The Health Policy Concentration provides an overview of health care systems and in-depth understanding of economic, sociological and political forces that shape health care systems in the U.S. and other countries.

This concentration prepares MPP graduates to assume stimulating and substantive positions in all levels of government, in private sector companies, and in not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations as well as foundations.

Alumni hold key positions in state and federal Medicaid offices and health and human services departments. Alumni also are policy analysts in major national and international consulting firms that analyze the effects of various public policies, such as the expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, changes in Medicare reimbursement rules for care provided in skilled nursing facilities, and cost-effectiveness of new pharmaceuticals or treatment options.

Public policy graduates with this concentration also are essential to health insurance companies, hospital systems, large health plans or managed care organizations comprised of physicians and other health care providers, as well as pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing firms.  NGOs and foundations that focus on health policy issues and social programs particularly favor hiring MPP graduates with a concentration in health policy because they have greater knowledge of how other public policies or conditions interact with health issues.

To fulfill this concentration requirement, students can choose from a set of courses that focus on policies and issues related to health care outcomes and the financing, organization and delivery of health care. Courses that fulfill the health policy concentration augment the MPP core courses in economics, politics, sociology, history and methods.

In addition to health policy courses offered within the Sanford School, students can select health policy courses offered by faculty associated with Duke University’s Margolis Center for Health Policy (particularly faculty in the Department of Population Health Sciences within Duke University’s School of Medicine), the Fuqua School of Business, the Law School and the College of Arts and Sciences. Thus, students with a health policy concentration are able to tailor their course selection to match their particular interests in the many aspects of health policy.

Students can benefit from:

  • Inter-disciplinary ties to other Duke schools and units – nationally recognized leaders in the health sector – such as the Margolis Center for Health Policy, the Schools of Medicine and Nursing, Fuqua School of Business, Duke Law School, the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke Global Health Institute, Nicholas School of the Environment, the Social Science Research Institute, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
  • Faculty members with an outstanding combination of academic and practical credentials in the world of health and healthcare policy, including professors of the practice with years of experience engaged in health policy and research professors with years of experience in health services research and health policy research.
  • Campus visits and talks by current and former health policymakers at the national and state levels of government as well as policymakers from international organizations such as the World Bank, and leaders of health-focused foundations and NGOs.
  • Professional colleagues among Duke Health’s healthcare and research community.

Students can acquire knowledge and skills, including:

  • Understanding of health and healthcare policy stakeholders.
  • Analysis of the history and contemporary application of enduring principles and values, such as roles and oversight of hospitals and healthcare providers; public health mandates; health policy governance at the state and federal levels; and choices in society that have positive and negative impacts on health outcomes.
  • Economic and political impacts of public health and health promotion, economic prosperity, regulation/deregulation, and social care.
  • Understanding of causes and factors related to sickness and death
  • Knowledge of key public health insurance programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the state health insurance marketplaces initiated by the Affordable Care Act).
  • Connections between health and the environment, such as associations between health and water or air quality; and health and working conditions.
  • Core courses in health economics, ethics, policy analysis, statistics, as well as team and individual projects with real-world clients.
  • Practical skills in professional writing, research methods, data analyses, public presentations and teamwork.

Broad health policy issues students might want to pursue with their courses include:

  • Markets within the U.S. health care sector (e.g., hospitals, insurance, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers) and how they interact with private payers, Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Social factors that are increasingly understood to underlie racial-ethnic and economic disparities in health outcomes and access to health care, such as a lack of affordable housing, food insecurity, inadequate public education and discrimination of people of color. 
  • Political factors currently involved in achieving changes in American health policies, and the roots in the political forces surrounding earlier significant changes in health policy.
  • Medical decision making involving interactions among payers (public and private), providers, and producers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices relating to a nation’s health care spending.
  • Health care in developing economies to understand how countries expand access to health care and develop cost-effective health spending.
  • Interactions and tensions between public health and economic concerns when there is a pandemic – and the role of government in a time of great uncertainty.  

The health policy concentration provides opportunities for students to work in small groups to conduct policy analyses of a variety of health issues confronting real clients. The policy analyses integrate knowledge and skills gained in other MPP courses to enable students to determine policies that might address an issue’s underlying causes.    

Policy Concentration Advisor

Nathan Adam Boucher

Nathan Adam Boucher

Associate Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

I am a Research Health Scientist at Durham VA Health System’s Center of Innovation to Accelerate Discovery and Practice Transformation (ADAPT), Duke University faculty at the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Medical School, Senior Fellow at the Duke Center for the Study of Aging & Human Development as well as Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy Core Faculty. My research has focused on assessing patients’ and caregivers’ experiences and expectations of health care delivery during advanced illness and near the end of life, using qualitative and mixed methods research. I have extensive experience in clinical medicine, health care administration, health professions education, hospice and palliative care quality improvement, and community-based research. Challenges and opportunities at the intersection of social care and health care inform my research agenda. My collaborations across disciplines at VA and Duke and with community organizations have afforded me deep insights into the lives and challenges of vulnerable community members and family/friend caregivers. I have active research 1) describing caregivers’ social and health needs related to caring for older adults re-entering the community from prison; 2) examining hospice admissions practices and what can be done to reduce inappropriate live discharges; and 3) developing, with a cross-disciplinary team, a “life story book” intervention for families and community members living with dementia. As a VA Research Health Scientist and Career Development Awardee, I am 1) a principal investigator designing a community-based lay navigator program targeting caregivers’ social and practical needs as they engage in their complex roles as caregivers of Veterans with advanced stage illness, and 2) a co-investigator on several VA projects utilizing my qualitative research skills and passions for public policy and stakeholder engagement.

Policy Concentration Advisor

Donald H. Taylor

Donald H. Taylor

Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy


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