Academic PHD Health Informatics Plan of Study

Please check the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College for a complete description of the Ph.D. guidelines and requirements of the Graduate College. The requirements described here, specific to the Health Informatics Ph.D. program, are in addition to the University-wide requirements for doctoral degrees.

The Ph.D. program in the Health Informatics Subprogram inherits all course requirements of the Informatics Ph.D. program, that is, a total of 72 semester hours beyond the bachelor’s degree, with 18 semester hours satisfying the Certificate in Informatics (Health Informatics). Which includes both Health Informatics I (3 semester hours) and Principles of Public Health Informatics (3 semester hours) as part of their 18 core semester hours.  Specialization course (3 semester hours), Statistics and Research Methodology (9 semester hours), Ethical Conduct of Research, ENGR:7270 (1 semester hour) and Major coursework (9 semester hours, see curriculum).

The remaining 32 Elective semester hours (from elective list on website) should be selected, in consultation with the student’s advisor, from disciplinary courses relevant to the student’s particular Health Informatics focus.

Please note: Students wishing to pursue an independent study (IGPI:5015, IGPI:6515 or IGPI:6510) with a University of Iowa faculty member may refer to the Independent Study guidelines on the Informatics website.

The Ph.D. also requires satisfactory performance on the comprehensive exam, and the production and formal defense of a dissertation that describes original research results.

Students not already holding a University of Iowa M.S. degree may request that one be granted at the comprehensive exam. The M.S. degree is normally awarded upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam, but may also be awarded, even if the student does not pass the exam, at the examination committee's discretion and dependent on the student having met the requirements for the M.S.

Every Ph.D. student must have a faculty advisor with an appointment in the Health Informatics program. Upon admission, each student is assigned a temporary academic advisor. During their first year in the program, it is expected that the student will choose a faculty member whose research interests align with their own to serve as academic and research advisor, and chair of the student’s thesis committee. The advisor / advisee relationship requires the consent of both parties and can be terminated by either. It is required that a student will complete a Plan of Study form (see appendix) in consultation with his/her advisor every semester, and submit the completed form to the IGPI office for approval. The Plan of Study form is located at the top of this page.

Ph.D. Guidelines & Milestones


  • Complete by fall of Year 2
  • Minimum committee of 3 to 5 professors including the advisor
  • Format: Research or project in the form of a paper with a presentation, turn in the written portion of the exam to your committee at least 2 weeks prior to oral exam – pass or fail

The student will conduct a small-scale research project and present this to the committee. As an example, the research project could replicate work done in a paper of interest, optionally with a few extensions. This milestone is designed to ensure that the student starts early in gaining research experience. It is also to ensure that the student has the potential to conduct doctoral level research.

NOTE: The qualifier must be taken no later than the end of the 2nd year, first semester. Failure to do so will be counted as an exam failure.

The student may retake the qualifier once. A second failure will result in termination from the program.

Comprehensive Exam

  • Expected in Fall Year 3, allowing flexibility to accommodate scheduling of specific courses
  • Format: A written take-home exam followed by an oral defense
  • Committee: Minimum of five professors with at least two affiliated with the IGPI.
  • Note: This examination satisfies the University’s comprehensive exam requirement.

The committee will prepare a set of open-ended questions covering the student’s prior coursework, with an emphasis on their chosen research direction. The questions should cover 2-3 broad subject areas, but must include at least one computational and one clinical area. The exam will run for two weeks. Answers will be written up in a report format (including citations), with each section taking around five pages. Following the submission and grading of the exam, an oral defense will be held. Grades consist of pass, fail and reservations. A student receiving a failing grade may retake the exam once but needs to do so successfully by the end of the following semester.

Proposal Defense

  • Year 4
  • Format: Written proposal and presentation
  • Committee: Minimum of five professors with at least two affiliated with the IGPI.

The student will present a proposal to the committee a minimum of two weeks prior to the date of the proposal defense. Generally this will be in the form of two chapters: first a literature review and second an outline of proposed research. The proposal presentation will emphasize an overview of the background research with most of the presentation time used to outline the planned research. This opportunity is designed so that the committee and the student agree on the research required for completion of the Ph.D.

Final Oral Defense

  • Format: Written thesis and presentation
  • Committee: Minimum of five professors with at least two affiliated with the IGPI.

The student will present a complete thesis to the committee a minimum of two weeks prior to the date of the thesis defense. The student will motivate the research, present key findings and conclusions, and offer a critical inquiry of different facets of the research.

In addition to the formal examination process, students in the Ph.D. program are evaluated on a yearly basis to ensure that they are making satisfactory academic progress. By September 15th, each student and their advisor are required to submit an evaluation assessment of the student’s progress outlining past year accomplishments and plans for the current year including Ph.D. milestones. The Advisory Board reviews these summaries and sends the student a letter summarizing their status in the program. Students who are failing to make satisfactory progress are expected to correct any deficiencies and move to the next milestone within one year. Failure to do so will result in dismissal from the program.