PhD in Health Economics

The USC PhD program in Health Economics is housed at the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, one of the leading health policy centers in the nation. The program integrates curricula from the Department of Economics, Department of Preventive Medicine and Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy. Students receive training in microeconomics, econometrics, cost effectiveness analysis, welfare economics, public finance, epidemiology and health status measurement.  USC graduates are highly sought for their solid interdisciplinary background in theoretical and empirical research, and often assume teaching and research positions at universities, in industry and elsewhere. Competitive fellowships and teaching and research assistantships are available to several students.

USC offers two distinct PhD tracks: (1) Microeconomics; (2) Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy.


Students in microeconomics complete the mircroeconomic theory and econometric sequence and take two advanced courses in health economics. They receive focused training and mentoring in health economics through collaboration on research projects led by distinguished health economists at the Schaeffer Center. Upon completion of the PhD, students will be well prepared for a research career in academia, think tanks and other research organizations.

Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy

Students in pharmaceutical economics and policy specialize in areas such as cost-effectiveness, comparative effectiveness and health outcomes research. They collaborate on projects with notable faculty with expertise in pharmaceutical economics
and policy.

The demand for skilled analysts in health economics and comparative effectiveness research currently far exceeds the supply, and this situation is expected to continue into
the forseeable future. Employment opportunities are particularly favorable in health care organizations, such as insurers, managed-care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, professional health-care associations, hospital administration departments, health-care consulting organizations and international organizations. The starting base salaries for graduates of the class of 2011 range from $115,000 to $125,000.


Admission Requirements

Graduates with PharmD, MD, MPH, and master’s or bachelor’s degrees in economics, statistics, computer science, mathematics and other related fields are invited to apply for this PhD program.

The Department’s Graduate Review Committee for the PhD program considers applications based on the following conditions:

1. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Score
A minimum GRE score of 300 (verbal and quantitative) is generally needed to be competitive.

2. Overall Grade Point Average (GPA)
A minimum overall GPA of 3.0 (A=4.0) is required. Special attention may be given to the grades achieved most recently in courses relevant to the program (e.g., statistics, economic analysis, health economics and quantitative analysis).

3. Letters of Recommendation
Three reference letters from faculty or supervisors knowledgeable of the applicant’s academic performance and intellectual capability are required. These letters should provide a thorough assessment of the applicant’s experience in research, motivation and potential development capacity and creativity as an academic scholar.

4. TOEFL Scores for International Students
A minimum of TOEFL score of 550 for the paper-based test, 213 for the computer-based test, 100 for the IBT test (with none of the four sections below 20) or a 7 on the IELTS (International English Language Test System) is required for admission. Higher scores are given priority for consideration of teaching and research assistantship should funds for this form of financial support become available.

Deadline for Admission

The application deadline to be considered for standard financial-aid packages consisting of a graduate assistantship (stipend, tuition remission, other benefits) is January 1. Applicants wishing to compete for university and other special fellowships must apply by December 1 to be considered.

Graduate Program Online Application

Financial Aid

A limited number of fellowships and other special financial aid awards are available, on a competitive basis, to applicants who apply by December 1. Students applying for standard financial-aid packages (teaching assistantships, tuition remission, living stipends) must apply by January 1. Teaching and research assistantship appointments provide a stipend plus full remission of tuition fees at 12 credits per semester. Other limited sources of support, including department research funds, may be available depending upon external grants awarded.

All financial awards are granted to excellent candidates based on competitive academic records.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Jeffrey McCombs
Director of Graduate Studies
Titus Family Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Economics + Policy
University of Southern California
School of Pharmacy
Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics
3335 Figueroa Street, Unit A
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Phone: (213) 821-7941
FAX: (213)740-3462

Requirements for Degree Completion

Academic Content

The doctoral program in Health Economics requires coursework in economics, preventive medicine, policy research and epidemiology. Additionally, specialized courses in pharmaceutical economics, including pharmaceutical policy, health economics, economic assessment methods, applied health econometrics and welfare theory are part of the core curriculum taught within the department. A limited number of electives in public administration, biostatistics, comparative analysis of health systems, gerontology, marketing, pricing, psychology and other related disciplines are considered on an individual basis. From the beginning of the academic program, students are encouraged to work closely with faculty on collaborative research projects.

The following areas of specialization are recommended for PhD candidates in the Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy track:

  • Methodology of Cost-Benefit and Cost-Effectiveness Analyses
  • Drug Therapy Outcomes Assessment
  • Industrial Organization of Pharmaceutical Markets
  • Quantitative Methods in Pharmaceutical Economics
  • Government Policy and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals
  • International Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy

PhD Requirements

The PhD in Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy requires 64 units of graduate-level courses numbered 500 or higher (excluding 794) and a minimum of 4 units of 794. A maximum of two full courses (eight units) or their equivalent may be PMEP 790 (research) since directed research will generally be incorporated into most 500 and 600 level courses. Exceptions will be considered on an individual basis. Normally, a full-time graduate student course load is three full courses or their equivalent per semester, with a four-course maximum.

Grade Requirements

A grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 and typically considerably higher (on a scale of 4.0) must have been achieved on all graduate work at USC for the passing of the screening procedure. The Graduate School requires a minimum GPA of 3.0 on all coursework taken as a graduate student at USC. A grade of “B” (3.0) or higher must be attained in at least one graduate-level course in econometrics.

Recommended Courses

1. Satisfactory completion of the economic theory sequence with an average grade of B or higher. At least one of the econometrics courses must be completed with a grade of B or higher:

  • ECON 401 Mathematical Methods in Economics (4 units)
  • ECON 414 Econometric Methods (4 units)
  • ECON 500 Macroeconomic Analysis on Policy (4 units)
  • ECON 511 Econometric Methods (4 units)
  • ECON 615 Applied Econometrics (4 units)

2. Satisfactory completion of the pharmaceutical economics and policy sequence with an average grade of B or higher:

  • PMEP 509 Research Design (4 units)
  • PMEP 519 Survey Research and Quality of Life (4 units)
  • PMEP 529 Profitability and Preference (4 units)
  • PMEP 538 Pharmaceutical Economics (4 units)
  • PMEP 539 Economic Assessment of Medical Care (4 units)
  • PMEP 549 Applied Pharmacoeconometrics (4 units)
  • PMEP 698 Seminar in Pharmacoeconomics and Policy (4 units)

3. Three electives at the 500 level or higher from the School of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy Program and from the departments of Economics, Mathematical Statistics, Biometry, Epidemiology, Public Administration, Computer Sciences or other relevant fields are required.

Additional Requirements

Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirements
There is no foreign language requirement. However, competence in the use of one computer programming language is required for the degree. Such competence can be demonstrated either by course work, research activities or examination. Students in the PhD program must complete the requirement before taking the qualifying exams.

Seminar Participation
Every student is required to take and satisfactorily complete a four-unit research seminar (PMEP 698). Before completing the dissertation, the student must present at least one original research paper in a seminar. This paper should normally consist of original results contained in the student’s dissertation. It becomes part of the student’s permanent file.

Screening Examinations
A student must pass two written screening exams prior to presenting a dissertation proposal defense (see below). These exams cover research design (courses 509, 519, 529, 539) and econometric methods (ECON 414, 511, 615; PMEP 549). The two screening exams are taken following completion of the second year in the program. Each exam is graded independently, allowing a distinct grade on each one. If necessary, each student is allowed one retake of one exam should a passing grade not be achieved on the first attempt.

Qualifying Examination
Upon successful completion of the course and grade requirements and the core theory examination, the student presents and defends a detailed written dissertation proposal. After passing this examination, the student is admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree.

Doctoral Dissertation
After admission to candidacy, the student forms a dissertation committee composed of at least three faculty members, one of whom can be from an outside department (i.e., a department other than the School of Pharmacy Program in Health Economics). The chair of this committee is the dissertation supervisor. The student is expected to register for PMEP 794 (doctoral dissertation) each semester, excluding summer sessions, until the dissertation and all other degree requirements are completed.

The dissertation is defended in an oral examination administered by the dissertation committee when the committee agrees that the student has completed the research and a satisfactory draft of the dissertation has been written. If the committee agrees to pass the student, all suggested extensions, modifications and corrections are incorporated into a final draft, which must be approved by all members of the committee.

Course Offerings

USC Course Catalogue

  • For Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy (PMEP) courses, see School of Pharmacy.
  • For Economics (ECON) courses, see the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
  • For Preventive Medicine (PM) courses, see Keck School of Medicine

Schedule of Classes

For course availability for the current year see the Schedule of Classes. Most department courses are listed as TBA to facilitate scheduling course lectures around courses provided by other Departments.

Current Students and Graduates

The first cohort of graduate students was admitted into the Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy’s Masters and doctoral degree programs in the Fall of 1994. Since that time, the program has graduated 70 MS and 25 PhD degree students with two ABD doctoral students working full time in the pharmaceutical industry. The majority of graduates work in the pharmaceutical industry (33), consulting (9), HMO/PBMs (23), academia (6) and government (6). The program currently has a cohort of 14 doctoral students and an incoming class of 12 doctoral students and 7 MS students starting Fall 2012.

A distinguishing characteristic of the USC graduate program is the degree to which our students, faculty and alumni are actively engaged in publishable research. A list of faculty, student and alumni abstracts for the ISPOR meeting in June 2012 follows. USC students have won at least one of the 6 ‘best student poster’ or ‘best student podium’ presentation for the last 11 years.

Current Students in Residence

PhD Program

  • Vaidyanathan Ganapathy
  • Shraddha Chaugule
  • Adnrew Messali
  • Christin Thompson
  • Reginald villacorta
  • Xiaoli Niu
  • Barbara Blaylock
  • Tara Matsuda
  • Elizabeth Schwartz
  • Soo In Band
  • Janice Chung
  • Jiat Ling Poon
  • Jae Suh
  • Yao Ding
  • Janet Shin
  • Jenny Zhou
  • Flavia Ejzkowicz



  • Haesun Suh, Yonsei University Korea
  • Tom Tencer, Celgene


  • Josh Epstein, Baxter Bioscience
  • Ning Gu, Pharmerit
  • Aniket Kawatkar, Kaiser Permanente
  • Dana Stafkey-Mailey, University of South Carolina
  • Adam Turpcu, Genentech
  • Parvez Mulani, Abbott Labs


  • Danielle Zammit, PhD, IMS Health
  • Lihua Zhang, MD,PhD, Prescription Solutions


  • Lei Chen, PhD, Sanofi-Aventis
  • Jinhee Park, C. Phil., Novartis
  • Andrew Yu, PhD, Analysis Group


  • Usa Chaikledkaew, PhD, Mahidol University, Thailand


  • Qiong (Eric) Wu, PhD, Analysis Group


  • Tripthi Kamath, PhD, Genentech
  • Lizheng Shi, PhD, Tulane University
  • Jin Hai Shi, PhD, Amgen
  • Patrick Sullivan, PhD, Regis University School of Pharmacy


  • Nishan Sengupta, PhD, Scios, Inc


  • Roger Luo, PhD, AstraZeneca


  • Yong Yuan, PhD, Bristol-Myers Squibb