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Ph.D. in Public Health Program

Applications Closed

Applications for Fall 2024 are now closed.

The O’Donnell School of Public Health offers a transformative Ph.D. program in public health. Students at OSPH have the privilege of working alongside world-renowned experts, honing skills, and emerging as innovative thought leaders in the field. Immerse yourself in one of three captivating concentrations, Health Economics and Policy, Health Data Sciences, or Applied Epidemiology, and embark on a journey marked by excellence, innovation, and collaboration. Embrace this unparalleled opportunity to shape the future of public health and become an agent of change.


Training thought leaders and innovators in health economics and policy, health data sciences research, and applied epidemiology.

The O’Donnell School of Public Health upholds the broader UT Southwestern institutional mission of promoting health and a healthy society that enables the achievement of full human potential, with a deep commitment to the core values of excellence, innovation, teamwork, and compassion.

About the Program

Length: 4-5 years
Location: In-person at our Dallas Campus

All admitted students are provided a full-tuition waiver with a stipend for the 4-5 year program
60 semester credit hours are required to complete the program

Degree Requirements

Degree requirements are designed to be completed within four to five years of admission to the program.

To successfully complete all program requirements, students:

  • Maintain a cumulative grade-point average (GPA) of at least a 3.0 for all UTSW graduate coursework.
  • Complete all required coursework.
  • Regularly attend the Public Health Seminar Series course.
  • Successfully complete two preliminary examinations: Foundational Public Health Knowledge and Research Design.
  • Successfully complete the dissertation proposal defense.
  • Successfully complete the dissertation defense.

Application Process

Multi-ethnic and mixed age group of college students studying, talking on steps outside university campus building in spring or autumn season.   The students have books, backpacks, digital tablet, cell phones.

The program accepts applications for the incoming Fall class starting in September. All doctoral applicants must submit a Ph.D. application. To be considered for priority review, applicants must submit their applications and all supplemental materials by December 1. The regular deadline to apply is February 1.

All application materials, such as transcripts, CV, your statement of purpose and objectives, a writing sample, and three letters of recommendation, must be submitted through the online application portal for your application to be considered by the Admissions Committee.

  1. September: Application portal opens.

  2. October–December: Early applications are given priority review by the Ph.D. Admissions Committee. Priority deadline: December 1.

  3. January: Interviews begin for selected early applicants.

  4. February: Applications are closed, interviews continue, and applicants begin receiving notification of funding and admission decisions.

Application Checklist

  • Statement of Purpose and Objectives

    Address the following areas in 1,500 words or less:

    • What interests you about your chosen concentration (Health Economics and Policy, Health Data Sciences, or Applied Epidemiology)? Why did you choose UT Southwestern?
    • Describe your research interest, relevant work, and commitment to public health.
    • What are your short- and long-term career objectives?
    • Describe how your personal background and life experiences led to your decision to pursue a Ph.D. in public health.
  • Writing Sample

    A writing sample is required for the application to the Ph.D. program. Papers written specifically for the Ph.D. application will not be accepted.
    The writing sample should:

    • Be scientific writing of approximately 15-20 pages in length, preferably related to public health.
    • Be an original work written by the applicant and submitted for a grade or publication where the applicant is the sole or first author.
    • Demonstrate an aptitude for scholarly writing (e.g., manuscript, research proposal, master’s thesis or capstone paper, white paper or policy statement).
  • Letters of Recommendation

    Three letters of recommendation must come from recent professors, supervisors, or employers.

  • Transcripts

    Proof of a master’s degree (and any post-bachelor’s coursework or degrees) must be submitted from a regionally accredited institution or a foreign university with substantially equivalent bachelor’s degree requirements. We will accept an unofficial transcript for the application portal. If you receive an offer of admission and accept that offer, an official transcript must be sent by to the Admissions Office before the first day of class.

Ph.D. Funding

The O’Donnell School of Public Health pays students’ tuition and fees during the four to five years of graduate school.

All students studying for a Ph.D. in public health receive a nationally competitive research assistantship of $37,000 per year throughout the course of their Ph.D. studies.

The O’Donnell School of Public Health provides this support during the first two years of graduate school. In subsequent years, students receive a research assistantship paid from research grants awarded to their dissertation mentors or from one of the institutional National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grants associated with various areas of research training. Graduate students are encouraged to apply for individual fellowships such as NIH F31, American Heart Association, etc. The O’Donnell School helps students identify and apply for fellowship opportunities.

Health insurance coverage for the student is provided at no expense for the duration of Ph.D. studies. Additional coverage is available for purchase through the University of Texas System Blue Cross Blue Shield plan during any benefits enrollment period.


Students in all concentrations receive substantial training in research methods and data analysis. With a Ph.D. in public health from the O’Donnell School of Public Health, students impact the health of underserved populations, provide evidence for decision-making, lead in the development of new research, and become independent and thoughtful leaders in the community.

Students choose from one of three concentrations:

Stethoscope laying on calculator keyboard.

Health Economics and Policy

Health economics and policy is a multidisciplinary field of scientific investigation that examines the multiple facets of policies and programs that impact individual and community health and well-being. This includes the use, cost, quality, accessibility, and delivery of health care services and the complex interactions of social, environmental, and programmatic factors that affect health outcomes directly or indirectly. The research domains of health economics and policy include groups, organizations, institutions, communities, and populations.


  • Develop expertise in economic theory including consumer and firm decision-making and economic valuation.
  • Learn theoretical and empirical approaches to policy research in a dynamic interdisciplinary environment and develop rigorous research design and analysis skills.
  • Core Competencies and Learning Objectives

    The Health Economics and Policy concentration curriculum is designed to provide students with the following core competencies:

    • Formulate health economic and policy research questions based on economic theory and econometric methods.
    • Synthesize economic theory and empirical evidence for health policy decision makers to facilitate translation and dissemination of public health interventions, applications, or programs.
    • Design, evaluate, interpret, and communicate the results of quantitative and qualitative research for applications in health outcomes, health economics, and health policy research.
    • Ensure the ethical and responsible conduct of health services and policy research.
    • Work independently and as part of a team to conduct health economics and policy research.
Eye scan with competer data overlay.

Health Data Sciences

Health data science focuses on the applications of data science methods to facilitate and improve health science, biomedical research, and patient care. Students in the Health Data Sciences Ph.D. program develop expertise in mathematical modeling, statistical inference and methods, computer sciences, information sciences, machine learning, and artificial intelligence with application in health science and biomedical research.


  • Learn practical skills to extract meaningful knowledge from noisy structured and unstructured biomedical data.
  • Learn the theory and methods of health data science in a dynamic interdisciplinary environment and develop rigorous methodology research and analytical skills.
  • Core Competencies and Learning Objectives

    The Health Data Science concentration curriculum is designed to provide students with the following core competencies:

    • Data Science Expertise: Demonstrate expertise in foundational data science knowledge, current research, and its application to health science and biomedical research.
    • Research Design and Analysis: Develop analysis plans, select appropriate methods, and design and implement analysis techniques for complex data in health science and biomedical research.
    • Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis: Model and analyze quantitative and qualitative data using mathematics, biostatistics, informatics, and computational algorithms.
    • Scientific Communication: Write manuscripts for scholarly journals, make oral presentations to scientific audiences, and explain research to various audiences, including researchers, clinicians, health care professionals, the public, and media.
    • Expertise in Health Data Science: Develop expertise in a substantive area of health data science, applying data science principles and methods to address specific health-related research questions.
People and information data on a digital space background.

Applied Epidemiology

Applied Epidemiology equips trainees with the skills and knowledge to tackle pressing health challenges worldwide and to take leadership positions in important global public health settings.

Students will:

  • Gain expertise in identifying disease etiologies, developing and evaluating effective biomedical interventions, and leading change in diverse settings both domestically and internationally.
  • Develop expertise in epidemiology to lead disease outbreak investigations and field-based interventions to address public health issues of importance.
  • Core Competencies and Learning Objectives
    • Demonstrate expertise in foundational public health knowledge and current epidemiology research on biological and socioeconomic factors affecting human health.
    • Design, analyze, and interpret findings of different epidemiological studies.
    • Design and critically analyze surveillance systems to identify strengths and weaknesses in data collection, analysis, and interpretation.
    • Apply epidemiological skills to investigate infectious disease outbreaks and/or analyze trends in non-communicable diseases and other public health issues.
    • Translate complex public health science into understandable messages tailored to various audiences, considering their diverse levels of health literacy, cultural backgrounds, and communication preferences.

Ph.D. Curriculum

Public Health Core Courses (required for all Ph.D. students)12 credits
Public Health Seminar 0
Introduction to Programming and Software Packages 1
Social Determinants of Health 3
Responsible Conduct of Research 1
Scientists as Professionals 1
Foundations of Public Health Research 3
Research Capstone - Grant Writing for Dissertation Work 3
Health Economics and Policy Core/Required Courses24 credits
Health Economics I 3
Health Economics II 3
Health Policy I 3
Health Policy II 3
Applied Econometrics I 3
Applied Econometrics II 3
Economic Valuation 3
Program Evaluation 3
Health Data Science Core Required Courses18 credits
Principles of Data Science 3
Statistical Inference 3
Advanced Data Analysis Methods I 3
Advanced Data Analysis Methods II 3
Advanced Computation 3
Machine Learning and Deep Learning 3
Applied Epidemiology Core Required Courses15 credits
Statistical Foundations of Epidemiologic Methods 3
Advance Epidemiology and Causal Inference 3
Public Health Surveillance Systems 3
Effective Science Communication 3
Strategic Leadership and Decision Making 3
Applied Research Assistantship 0
Elective CoursesCredits
Health Information Technology 1
Bioinformatics & Computation Biology 3
Data Science Consulting & Case Study 3
Genetic Epidemiology 3
AI and Big Data for Public Health Topics 3
Clinical Trials: Design and Analysis 3
Qualitative Research Methods 3
Survey Data Analysis 3
Behavioral Intervention Research Methods 3
Advanced Public Health Data 3
Chronic Disease Epidemiology 3
Vaccine and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases 3
Epidemiologic Applications of GIS and Spatial Analysis 3
Outbreak Investigation and Infectious Disease Epidemiology 3
Systems Thinking in Public Health 3
Public Health and Law 3
Infectious Disease Modeling 3
Advanced Topics in Public Health 3
Dissertation Course24 credits
Dissertation 24

Foundational Knowledge Objectives

  1. Explain public health history, philosophy, and values.
  2. Identify the core functions of public health and the 10 essential services.
  3. Explain the role of quantitative and qualitative methods and sciences in describing and assessing a population’s health.
  4. List major causes and trends of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. or other community relevant to the school or program.
  5. Discuss the science of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention in population health, including health promotion, screening, etc.
  6. Explain the critical importance of evidence in advancing public health knowledge.
  7. Explain effects of environmental factors on a population’s health.
  8. Explain biological and genetic factors that affect a population’s health.
  9. Explain behavioral and psychological factors that affect a population’s health.
  10. Explain the social, political, and economic determinants of health and how they contribute to population health and health inequities.
  11. Explain how globalization affects global burdens of disease.
  12. Explain an ecological perspective on the connections among human health, animal health, and ecosystem health (e.g., One Health).

Source: CEPH 2021 Accreditation Criteria , pages 34-36

Written Comprehensive Preliminary Examinations

In addition to coursework, doctoral students must pass two written comprehensive exams, a dissertation proposal defense (written and oral) and a final dissertation defense (written dissertation and oral exam). Through the Preliminary Examination process, students demonstrate their command of scholarly literature in public health, their critical analytic skills, and their ability in research design. The examination process begins as early as the summer following the second semester of full-time enrollment in the Ph.D. program. After successfully completing the two Preliminary Examinations students are qualified to proceed to their Dissertation Proposal Defense. Students become doctoral candidates after successfully defending their dissertation proposal.

Preliminary Examination 1 tests the student’s knowledge of the foundations of public health and their ability to apply concepts to concentration-related questions. It is generally taken during the summer following the 2nd semester in the program. Preliminary Examination 2 tests the student's ability to develop a research design for secondary data and is generally taken during the summer following the fourth semester in the program. The following explains each exam in greater detail:

Examination 1. Foundational Public Health Knowledge

Student meeting with Ph.D. review board.

This examination draws from the 12 foundational public health learning objectives. Students are asked to apply concepts in the concentration-relevant field to questions of public health. Part one of the examination includes short essay questions based on the student’s mastery of the foundational public health knowledge and their coursework. In part two, students apply their knowledge to selected passages from research articles and provide a critical assessment of the work, how it is related to the established foundational public health knowledge, and key questions that remain unanswered based on the information provided. An examining committee of three professors writes, administers, and grades the examination. This examination is administered in person with a four-hour time limit. The examination is graded on a pass/fail basis and offered twice per year during summer and winter breaks. The faculty committee assesses the recommended process for students who do not receive a passing grade on the first attempt (e.g., rewrite a portion of the examination, answer a related question, retake the exam at the next offering). Students may take the examination twice and petition for a third attempt if needed.

Examination 2. Research Design

Students giving a presentation in the classroom.

This examination is designed to assess the doctoral student’s proficiency in research design and health data application. Students are presented with applied research questions. In part one of the examination, students provide a critical assessment of research design from a selected article with particular attention to factors that affect internal validity. In part two, students design an analytical plan for addressing an assigned research question and assess the strengths and limitations of the proposed plan. The examination is written and graded by a committee of three professors in the relevant field. Students are given one week to prepare written answers. The examination is graded on a pass/fail basis and offered twice per year during summer and winter breaks. The faculty committee assesses the recommended process for students who do not receive a passing grade on the first attempt (e.g., rewrite a portion of the examination, answer a related question, retake the examination at the next offering). Students may take the exam twice and petition for a third attempt, if needed.


  • How many students are granted admission to the program?

    Three to five applicants per concentration will be admitted to the OSPH Ph.D. program.

  • How long is the Ph.D. program?

    Depending on the concentration, the curriculum includes 18-24 credit hours in core courses, 12 credit hours in public health courses, 15 credit hours in elective courses, and 24 dissertation credit hours; 60 semester credit hours are required to complete the program. Students are expected to complete their Ph.D. in four to five years.

  • What funding opportunities are available for students?

    Health Economics and Policy, Health Data Sciences, or Applied Epidemiology doctoral program students are admitted with a four-year funding commitment as Graduate Research Assistants. This includes tuition, a full stipend, and health insurance. Students are required to work 20 hours a week as Graduate Research Assistants to maintain eligibility.

    Stipend: $37,000 per year

    Tuition: Fully covered

    Student Insurance: Fully covered

  • Are recommendation letters required?

    Yes, three recommendations are required when you apply. Academic and professional recommendations are desired.

  • Do I need to have a master’s degree to apply?

    Yes, a master’s degree is required for the Ph.D. program.

  • Is the GRE required to apply for the Ph.D.?

    GRE scores are optional but highly recommended. Applicants are encouraged to send their scores to UTSW. The institution code for sending the GRE scores is 6686, U Texas SW Med Ctr Dallas.

  • When can I expect a decision on my application?

    Decisions will be rendered from January through March.

  • Are interviews for the Ph.D. program required?

    Yes, selected applicants are invited to engage with members of the Ph.D. Admissions Committee to discuss their research interests and application.

  • Are you accepting international applicants?

    Because the Ph.D. program in the O’Donnell School of Public Health is a new graduate program, UT Southwestern Medical Center has not yet received permission from the Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to accept international students in F-1/J-1 visa status. Please get in touch with the O’Donnell School of Public Health or the Office of International Affairs if you have questions about future University sponsorship. We encourage international applicants to complete an application, and we will notify you when the program receives Department of Homeland Security approval for visa sponsorship.

  • Is the Ph.D. program considered STEM?

    Our Ph.D. program is not a designated STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program.

  • Can I transfer credits from my master’s degree or another Ph.D. program?

    Students may request to transfer credit from another accredited institution after they are accepted into the program. Students are allowed to transfer up to 40 credits from another accredited institution. All courses will be evaluated and approved by the PhD program director and/or Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

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Apply or Get More Information

Learn more about how to apply for a Ph.D. at UT Southwestern.