A thesis is required for all students completing the Vanderbilt MPH Program. It is a substantive and original body of work that allows students to synthesize and integrate knowledge from their public health course work and practicum experiences, apply it to a particular topic area, and communicate their ideas and findings through a scholarly written product. The thesis represents the culmination of the student’s educational experience in the Vanderbilt MPH Program.
The thesis may take on different formats, depending on the student’s track focus and interests. Regardless of the format chosen, the student must apply critical thought, systematic analysis, and clear presentation.
Each student is responsible for identifying a topic and appropriate format for their thesis with the assistance and guidance of faculty advisors and faculty thesis readers.
The practicum product must be distinct from the thesis. Although the practicum and thesis can be related, the student must be able to articulate how the two projects are independent from one another. The practicum is a practice experience that allows students to apply and develop skills in public health concepts. The thesis is the synthesis and integration of knowledge acquired in coursework and through the practicum and results in an original scholarly work.
For many students, the master’s thesis in healthcare is both the most comprehensive project of their academic life and the final piece of work propelling them into the workforce. It needs to contribute to the understanding of a particular topic within the healthcare field while showcasing the student’s area of interest and expertise. Since choosing an appropriate topic is critical, the following list contains some examples of particular interest today.
1. The Role of Mid-level Providers
As people live longer and fewer physicians enter the workforce, mid-level providers, namely nurse practitioners and physician assistants, have an increasingly important role in healthcare. Individual states have different rules as to the scope of practice of these providers, and hospitals and clinics are trying to determine the best way to utilize these professionals. Choosing this broad topic for a master’s thesis, a student could examine how this trend changes healthcare, both in rural and urban areas, and the differing opinions as to the appropriate role these providers should play.
2. How Telemedicine Changes Healthcare Administration
Advances in technology have always influenced the patient experience, but the rise of telemedicine completely changes the provider-patient relationship. This is a rapidly growing field, and researchers have followed its growth closely, noting that, in 2015, “more than 15 million Americans received some kind of medical care remotely.” Healthcare management students are the professionals, in large part, that will help guide the protocols and standards for these types of visits.
3. Dealing with The Opioid Crisis
Modern medicine has made great advances in terms of pharmacology, but this has also led to an increase in over-prescribing medication which unfortunately has led to the serious opioid crisis facing many communities today. While the role of prescribing ultimately rests with the physician, the healthcare field needs innovative management solutions to establish effective policies and programs to alert physicians if a patient has received multiple prescriptions and to identify drug-seeking behavior on the administrative side.
4. The Ramifications of Increasing Numbers of Urgent Care Clinics
As more retail stores now offer urgent care services, more patients are choosing to go this route, resulting in fewer visits to primary care offices. A healthcare management thesis could identify the reasons for this trend and what that means for previously-established clinics and healthcare systems. Frequenting these clinics also results in patients treating acute problems without developing a relationship with their physician which can lead to missing key preventative measures. Another thesis option is to examine costs to patients, healthcare systems and the community that results from a decrease in preventative care.
5. Supporting Families Who Care for Elderly with Dementia
As elderly patients live longer than previous generations, these patients develop increasingly complex medical issues, one such issue being dementia. For families who cannot afford or choose not to place their elderly relatives in nursing homes, clinics and hospitals need to develop better ways to support these families or risk frequent return emergency room visits. Another topic for a healthcare management thesis could center around the primary issues that cause repeat hospitalizations for dementia patients and recommend programs and policies to support caretakers and avoid these situations.
For graduate students, the key to picking a research topic is two-fold. First, as these projects are extensive and direct their careers, students need to choose an area that excites them, and second, the topic should be relevant to the problems in today’s healthcare system. While the above are some possibilities for a master’s thesis in healthcare, there are many more issues in healthcare that need evaluation.
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