to establish a professional network outside of the classroom through research collaborations, internships, and conferences. The location of the college or university at which you complete your advanced degree will play an important role in determining the types of professional experiences available to you. Choose a program housed within a college or university that is located in close proximity to other institutions that can help you build your professional network and advance your career after graduation.
The School of Pharmacy is one of six professional schools (dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, and social work are the others) and a graduate school located at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), a thriving center for life sciences research and community service. We are located in the fourth-largest biotechnology hub in the United States, a short drive away from prestigious institutions such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration. Many students in our MS in PHSR and PhD in PHSR programs engage in research collaborations and pursue internships with these institutions.
Tip No. 3: Follow the Funding
The amount of available financial assistance is an important consideration for any prospective graduate student when selecting the program to which he or she would like to apply. One of the reasons that the PhD in PHSR program at the School of Pharmacy remains so competitive is that we are able to offer students accepted into our program fully funded financial support, including a stipend of $25,000. When added to tuition remission, health insurance, and student fees, the total amount of support provided to each student is worth about $38,000 per year. Our students also continuously receive competitive fellowships and awards from organizations such as the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education and the NIH to help offset other costs that they might incur during their time in the program.
Tip No. 4: Learn from the Best
To ensure your success as a future health services researcher, you want to learn from faculty who have established themselves as national and international leaders in the field. Students enrolled in our MS in PHSR and PhD in PHSR programs benefit from a highly collegial, complementary, and collaborative atmosphere, learning from more than a dozen faculty members who are recognized experts in the areas of comparative effectiveness and patient-centered outcomes research, pharmaceutical policy, pharmacoeconomics, and pharmacoepidemiology, and who have received millions of dollars in grants and contracts from some of the world’s leading health services research organizations.
Tip No. 5: Think About the Future
You won’t be a graduate student forever. The graduate program in which you enroll should begin preparing you to enter the field as a competent researcher from the first day you attend class. As you research available programs and meet with faculty and staff, be sure to ask about the careers that students have pursued after their time in the program. Graduates of the PhD in PHSR program at the School of Pharmacy have obtained highly competitive positions in universities, pharmaceutical companies, and government agencies across the country.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
If you have done your research and are confident that the MS in PHSR or PhD in PHSR program at the School of Pharmacy is the perfect fit for you, I encourage you to begin the application process by visiting the program’s website. The deadline to submit your application for the PhD in PHSR program is Jan. 3, 2018, while the deadline for the MS in PHSR program is April 1, 2018.
— Colleen Day, PHSR graduate program coordinator