PhD Program

PhD in Bioethics and Health Policy

The Johns Hopkins PhD program in Bioethics and Health Policy is housed within the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is a joint program of the Bloomberg School and the Berman Institute of Bioethics. The PhD program is taught by leading experts in the fields of bioethics and health policy, who provide unparalleled training, education and mentoring to the next generation of bioethics scholars. This PhD program is unique in the opportunities it affords students to conduct innovative original scholarship in a premier international research institution, focused specifically on public health ethics and bioethics and health policy.

Contact: Nancy Kass, Sc.D. or Holly Taylor, M.P.H., Ph.D.

The Johns Hopkins PhD program in Bioethics and Health Policy is distinguished from other bioethics doctoral training programs in two ways:

  1. The PhD program focuses on bioethics as it relates to questions in public health and health policy (rather than, for example, medical ethics). Thus students consider ethical issues in population health practice, research, and policy, examining questions in domestic and international research ethics, genetic screening policy, HIV screening, pandemic preparedness, and social justice/resource allocation.
  2. The PhD program provides rigorous training in empirical research methods. By the end of their training, students in this program are prepared to provide not only normative recommendations regarding ethics and public health policy but also to function as independent researchers conducting empirical bioethics research related to public health and health policy.

General Background

Bioethics and Health Policy is a track within the Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Bioethics and Health Policy track is designed for students who want bioethics to be the distinguishing characteristic of their careers in public health. Students complete the Health Policy and Management Departmental core requirements, including courses in health policy, epidemiology, and biostatistics. Specifically for the bioethics track, students also are required to complete coursework in bioethics, moral philosophy, and public health law. These requirements are satisfied, in part, through the Department of Philosophy of the Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

Original doctoral research conducted by students focuses on a public health policy challenge of interest with important ethical questions.  Students both analyze quantitative or qualitative empirical information (primary or secondary data) about specific areas of public health or health policy and conduct original conceptual work examining the ethical implications of their question and/or findings. Students are required to have a theoretical ethics chapter in their dissertations in addition to the other chapters traditionally required.

Faculty associated with this concentration include Drs. Faden, Kahn, Hyder, Kass, MerrittSugarman, and Taylor.

Objectives of the PhD program in Bioethics and Health Policy

  • To increase scholars’ capacity to recognize and analyze a moral problem in public health practice, research, and health policy;
  • To increase scholars’ capacity to further normative and empirical scholarship concerning moral problems in public health practice, research, and health policy;
  • To increase scholars’ capacity to further public policy debate concerning moral problems in public health practice, research, and health policy;
  • To train scholars who understand the methods and tools of public health and health policy, and the important public health challenges and health policy problems facing our nation and our world;
  • To cultivate a community of scholars who are collegial, respectful, and uphold standards of professional integrity in interactions with each other and the community at large.

Curriculum:

Students in the Bioethics and Health Policy PhD track are required to take courses in public health, health policy, and bioethics. Students take course work in epidemiology and biostatistics and in health policy and health services research. Bioethics requirements include one year of moral philosophy (at the JHU Philosophy Department or Georgetown University), one year of bioethics methods (half at JHSPH and half at Georgetown), and introductory and advanced bioethics courses at JHSPH and at Georgetown. All requirements are available at the PhD Program in Bioethics and Health Policy Website.

All doctoral students in the Bioethics and Health Policy track are expected to:

  • Complete the required coursework for a) the School of Public Health, b) the Department of Health Policy and Management, and c) the Bioethics track;
  • Complete at least 300 hours of research assistance, working on at least two different research projects. These can be for pay or for credit;
  • Pass the written departmental qualifying examination, generally at the end of the 1st year;
  • Pass the departmental and school-wide preliminary oral examinations, generally taken at the beginning of the 3rd year; and
  • Complete dissertation research and pass the final oral examination, generally after 4-5 years in the program.

Admissions

The PhD program in bioethics and health policy is a track within the Department of Health Policy and Management (HPM). Applicants apply for admission to the Department of HPM, and should consult the Department’s website regarding general information and admissions requirements for doctoral programs. Applications are reviewed both by a committee of the Department and a committee from the bioethics track.

Several aspects of each application are assessed, and no single piece of information is the sole factor in the decision. The admissions committee reviews GRE scores, past academic performance, letters of recommendation, relevant experience as it pertains to the field, and the applicant’s personal statement. While there are no specific prerequisites, some background in bioethics, health policy, or research is helpful in order to have a demonstrated commitment to, and understanding of, the field.

Admission to the Ph.D. program in Bioethics and Health Policy is very competitive. Usually, no more than 2 students are accepted each year. The program is small and is generally kept to between 6-10 students total. The bioethics PhD program is one of four PhD tracks within the Department of Health Policy and Management however, which is larger. Thus, doctoral students who enter our program in bioethics and health policy are part of a cohort of approximately 10-15 new students annually in the Department as a whole.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is available, but on a limited basis. Scholarships follow the Department of HPM scholarship policy and are merit based. Federally funded grants are also available to eligible students. For more information, check the HPM Financial Aid Information page.

Other Opportunities Available to Bioethics PhD Students

Research Hours

All doctoral students in HPM are expected to complete at least 300 hours of paid or unpaid research relating to two different projects by the end of the second year. This research may be conducted either on- or off-campus, but at least 50% of the work must be on-campus. A full description of the research hours requirement is in the HPM Student Handbook.

Most students will find opportunities to take part in research with their graduate advisor or other faculty at the Berman Institute. Berman Institute faculty currently conduct pathbreaking research ona wide variety of bioethics topics and are happy to discuss possible research projects with prospective students. Research with other faculty at JHSPH or within the University is also widely available. Students are encouraged to find a faculty member whose research matches his/her interests and to inquire about research opportunities.

Scholarly Life at the Berman Institute

Students in the Bioethics PhD program constitute a vital and important part of the academic community at the Berman Institute of Bioethics. Students are encouraged to participate fully in a wide range of scholarly, teaching and public engagement activities. These include participating in the semi-annual ‘research retreats’ at which faculty present works-in-progress, and attending the Berman Institute’s bi-monthly seminar series at which prominent scholars from other institutions lecture on emerging research interests.

Further Information

For further information on the Bioethics Ph.D. program, consult the Bioethics Ph.D. Program FAQ; you may also contact Nancy Kass, Sc.D. or Holly Taylor, M.P.H., Ph.D.