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Master of Public Health and PhD in Health Informatics Dual Degree Program
2016-2018 Student Handbook

Program Description and Goals Dual Degree Application Process
Transfer Credit Financial Assistance
Degree Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Course of Study for the Doctor of Philosophy
Pre-Requisites Core Competencies
Progression Qualifying Exam
Advanced Preceptorship Advance to Candidacy
Dissertation Required Semester Credit Hours

Program Description and Goals

The MPH/PhD dual degree programs combine the MPH from the University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston with the PhD degree from the University of Texas School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston. The training and curriculum in the dual degree program will provide students and future leaders in public health the necessary skills to be leaders in the field of Public Health Informatics. The dual degree program provides an integrated curriculum that includes a number of shared courses as well as a practicum experience and/or the thesis topic in the area of public health informatics. The selection of specific academic programs and scheduling of specific courses, fieldwork, and practica for individual students is guided by an academic advisor from SBMI and an advising committee, which can include faculty from both UTHealth schools.

Students in the dual degree program must satisfy admission requirements and be admitted separately to each program. Students must meet the requirements of each program for its respective degree. Admission to one program does not ensure admission to the other. Students in the dual degree program will receive a diploma from each degree program after meeting the individual requirements of each program. Admission does not have to be done at the same semester for each school but must be done before reaching the maximum hours set by each School.

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Dual Degree Application Process

The application process for the Master of Public Health is determined by the School of Public Health. The application process for the Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Informatics is determined by the School of Biomedical Informatics. Refer to the standard PhD program application process.

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Transfer Credit

Transfer credit for courses taken at other universities or institutions, submitted to meet part of the degree requirements, may be awarded following review and written approval by the student’s faculty academic advisor and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. The maximum number of transferable credit hours for the MPH/PHD dual program is 21 semester credit hours which does not to include the 15 shared semester credit hours with the SPH.

Credit for courses taken at other universities or institutions that are offered at SBMI are granted only through Petition for Equivalency Credit. Credit for support courses taken at other universities or institutions is approved by the students’ advising committee. Contact the Office of Academic Affairs for more information.

Applicants who are presenting coursework from universities or colleges outside the United States in order to meet graduation requirements should refer to the section on International Applicants for additional requirements.

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Financial Assistance

Financial assistance packages and research assistantships will be available to all students on a competitive basis to facilitate full-time doctoral education.

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Degree Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy in Health Informatics

Academic Requirements

A total of 93 semester credit hours must be completed prior to graduation. A full-time student in the Program in Biomedical Informatics has up to eight years from the time of entry to complete the required coursework. Continuous enrollment is required unless approval from the advising committee is obtained. A maximum of one year of an approved leave of absence will be allowed for continuance in the program. If more than one year of leave occurs, the student must apply for readmission to the program.

Each course with an HI/BMI prefix in the Health/Biomedical Informatics degree plan is a graduate level professional course and should be passed with a grade of “B” or better. Only one course grade of “C” is allowed. The minimum GPA required for graduation is 3.0 on all courses.

Other Requirements

In Residence Requirement: The term “in residence” refers to the requirement that a student completes 57 semester credit hours over the course of the program at UTHealth. A student must fulfill his or her in residence requirement in order to receive a doctoral degree from the School.

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Course of Study for the Doctor of Philosophy in Health Informatics Program

The curriculum of the doctoral degree in Biomedical Informatics includes required didactic courses and elective courses. Didactic courses (lecture/discussion, demonstration and student laboratories) are presented to provide facts, concepts, and theories related to the techniques, and procedures of health informatics. They include instruction in basic informatics, research, advanced informatics and support courses. The elective courses are designed to give students the opportunity to apply theory and techniques in the hospital, research, or private laboratory setting.

Effective Spring 2017 all course alpha sequences will change from HI to BMI.

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Through completion, transfer of equivalent courses or demonstrated competency, the following courses are prerequisites for the program. These courses will not count towards doctoral program requirements. Transfer of credits from prior work follow the procedure detailed in the “Petition for Course Equivalency” section.

HI/BMI 5300 Introduction to Health/Biomedical Informatics
HI/BMI 5352 Statistical Methods in Health/Biomedical Informatics
HI/BMI 5007 Data Structure and Algorithms or equivalent
HI/BMI 5351 Research Design and Evaluation

Additional Required Courses from SBMI catalog

HI/BMI 5304 Advanced Database Concepts in Biomedical Informatics*
HI/BMI 5330 Introduction to Bioinformatics*
HI/BMI 5310 Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences I*
HI/BMI 5311 Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences II*
HI/BMI 5313 Introduction to Electronic Health Records
HI/BMI 5301 The US Healthcare System or HI/BMI 5004 Introduction to Clinical Healthcare
HI/BMI 7301 Grant Writing
*Courses indicated with an asterisk must be completed prior to the qualifying exam.

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Core Competencies

The following PhD only courses are required for the PhD degree plan. Courses indicated with * must be completed prior to the qualifying exam. Requirements for these courses can be met through concurrent enrollment at other institutions and/or by consent of the student’s Academic Advisor.

BMI 6319 Advanced Data Structures in Biomedical Informatics*
BMI 7302 Theories and Frameworks for Biomedical Informatics Research*
BMI 7303 Critical Review of Biomedical Informatics Literature Seminar*
BMI 7304 Advanced Research Design for Biomedical Informatics*
Higher-level stats* Not offered at SBMI – See Advisor for concurrent enrollment options.

The PhD Program requires at a minimum 93 semester hours of study including 9 semester hours in preceptorship courses, 21 credit hours in a specific research area approved by the advisor, 3 credit hours of research seminar and 9 semester hours dedicated to the dissertation.

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Each year, students will be reviewed by the Faculty to determine if adequate progress in the program has been made. This review is facilitated by the completion of annual Individualized Development Plans (IDP). It is the student’s responsibility to maintain and update this plan in conjunction with their advisor. IDPs are filed annually with the SBMI Office of Academic Affairs. Failure to make adequate progress will result in action by the Admission, Progression and Graduation committee. Action may include additional review and monitoring of progress, changes in student standing (at risk, on probation, etc.) or dismissal from the program

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Qualifying Exam

The goals of the PhD qualifying exam are:

  1. To motivate students to review and synthesize course work and reported research
  2. To determine the student’s ability to understand and apply fundamental concepts
  3. To develop and test the student’s ability to communicate orally and to respond to questions and comments
  4. To evaluate the student’s potential to pursue doctoral research
  5. To identify areas needing strengthening for the student to be successful as a PhD student and independent scholar
  6. To provide a mechanism for faculty to come to know the student’s capabilities

Students should prepare for a comprehensive qualifying exam within the semester following their sixth completed full-time semester or after completion of their 48th semester credit hour. The plan for the qualifying exam will be developed in conjunction with the academic advisor. The qualifying exam consists of demonstration of competency with both:

Domain Specific Knowledge
Demonstration knowledge, understanding, and proficiency in domain specific content and methodology. One of the purposes is to challenge students to discover relevant literature and deepen their knowledge of interests within this track.

Breadth of Knowledge across the discipline
Demonstrate breadth of knowledge across health sciences disciplines through questions that require synthesis of knowledge from core areas.

General Structure of the Exam

  1. Topics for the exam will include materials covered in the Core Courses (indicated by *) and materials selected within a specific domain. The domain specific reading list will be developed in conjunction with the advisor/committee.
  2. Students will complete a written exam including both domain general and domain specific questions.
  3. In addition to the exam, students will prepare a proposal abstract (1-2 pages) and deliver a public presentation of this abstract.
  4. Following the written exam and public presentation, the student and committee will take part in a closed question and answer session (1-2 hours) over the written exam and public presentation.

Submission deadlines related to materials related for the qualifying exam (e.g. reading list, abstract/proposal to committee) will follow a set timeline following the student’s declaration of intent. All components of the qualifying exam must be attempted within 30 days.

The qualifying exam dossier will contain the following items:

  1. Research project abstract
  2. Preliminary dissertation proposal (one to two pages, demonstrating knowledge and work of the student and others, synthesized to present a rationale for the proposed dissertation topic (e.g., theory to be developed, hypotheses to be tested) as well as proposed methodology to fulfill the dissertation objective.)
  3. List of references (30-50 articles) and syllabi for relevant classes for three domain areas related to their proposed research. Students should discuss these areas with their advisor in the process of planning their graduate program and prior to preparation of their qualifying exam materials.
  4. Current CV
  5. All previously completed Individualized Development Plans

Grading: The committee will assign one of the following grades to the overall qualifying exam:

  1. pass unconditionally
  2. pass conditionally (committee together with the Admissions, Progression, and Graduation committee to specify the conditions needed to pass, such as remedial coursework needed)
  3. fail with option to retake
  4. fail without option to retake

A student must be successful on each element of the progression exam to achieve pass unconditionally. Each component will be scored as pass/fail only based on its entirety (i.e. you cannot conditionally pass or pass only a portion of the written or oral Q/A). Committee decision will determine the specific requirements for options of a conditional pass or options to retake (e.g. retake the written and the oral, oral only, remediate with additional coursework.)

Students will be allowed to retake any portion of the exam once. Efforts to retake the progression sequence must be completed within 12 weeks. Failure to progress after this point will result in dismissal from the program.

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Advanced Preceptorship

Advanced Preceptorship is required for all PhD students. During Advanced Preceptorship, the student will develop and prepare his or her Advance to Candidacy Proposal including: defining the proposed research agenda; a review of the literature; research design, procedure and data analysis; collecting preliminary data; and scientific contribution to the discipline. The student’s primary advisor and advising committee must approve the focus of the research.

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Advance to Candidacy

Admission to the PhD program does not constitute or guarantee a student’s admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. Within two full-time semesters or completion of 18 SCH after completion of the qualifying exam, each student must submit an advance to candidacy proposal and give an oral presentation of their completed and proposed work to their Advising Committee. Successful advance to candidacy proposal defense includes approval of both the written proposal and its oral presentation. Approval of the advance to candidacy proposal is required for continued progress towards the degree and designation as a doctoral candidate.

A student passes their advance to candidacy proposal defense if the majority of their committee votes to pass and the student’s primary advisor votes to pass. If the student passes, he or she is admitted to candidacy. If the student does not pass, the committee can recommend failure without another attempt or failure with the opportunity to re?defend within 30 days. If the student again does not pass the defense, he or she will be given the option of completing a Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics degree, but will otherwise be dismissed from the doctoral program.

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The faculty believes that communication and dissemination is a critical aspect of the research process. The student will have two options available for the dissertation. The first option will consist of three articles that are accepted for publication. Publication must be in journals or proceedings, which are both, peer reviewed and indexed for academic retrieval. The three papers are combined with an introduction and summary and bound as a dissertation. The second option requires the student to write a monograph or dissertation. The monograph will review the literature, research approaches and options, the data design and gathering processes. The findings and data will be discussed in the context of the published literature. The monograph will be bound.

The dissertation must be presented at an oral defense that is open to the public. All research papers, theses, and dissertations authored by degree candidates are available to interested members of the general public upon request. After the presentation, the student’s advising committee votes to award the degree, allow for re-defense of the dissertation within 30 calendar days of the failed attempt, or dismiss the student from the program without a degree.

Petitioning for Extension

Students who have exceeded their time to degree deadline or a milestone deadline for the qualifying exam or prospectus may petition APG for an extension. The Petition to Extend Time Boundary for Qualifying Exam, Advance to Candidacy or Dissertation Defense form can be found under the Current Student section of the SBMI website.

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Required Semester Credit Hours for MPH/PhD Dual Degree Program

Program Required Semester Credit Hours
Doctorate in Biomedical Informatics (PhD) 93
Master's in Public Health (MPH) 45
Total Semester Credits 138
Shared Courses -24

Applications are accessible at If further assistance is needed contact:

Office of the Registrar
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
7000 Fannin, Suite 2250
Houston, Texas 77030
Telephone: (713) 500-3388
Email address: [email protected]

For Public Health Informatics, contact:

Jeanette Broshears
UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics
Brownsville Regional Campus
80 Fort Brown Street, RAC N2.200
Brownsville, Texas 778520
Telephone: (956) 755-0678
Email: [email protected]

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