The DrPH in Sociomedical Sciences

Course and Program RequirementsProgram MilestonesDissertation

The SMS Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), designed for individuals with an MPH, provides training in the application of social and behavioral science theory and research methods to critical questions in pubilc health. Student profiles, as well as our students’ publications, give a rich sense of the breadth of student work. Graduates go on to careers in research, teaching, advocacy, or public health programs, drawing on their training in social and behavioral sciences approaches to public health.

Students follow a course of study that brings the theory and methods of multiple social science disciplines to bear on a public health topic. Faculty mentors are primarily drawn from Sociomedical Sciences (SMS), but SMS DrPH students also work closely with Mailman School faculty from other departments.

Graduates apply behavioral or social science theory and methods to public health practice and policy. DrPH graduates have expertise in a specific area of public health and are prepared to train the next generation of public health master's and doctoral students in the current state of social science knowledge.

The department awards a number of fellowships to recognize academic achievement and support future scholarly success. Research experience is a critical aspect of graduate training, and so most fellowships and assistantships involve some form of research apprenticeship. For more information on the funding packages provided to students who matriculate in our doctoral programs, see the frequently asked questions.

Course Requirements

Students complete 36 credits of course work for the degree.

P8788 Theoretical Foundations of Sociomedical Sciences
P8789 Contemporary Debates in Sociomedical Sciences
P9070 Integration of Science and Practice (ISP)

Two of the following seven:

P8704 Medical Sociology
P8755 Medical Anthropology
P8767 Health Psychology
P8773 Social History of Public Health
P6503 Introduction to Health Economics
G8545 Anthropology and Affliction 
GR5201 Principles & Applications of Social & Cultural Anthropology


Qualitative Methods Course
Quantitative Methods Course
Methods Elective
SMS Elective 1
SMS Elective 2
General Elective 1
General Elective 2

Program Milestones

Students complete a number of milestones over the course of the program.

At the end of the first year, all students take a comprehensive exam, which draws on the material presented in Theoretical Foundations of Sociomedical Science and Contemporary Debates in Sociomedical Sciences.
Towards the end of coursework, student mastery of key substantive and theoretical areas of interest, as well as of research methods, is assessed through two essay exams: the theme essay and the methods essays. These are described in greater detail in the handbook. In addition to providing students with the opportunity to demonstrate readiness to undertake independent research, the theme and methods essays are also designed to help each student build a strong mentor/mentee relationship with the intended dissertation sponsor and to begin substantial preparation for dissertation research under that faculty member’s supervision.


Students formulate a dissertation project and select a sponsor for the project during the coursework period. Students are normally expected to complete and defend the dissertation proposal within six months following completion of all other program requirements, and the dissertation proposal defense is the last milestone before a student formally begins work on the dissertation.

The dissertation can be in the traditional monograph format, but can also use the ‘publishable papers’ format, which includes a comprehensive literature review, at least two papers of publishable quality, and a final chapter that integrates and discusses the papers.

The Proposal and Dissertation Defense Committee is composed of five members: the Sponsor, who is an approved DrPH sponsor, is the person who guides the student through the dissertation; the Chair, who is a tenured or senior faculty with a primary appointment in SMS; and three other members, one of whom should be an outsider from other Columbia Departments and/or schools or universities.

All students must submit an application to the Health Sciences Institutional Review Board (IRB) and obtain their approval for any research involving human participants. Once the student has obtained approval of the proposal and IRB approval, the student may begin dissertation research.

When the student, the dissertation sponsor, and a second member of the committee feel that the dissertation has been completed in a satisfactory manner, the sponsor informs the Deputy Chair of the Doctoral Program and the Academic Program Coordinator and requests that a time and date for the defense be scheduled. The student must circulate the full dissertation to the Dissertation Defense Committee at least one month prior to defense date.