Program Description

Health Care & Policy (HCP) is a social science-based major that provides students in-depth training in health policy analysis and requires a strong foundation in natural sciences. Students learn to integrate analytical thinking, research and data analysis skills. HCP majors employ theories and methods from economics and demography to analyze health care and policy. Students apply theories designed to explain the development of government policies addressing health care. Students also learn how the private health care system interacts with the public sector to affect health. HCP is a unique major that aims to bridge the gap between policy and health professions, differing from other health oriented majors on campus.

HCP students are strongly encouraged to incorporate a significant experiential component into their course of study. The HCP requirements provide all students with a strong foundation in natural sciences while allowing some flexibility in course selection to pursue either: a standard track; or a science-intensive track that includes course suggested to prepare for medical school and other health professional graduate programs.

Educational and Career Objectives

The HCP major prepares students for leadership roles in careers in health policy analysis that require a strong foundation in the natural sciences. The HCP major also prepares students for careers that combine clinical health care with involvement in the broader health care system and public policy.

While the health care and policy sector is expected to grow overall, HCP students will help fill an important niche that is poised to grow even faster. The HCP major prepares students whose strong training in natural sciences will make them better health care administrators, professionals, and policy makers. The HCP major also prepares students for careers in the pharmaceutical industry, a rapidly growing part of the health care sector. Upon graduation, we anticipate many HCP students will pursue medical school, graduate programs in health administration, or even start a career as a health analyst.

The HCP students who pursue medical degrees also fill an important niche. Many analysts point to the vital role physicians can play not just in clinical care but in leadership positions in the health care system and health policy. An article in the American Medical News points to the growing trend of combining clinical practice with administrative and leadership duties: “Physicians are viewed as more important than ever to closing the divide between clinicians and the administration as they try to create accountable care organizations, reduce readmissions, improve care and implement medical records.” Harvard health economist David Cutler has argued that although “the thought of ‘corporate medicine’ makes patients and providers panic,” the US health care system can evolve into a new model where “Doctors would be integral to making such health systems work instead of being dictated to by unaccountable corporations.”

However, Ackerly and colleagues caution that: “While the health care system is presently faced with a shortfall of physician-executives in roles such as hospital chief executive officers (CEOs), even more worrisome is the lack of an established pipeline of potential physician-leaders.” Many universities (including Cornell) are responding by launching joint MD-MBA programs. The proposed HCP major starts the pipeline earlier and provide undergraduate training for future physician-leaders.

Program Structure

The HCP requirements provide all students with a strong foundation in natural sciences while allowing some flexibility in course selections. To help guide students, our faculty have outlined two possible tracks to complete the major. Students can choose between taking the standard track or the pre-health track. These tracks are designed for course planning, and are not explicitly listed on the students transcript.

The pre-health track is recommended for students who intend to pursue a career in clinical health care: the course selections allow students to meet the HCP requirements and simultaneously take the natural science courses suggested to prepare for medical school and other pre-health professional graduate programs. While these courses are selected to help prepare students for medical school, completion of the pre-health track does NOT guarantee admission into medical school or other health professional graduate programs.