UMC Utrecht - UCSF Doctoral Program In Health Professions Education PhD Candidate Guide

doctoral candidates presenting theses in Utrecht

Program Overview

In 2010, UCSF joined in collaboration with Utrecht University Medical Center (UMC Utrecht) to offer the Doctoral Program in Health Professions Education. This collaboration makes possible a rigorous program for scholarly advancement for medical education researchers. Successful candidates graduate with a PhD in Health Professions Education from UMC Utrecht. Well-regarded health professions education researchers serve as mentors.  

University Medical Center Utrecht includes the Medical Faculty of Utrecht University. UMC Utrecht is a strong research oriented institution, with interest in health professions education research. This aligns with Utrecht University’s strategic plan (2025) that fully commits to openness (open mind, open attitude, open science) to improve the world sustainably together, UMCU’s strategy Connecting Worlds and her educational strategy: The New Utrecht School.

Utrecht University has established a program in Life Science Education Research in the graduate school of life sciences as well as a Research Focus Area in Professional Performance.  Health Professions Education research of UMC Utrecht takes part in this program and research focus area.

UCSF is a health sciences campus dedicated to post-graduate professional education in dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and with a graduate division granting academic degrees in biological, biomedical, pharmaceutical, nursing social and behavioral sciences. The School of Medicine offers a program in Health Professions Education and the Office of Medical Education has a focus on educational research with dedicated faculty to this area.

Program Websites

Program Faculty

Individuals eligible for the doctoral program:

  • Are a health professional with preparation in education OR
  • Are a health professions educator with a master’s degree in social or biomedical sciences.
  • UCSF or UCSF-affiliated faculty; or staff involved in health professions education; exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis
  • Are scholarly in health professions education, e.g., they have completed the UCSF Teaching Scholars Program or equivalent
  • Are proposed for the program by a program faculty member agreeing to act as the primary supervisor (promotor), based on CV, interview and research plan.
  • Publications in education research are highly desirable.
Application Process

Steps in the application process are spaced over the first year:

  1. Request an informational meeting with a doctoral program faculty member. Send your CV to [email protected] and brief description of your research interest that aligns with the program faculty members.
  2. Successfully meet the criteria for the doctoral program.
  3. Criteria include: 
    • demonstrated capacity for conceptual thinking;
    • strong desire to conduct research;
    • adequate content expertise in an area for research;
    • adequate educational background and experience.
  4. Receive an invitation for a formal interview and present your research interests describing alignment with the expertise of doctoral program faculty.
  5. Complete a first draft of Training and Supervision Agreement (TSA) with guidance from assigned faculty mentors from UCSF and Utrecht during the first in-residence week of the program. 
  6. Tuition payment begins January of the 1st year when the candidate begins attending the doctoral seminar.
Training and Supervision Agreement (TSA) for PhD Candidates

The Training and Supervision Agreement (TSA) specifies rights and duties of the PhD student and his/her supervisors with respect to training and supervision during the PhD track. The purpose of this agreement is to safeguard the quality of the training and supervision of PhD students.
This agreement pertains to PhD students, who receive joint supervision from one or more supervisors at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and one or more supervisors at the University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands. The PhD diploma, after successful completion of all requirements, is awarded at Utrecht University.

The agreement complies with Utrecht University regulations and is based on the model Training and Supervision Agreement of the Utrecht University Graduate School of Life Sciences.

Time Commitment and Program Requirements

The part time PhD typically takes five to six years, with a minimum time investment of two days a week, devoted to any element of the training. Exceptions may be negotiated.

Training Activities, Seminars and Thesis
Required training activities include:

  • Participation in all doctoral seminars for the first three years of the program, optional in year four and beyond.
  • Participation in all Works in Progress sessions (WIPs).
  •  Twice per year candidates will meet in San Francisco for in-residence weeks. These typically occur in May and October.
  • Supplemental coursework to provide more in depth training in areas relevant to the thesis OR more general areas not covered in depth in the seminars. Coursework typically focuses on research methods and/or theory. Taking specific courses in research methods tailored to your own research is encouraged.
  • Participation in monthly journal club.
  • Participation in at least 2 ESCape sessions per month (weekly works in progress session offered to UCSF community of educators) or EJE (Equity and Justice in Education) sessions (offered monthly) – if unable to attend, provide feedback to presenters at least twice per month.
  • Participation in monthly Table of Contents (TOC) Review sessions (optional, but encouraged)
  • Deliver at least one Medical Educational Grand Rounds.
  • Present at least one educational conference per year – including one international conference before the end of the program (e.g., AERA, AAMC – RIME program, AMEE, Ottawa conference, ICRE, APMEC) You are encouraged to submit work to these conferences. They are an excellent opportunity for candidates to network with others in the field.
  • Participate in a mock defense in preparation for the actual thesis defense.

The supervisory model for PhD training requires a team with two 'promotors' (academic faculty holding rank of full professor): one employed at Utrecht University (the primary promotor), one employed at UCSF (the secondary promotor). The team may also include one or two co-promotors, (academic faculty holding the rank of associate professor).

The PhD candidate meets with their UCSF promotor or co-promotor at least every two weeks and with their whole supervisory team at least once every two months.

Thesis Completion and Defense
Both promotors and the co-promotor (if applicable) must approve the complete thesis. After approval, an independent thesis examination committee is established by Utrecht University and this committee determines approval of the thesis. The PhD ceremony and defense of thesis will take place in the Netherlands and is mandatory.

Expected profile of a PhD graduate in HPE from UMCU-UCSF

Examination Committees of PhD candidates examine the quality of the PhD thesis. However, a PhD graduate is more than the writer of a thesis. This section explains the ambitions PhD students should strive to achieve through their educational plan, even if these qualities are not formally assessed. For a more detailed description, see:

  • ten Cate O, Derese A, Durning SJ, O’Sullivan P. Excellence in PhD dissertations in health professions education: Toward standards and expectations. Med Teach. 2017;39(9):926–30.

General profile: becoming a researcher
The PhD degree provides skills necessary to develop in the scientific community. PhD graduates should have a passion for research, be constantly puzzled by observations, be critical about assumptions and theories and challenge validity, and should have a wish and an ability to move the boundaries of what we know about medical education and/or health professions education.

General knowledge level of health professions education
The PhD candidate should be knowledgeable about important aspects of current health professions education on a level that allows a reasonable discussion with colleagues and shows awareness of the key authors and seminal publications in these areas. Learning should include studying topics like: educational theories, expertise development, curriculum structures and educational management, instructional design, assessment, program evaluation, both in their broad context and as applied to health professions education.

Specific expertise in your own field of interest
By the end of the PhD track, the relationship with the supervisor(s) is ideally reversed in the domain of interest: the PhD candidate becomes the expert in that domain rather than the supervisor. PhD graduate should be known nationally and internationally for his or her expertise.

Sufficient mastery of research methodology
By the end of the course of study, the PhD candidate should be able to independently carry out educational research in the health care field. This includes the ability to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Identifying and formulating research questions
  • Designing research studies, both qualitative and quantitative
  • Systematically searching the literature
  • Collecting and organizing research data
  • Independently carrying out the most common statistical procedures using SPSS or similar programs and as appropriate, seeking consultation on statistics beyond their scope of expertise, but able to explain results from such analyses.
  • Writing a clear and concise scientific report, review and viewpoint paper

Mastery of research methodology also includes organizing and conducting a research study. Critical aspects of this work are the ability to:

  • Write a research protocol; ideally a grant application for funding
  • Develop a research budget for a study
  • Apply for research ethics and manage requirements for ethical conduct of research
  • Manage study procedures, including communication with study participants, data management, and data security
  • Work with collaborators who are part of the research team.
  • Hire research personnel and/or services where needed
  • Seek peer review and consultation on writing

Language proficiency
If English is not a native language, the graduate should have mastered the English language well in writing and orally, including the technical terminology of health professions education in general, and research methodology and the particular domain of interest specifically. Ideally, the PhD candidate should eventually have the ability to submit a journal paper without the need to have it reviewed by a native English speaker.

Research presentation and teaching qualities
The PhD candidate should be able to deliver clear and convincing presentations at conferences. This includes:

  • efficiently and clearly presenting a conference paper using appropriate media
  • leading a discussion about the research, and
  • conducting a workshop on the topic of research.

Candidates are expected to practice these skills prior to formal presentation using peers or other audiences. While a researcher is not by definition also a teacher, working in an academic community very often combines both. Research and working with students can mutually stimulate each other.

Participation in Professional Organizations
The PhD candidate should be engaged in education professional organizations as a way of personal and professional development. This includes:

  • Regular attendance at regional/national and/or international meetings.
  • Service to the organization as a reviewer, chair, discussant, committee member and/or leader.

Journal paper reviewer qualities
The PhD candidate should have experience in critically and systematically reviewing a journal article or manuscript. This can be achieved by acting as a reviewer for a health professions education journal. Participating in and hosting a session at a journal club, and chairing conference paper sessions and acting as a discussant provides good practice.

Experience of working in multiple institutions, countries and settings
PhD candidates are strongly encouraged to spend some time (several weeks) in a different institution and country. This widens their scope, stimulates awareness of the relativity of their own domestic conditions, rules and habits. It also enables research collaborations that can extend beyond the period of thesis preparation and helps to build a network of international colleagues.

Supervising junior researchers
A PhD graduate may be ready to co-supervise junior researchers, e.g. those who are within a PhD track. Supervision qualities can be built by guiding senior students/residents (including master’s level) or junior faculty who are involved in your research.

Leadership roles in the academic community
Many who hold responsible positions in the academic community have a PhD degree. While PhD training is not specifically focused on leadership development, it should be expected that a PhD graduate has some experience with this. It can be obtained by organizing conferences, being a member or chair of a significant committee, coordinating a teaching module, managing a team or other leadership roles.

For questions about information in the PhD Candidate Guide, please contact Bridget O'Brien, PhD at [email protected]