Skip to Content
SBMI Horizontal Logo

HIMSS Approved Education Partner SealMcWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics at UTHealth Houston, formerly UTHealth Houston School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI) offers a full time a doctoral program in Biomedical Informatics that is designed to be inherently trans-disciplinary and integrative. Involving students with a variety of backgrounds, the program emphasizes fundamental informatics concepts that can apply to all health disciplines. The program is only offered on a full-time and on-campus basis. Students usually take five years to complete this 93 semester credit hours program.

Our school offers scholarships for Ph.D. students that include tuition & fees support during the first year of academic study. Competitive full-ride scholarship opportunities for top candidates are also available. These competitive scholarships are limited and offered to the most qualified Ph.D. program applicants.

The trans-disciplinary doctoral program focuses on advanced studies of biomedical informatics in both theories and applications.  Students with a variety of backgrounds, including biomedical sciences, computer science and engineering, work together in teams to research real clinical and biomedical problems and develop innovative solutions. The program meets the unique needs of each student by using custom-designed degree plans with the assistance of an advisory committee that guides student progress from admission through graduation.

Students enrolled in the doctoral program will take a set of required courses as well as a set of elective courses based on student interest, pass an advance to candidacy exam, carry out doctoral research in proposed topics, assemble a doctoral dissertation, and defend the dissertation in public.

  • Transfer Credit

    Transfer credit for equivalent graduate courses taken elsewhere may be awarded and used to meet degree requirements if their equivalency to a degree program course is approved through a Petition for Equivalency Credit (PEC). The maximum number of transferable semester credit hours is 36 for the PhD program. Contact the McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics Office of Academic Affairs for information.

    Courses that are being accepted at our school through a dual or joint degree program can only be transferred in if the grade earned in the course is a “B” or higher. Courses for which grades of less than “B” were earned will not be accepted for transfer.

    Students who are presenting course work from universities or colleges outside the United States to meet admission or graduation requirements are referred to the section on International Applicants in this catalog for a listing of additional requirements.

  • Financial Assistance

    McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics offers scholarships for PhD students that include tuition support during the first year of academic study. These competitive scholarships are limited and offered to the most qualified PhD program applicants. Graduate Research Assistantships and Student Teaching Assistantships are available on a case-by-case basis. Students must submit an application to be considered for these opportunities.

  • Academic Requirements

    A total of 93 semester credit hours must be completed prior to graduation. A full?time student in the PhD 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.

    A maximum of six credit hours of Directed Study can be applied toward the PhD program.

  • 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 PhD degree from the School.

  • Course of Study

    The curriculum of the PhD 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 Biomedical 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.

  • Additional Required Courses from catalog

    The following 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 5300 Introduction to Biomedical Informatics* (3 credit hours)
    BMI 5007 Methods in Health Data Science* (3 credit hours)
    BMI 5310 Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences I* (3 credit hours)
    BMI 5311 Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences II* (3 credit hours)
    BMI 5352 Statistical Methods in BMI* (3 credit hours) or PH 1690 Foundations of Biostatistics in Public Health* (4 credit hours)
    BMI 7301 Grant Writing (3 credit hours)

  • 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* (3 credit hours)
    BMI 7302 Theories and Frameworks for Biomedical Informatics Research* (3 credit hours)
    BMI 7303 Critical Review of Biomedical Informatics Literature Seminar* (3 credit hours)
    BMI 7304 Advanced Research Design for Biomedical Informatics* (3 credit hours)
    Higher-level stats* Not offered at McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics – 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.

  • Progression

    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 cooperation with their advisor. IDPs are filed annually with the McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics Office of Academic Affairs. Failure to make adequate progress will result in action by the Admission, Progression and Graduation Committee. Action may include, but is not limited to additional review and monitoring of progress, changes in student standing (at risk, on probation, etc.) or dismissal from the program.

  • 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 Advising Committee will assign one of the following grades to the overall qualifying exam:

    1. Pass unconditionally
    2. Pass conditionally (Advising 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). The Advising 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.)

    If given the option to retake, students will be allowed to retake any specified 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.

  • 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.

  • Advancement 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 semester credit hours 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 Advising Committee votes to pass and the student’s primary advisor votes to pass. In the event of a tie, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs will break the tie. If the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs is on the committee, the Committee Chair will break the tie. If the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs is the Committee Chair, the Dean will break the tie. If the student passes, he or she is admitted to candidacy. If the student does not pass, the Advising 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.

  • Dissertation

    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 McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics website.

Contact Information

For more information about the doctoral program please contact:

Office of Academic Affairs
D. Bradley McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics at UTHealth Houston
(713) 500-3591
[email protected]

Susan Fenton, PhD, RHIA, FAHIMA
Program Coordinator
[email protected]