Health Informatics & Sciences

How Much Does a Health Services Research Professional Make?

How Much Does a Health Services Research Professional Make?
Researchers examine every aspect of healthcare, from the costs and implementation of policies to those who benefit most from them. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella April 17, 2020

With the right education and career choices, health services researchers can earn a six-figure income. Without it, they might be stuck trying to pay off an expensive degree for many years.

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Health services are in a constant cycle of evolution and revolution. According to the University of Washington Department of Health Services website, the definition of health services research “is constantly evolving,” “defined differently by a number of thinkers and organizations,” .

The National Center for Biotechnology Information aggregates many of these definitions into its broad-ranging working definition. It defines health services research as a basic and applied multidisciplinary field that studies “access to, and the use, costs, quality, delivery, organization, financing, and outcomes of health care services to produce new knowledge about the structure, processes, and effects of health services for individuals and populations.”

In layman’s terms: health services researchers study everything involving how patients receive healthcare and how providers deliver it. In turn, this information is used to improve medical and health services. It influences everything from doctors’ offices to long-term care practices.

You’d think that a job this complex and vital would provide a high salary. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Salaries in health services research fluctuate, like most occupations, based on level of education (researchers often hold a PhD) and employer. In the right situation, you can earn more than $130,000 per year. Otherwise, you might be looking at a salary comparable to an entry-level position in finance, which is good, but probably spend-a-decade-in-graduate-school good.

Learn how to make your PhD worth the time in this article on health services research salary. It covers:

  • What is health services research?
  • Education requirements for health services research
  • How can you prepare for a career in health services research?
  • How much do health services researchers earn?

What is health services research?

According to the University of Washington – Seattle Campus, health services research “lacks a widely adopted standard definition or conceptual structure, in part because of its markedly multidisciplinary nature.” Health services research definitions frequently contain the term “multidisciplinary,” but in the end, the job title itself might be more illuminating than any definition.

Researchers examine every aspect of healthcare, from the costs and implementation of policies to those who benefit most from them. They use health informatics techniques to assist healthcare organizations and government agencies examine the care and services that patients receive.

Potential job titles for health services researchers include:

  • Assistant or associate professor
  • Health researcher
  • Program analyst
  • Research director

These professionals can work at:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Government agencies
  • Medical centers
  • Private companies
  • Insurance companies
  • Advocacy organizations
  • Health foundations

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Education requirements for health services research

Several degrees prepare students for a career in health services research. Most positions require at least a master’s degree, and many want candidates with a PhD or equivalent degree, such as a Doctor of Science (ScD). A PhD is essentially the highest level of education offered in America; it generally takes more than seven years to complete.

Some recommended degree paths include:

These programs will likely include courses in biostatistics and health policy, and require a thesis or capstone project to graduate.

Some of the top schools for public health include:

How can you prepare for a career in health services research?

There are benefits to getting a PhD. You generally get to drink a lot of coffee, and your friends will think you’re some kind of demigod. But how do you get in? Most PhD programs require candidates to already have a master’s, though some schools, like Clemson University, have direct entry programs.

No single bachelor’s degree prepares students for graduate school admissions, which is both a good and bad thing. Graduate programs generally look for the ever nebulous “well-rounded candidate.” If you are “interesting,” whatever that means, you stand a good chance at getting in. Plus, having a good score on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is usually necessary.

With that said, it’s a good idea to study science to prepare for a career in health services research. Completing a pre-med or pre-health track might be useful. Or, you might earn a bachelor’s degree in:

Internships and summer programs are another great way to jumpstart your career. Many of these programs take place at hospitals or universities and provide an introduction to real-world research applications. For instance, students who take part in the Program on Applied Health Services Research and Smoking Cessation Intervention (PASSION) internship at New York University learn about “specific components of research, such as basic methodology, grants, manuscripts, and institutional review boards,” according to the school. Interns utilize these skills when they work on actual projects in:

  • Health services research
  • Veteran’s health
  • Tobacco cessation

How much do health services researchers earn?

The average annual salary for a health services researcher is $76,145, according to PayScale—with the bottom 25 percent earning roughly $73,000 or less, and the top 25 percent earning around $82,000 or more. Glassdoor has a bleaker view on salaries for health services researchers, reporting an average annual income of only $54,411.

Like most careers, the more education you have, the higher your expected wages will be. According to PayScale, those with a PhD in Health service research earn an average salary is $120,000.

Where you work will also impact what you earn as a health services researcher. For instance, jobs in the federal government typically pay more than jobs in the private sector, and often have better benefits. If you have a PhD, however, you will likely earn more in the private sector.

Finally, your salary will also depend on the kind of health services research job that you land. If you work in education as an associate professor, you can expect to earn $81,247, according to a report by the American Association of University Professors. Assistant professors make $70,791 while full-time faculty generally earn over $100,000, per the same report. A clinical research director earns an average salary of over $130,000, according to Glassdoor, which is a far cry from the roughly $68,000 that the average program analyst makes.

The salary numbers for health service researchers are better than (or at least comparable to) similar healthcare careers. For example, Nurse researchers, who conduct medical research in nursing, earn an average salary of $51,068. Those who work in health services management earn a median income of close to $100,000 for running facilities like nursing homes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That said, neither a nurse nor a health manager needs a PhD in order to find employment.

Factoring in the cost of educaiton

For the most part, education is not free, which can make earning three degrees (a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD) a daunting proposition. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the median cost of a master’s degree at a public university is just under $10,000, with private universities charging more.

Having a PhD may improve your salary prospects, but programs can be costly. Tuition is generally higher in the first three years of a program, and it can cost over $60,000 (not including other fees) per year to attend a well-regarded private school like Duke University.

The good news is there are several scholarships and grants available to help cut costs. Some schools like Boston University even offer fully funded programs for students lucky enough to get admitted.

It is essential to consider the time and effort needed to complete your education. Doing so will allow you to exercise the very same skills that you will employ as a health program researcher, an added bonus.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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