CHIP Doctoral Online Handbook

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of the Carolina Health Informatics Program’s doctoral program is to prepare graduates to contribute to the field of biomedical and health informatics studies through research, teaching and exposure to practical BMHI challenges.  The doctoral program prepares scholars for careers involving research and instruction as well as leadership roles in industry.  The doctoral program provides students with research experience, familiarity with BMHI concepts, theories and methods.  In addition, the program allows participation in an active research community as well as exposure to the thriving BMHI industry in the RTP, NC area.

A Thriving Community of Research and Industry

UNC-Chapel Hill is located in Central North Carolina, home to top universities and industries supplying a myriad of potential employers for CHIP’s graduates.  The mission of the Carolina Health Informatics Program (CHIP) at UN-Chapel Hill is to train highly qualified leaders in the biomedical and health information technology field.  These leaders will evolve the biomedical and health informatics field through the advancement of cutting-edge scholarship aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery and access.

CHIP takes a comprehensive view of healthcare IT, with the goal to provide qualified training across the healthcare continuum. CHIP is an interdisciplinary academic program, supported by seven schools across UNC-Chapel Hill: the Gillings School of Global Public Health; the School of Information and Library Science; the School of Medicine; the School of Dentistry; the Eshelman School of Pharmacy; the School of Nursing and the Department of Computer Science.

This unique interdisciplinary partnership exposes CHIP doctoral graduates to a vast array of biomedical and health informatics applications, with a strong emphasis on human-computer interaction, data analytics, and visualization.

Founded in 2010, CHIP was created to be an interdisciplinary BMHI program that would train the next generation of biomedical and health information technology leaders. CHIP’s approach of providing training across the healthcare continuum is unique among BMHI training programs. The broad focus of this program supplies CHIP graduates with the skills, resources and qualifications required to be successful in both industry and academia.

CHIP’s PhD program was established in 2017, building upon the success of CHIP’s graduate level certificate and Master’s Degree programs.

Admission Process

CHIP’s PhD program attracts students with diverse backgrounds in public health, pharmacy, dentistry, IT (information systems or computing), and clinical practices (MD or RN) who are seeking advanced training for a broad range of research and leadership roles in academic, corporate, non-profit and government settings. The main career paths envisioned for graduates with a PhD in Health Informatics include: academic research and scholarship; research scientist in non-academic setting; and leadership positions, including CIO/CRO or similar in public and private health care organizations and key health policy development roles in government agencies.

Applicants should have a GPA of 3.0 or greater for all academic pursuits, GRE scores above the 50th percentile on all sections of the test and, if applicable, a minimum TOEFL score of 90.

International Students

An international student is a student who is attending UNC-Chapel Hill without U.S. Citizenship or is not a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States.

There are many resources on campus to help guide international students through the complexities that may accompany their transition to the United States.  UNC Global International Student and Scholar Services is an excellent resource for international students to seek guidance with issues including arrival planning and visas.

Academic Background

Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree and should have a strong interest in biomedical and health informatics. Previous research experience or a master’s degree pertaining to BMHI is strongly encouraged.

Good Standing

A student’s adviser, committee and the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate School will determine if a student is in good standing.  The following criteria are established to evaluate whether or not a student is in good standing at any point during their studies.  Student must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or greater at all times and have 36 hours of coursework completed, preferably by the end of their second year.

In accordance with UNC-Chapel Hill’s grading policy, course grades will be given on the H, P, L, F scale.  If a student receives an F grade in any course, or nine credits hours of an L grade, will immediately become academically illegible.

H High Pass
P Pass
L Low Pass
F Fail




PhD Timeline

The following timeline a suggestion for full-time doctoral students.  Some graduates students aim to graduate in as little as four years, while others who are pursuing part-time studies may take longer than 5 ½ years. We do suggest that any grad student considering getting their PhD in Health Informatics, do so as a full-time student.

Year 1: An adviser should ideally be chosen during the first semester of graduate studies. Students are encouraged to meet with several potential advisers before determining which faculty most closely matches their interests and needs. Taking courses taught by core CHIP faculty is also a good way to select advisers. Grad students should note that the adviser’s permission must be sought and that some faculty may decide not to advise a grad student due to extenuating circumstances. Committee members should be chosen together by the student and their adviser.

With the aid of their adviser, the graduate student will develop an individualized course structure that incorporates the required classes from the five pillars of CHIP curriculum.

Years 1-2:  Maintain GPA greater than or equal to 3.0.  Full-time doctoral students should have completed the required pillar coursework by the end of year two.

It is advised that during the spring of the second year that doctoral students, working with their advisers, develop a full-length systematic review of literature pertaining to a research topic they will pursue for their dissertation.

Graduate students should begin assembling their committees. A committee of five members, including the doctoral student’s adviser, are required. A majority of the doctoral committee must be regular member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate Faculty from the CHIP program.

Year 3:  Doctoral students will present their comprehensive research for review to their doctoral committees. Once the written research review passes the committee, graduate students will defend the written review through an oral examination given by the doctoral committee.

PhD Candidacy is awarded after the doctoral student passes both their written research review and their oral examination.

Using the comprehensive research collected to produce the written research review, graduate students will develop a dissertation proposal with their adviser. Graduate students must then defend their dissertation proposal through a verbal defense to their doctoral committee.

During the spring semester of the third year, with guidance from their advisers, graduate students will begin to research their dissertation project. Using this research, graduate students will also begin writing their dissertation drafts.

Year 3 – 4: Doctoral students should continue researching and writing their draft dissertations through the summer and fall, continuing into the fourth year.

All committee members must review the draft dissertation and provide guiding feedback. Once all committee members have approved the draft dissertation, graduate students will begin finalizing their dissertation projects for full committee review and defense.

Year 5: Doctoral students will present and orally defend their completed dissertation to their committees. Once the committee has passed the dissertation, the dissertation can be submitted to the University for Publication.

Absent extenuating circumstances, students who fail to meet these criteria risk losing the opportunity to obtain funding and, in some cases, completing the degree. Graduate students should have an adviser and a full doctoral committee as soon as possible. Doctoral students should consult both their adviser and committee members throughout their graduate career.


CHIP PhD Program Requirements

The CHIP PhD program is diverse through its interdisciplinary course work and research driven projects. With the guidance of their advisers, graduate students will develop a course structure that will meet the following requirements for the PhD program:

  1. 55 hours of coursework made up of the required pillar coursework, electives and dissertation (994) credits.

Coursework can be transferred in from previous degrees.  There is no specified limit on the amount of transfer credit which can be requested.  The recommendation to grant transfer credit will be made on a case by case basis and will require the approval of the graduate school.

  1. Authoring of a qualifying literature review
  2. Completion of a qualifying written examination
  3. Completion of a qualifying oral examination based on the written examination
  4. Admission to candidacy
  5. Completion and defense of a dissertation proposal
  6. Completion and defense of a dissertation.

Each of the above requirement is explained in a dedicated section elsewhere in this handbook.

NOTE:  students are required to consult and keep current with the rules and policies of the Graduate School of UNC-CH with respect to doctoral study, candidacy, dissertation defense and other topics.



The coursework for the PhD program is customizable and can be designed to fit each student’s interests and level of experience in various areas.  The core of the doctoral coursework will be taken for five different “pillars” which form the structure of CHIP’s curriculum:

Core & Frontier Pillar

Core and Frontier courses will expose students to the foundational concepts in informatics.  This pillar will also allow students to gain a firm understanding of where research challenges lie and the nature of these challenges.  Courses in this pillar will cover: advanced data modeling, data management and warehousing; data integration and networking; data presentation and visualization principles; data governance and data ethics.

6 credit hours are required.

Tools & Infrastructure Pillar

Tools and Infrastructure courses will go beyond the basic concepts and principles covered in core topics.  This pillar will offer opportunities for students to gain experience in manipulating wide varieties of data occurring in diverse health care contexts. It will also train students to build new tools and methods for extracting insights from health data.  The courses in this pillar will cover: advanced training in statistical analysis; data mining; system analysis and design; data interpretation and data quality.

6 credit hours are required.

Research Methods Pillar

Research Methods courses will focus on constructing sound research studies concentrated on various aspects of health care.  The courses in this pillar will cover: gathering research data; analysis of research data; drawing conclusions from research data; presenting research data; and identifying limitations based on gaps present in research data.

3 credit hours are required.

Project Management & Leadership Pillar

Project Management and Leadership courses examine current techniques and methods on leading and sustaining research projects.  Emphasis will be placed on project management skills in the context of developing and maintaining research projects that span a several year period.

3 credit hours are required.

Implementation Science & Research Translation Pillar

Implementation Science and Research Translation courses emphasize developing research projects with an eye toward the conversion of key outcomes that will have a direct impact on the health care of individuals or a community.  Coursework in this pillar will cover: understanding intellectual property rights; collaboration with stakeholders such as government, for-profit and non-profit organizations; dissemination of research; and ensuring long-term sustainability of outcomes/solution.

3 credit hours are required.


Sample Curriculum

Sample curriculum can be viewed at


Committee Structure

Upon acceptance into the doctoral program, graduate students will begin seeking an adviser. The doctoral student should select their adviser during the first semester of their studies if possible. The student’s adviser will act as the committee chair.  The remainder of the committee should be in place by the second year of the student’s program, before their coursework is completed.  The committee will consist of five faculty members, including the doctoral student’s adviser. A majority of the doctoral committee must be regular member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate Faculty from the CHIP program.


Comprehensive Examination

Comprehensive Written Examination

The comprehensive written examination will cover three to five topics or facets of the student’s dissertation project.  Upon completion of required coursework, students will take a comprehensive written examination. This will include a full-length, systematic review of a research topic which the student is most likely to select as his/her dissertation topic.  A systematic review, similar to a literature review, is an established method of review unique to the health informatics field.  Students will learn this method in their research methodology coursework.


Each doctoral student will conduct their written exam independently, with consultation from their adviser.  The adviser will determine when the exam is ready for distribution to the rest of the committee.  Approximately four weeks after the committee receives the comprehensive written examination, the student will conduct their oral comprehensive examination, which will cover topics from the written examination.


Doctoral students will be responsible for distributing the written exam to committee members at least four weeks prior to their scheduled oral examination date.  After two weeks of review time, the dissertation committee will determine the result of the written portion of the examination to be either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.


If the exam is found to be unsatisfactory, the student will be given the opportunity to do a re-write based on suggestions made by the committee. A student will be given up to one academic semester to revise and re-submit the exam for committee review. If the re-written exam is found to be satisfactory, the graduate student will be allowed to move forward with the oral examination.


Comprehensive Oral Examination

A comprehensive oral examination will follow the written comprehensive examination and will cover broadly the same topics as the written examination.

The oral portion of the comprehensive examination will be administered by the same committee that assessed the written examination.  The oral exam will be based on the written research review, and will also include any materials considered to be relevant by the committee. At least half of the examination will be based on questions that are relevant to the graduate student’s research. However, they will go beyond the scope of dissertation project in terms of breadth and depth.

The format of the oral examination will be flexible with limited use of computer-based presentation, emphasizing “chalk board” presentation and the ability to demonstrate critical thinking.

Doctoral students who fail to pass the oral examination will be allowed a single re-take within one academic year timeframe. The re-take may or may not require revisions to the submitted exam. Students who do not pass the comprehensive examination on their second attempt will not be allowed to continue in the program. Graduate students successfully passing both the written and oral portions of the examination will advance to candidacy status.

Academic programs determine the order of doctoral written and oral examinations. In general, it is desirable that only a short interval separates the two examinations. If the second doctoral examination involves the examination of the dissertation prospectus, the Report of Doctoral Committee Composition Form must be submitted to and approved by The Graduate School before the examination. This form may be submitted any time prior to the second doctoral examination.

Immediately after each examination has been given, results should be sent to The Graduate School on the Doctoral Exam Report Form. If the report of the first doctoral oral shows that the dissertation prospectus has not been examined or that it has been considered but not accepted, a separate report must be filed with The Graduate School as soon as the prospectus is approved.


Entrance into Candidacy

Doctoral students who successfully pass their written and oral comprehensive exams will enter into PhD candidacy.  Upon achieving the candidacy, the student will be required to submit a proposal which, beyond the systematic review previously completed, should include a methods section, a discussion on potential findings, and a section which anticipates limitations and ethical challenges.

The proposal will be reviewed by the doctoral student’s dissertation committee.  If the committee agrees with the student’s proposal, they will determine a suitable oral defense date for the student. The written portion and the oral defense of the proposal must be completed within one year after the student reaches candidacy (successfully completes their comprehensive exams).

When students successfully complete their proposal, they will then be allowed to proceed to the dissertation research project stage. If for any reason, the committee determines oral defense to be unsatisfactory, students will be given one additional opportunity to successfully defend the proposal; however, the second defense must be held within three months after the initial proposal defense is held.

Admission to candidacy recognizes the achievement of a significant milestone in the career of a doctoral student and signifies that the only outstanding requirement for the degree is the dissertation. The student is then designated ABD—all but dissertation. Students may apply for admission to candidacy by filling out the Application for Admission to Candidacy after they have passed both the doctoral written and oral examinations, have submitted an acceptable dissertation prospectus, have completed all courses required by the major and minor programs, and have satisfied any foreign language or language substitute requirements. Academic programs should submit approved Application for Admission to Candidacy forms to The Graduate School only after the above requirements have been satisfied. Corresponding documentation must be on file in The Graduate School before the Application will be approved.



Dissertation Research Project

Upon successful completion of comprehensive exam and proposal defense, students will engage on a research project supervised by their adviser. The subject of the graduate student’s dissertation should ideally develop out of the research review done for the written comprehensive examination.


Proposal & Dissertation Defense

After completion of the dissertation project the student will prepare a dissertation document according to the Graduate School guidelines. At a point deemed acceptable by the adviser and members of committee, a public oral dissertation defense will be scheduled. Successful dissertation defense completes the fulfillment of all degree requirements.

In order to better understand the dissertation writing process and what type of document should result from it, graduate students may want to consult resources such as the UNC Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Guide:


Preparation & Scheduling

The Graduate School will accept dissertations produced according to the standards in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide. Documents must be prepared in a form consistent with approved methods of scholarly writing and research. On matters of form, the student should also consult published manuals of style. Sample draft pages of the document may be pre-approved by Graduate School staff before the submission deadline, but final approvals will occur only after the student has submitted the final document.

The document is expected to be written in English. In special cases, languages other than English may be used; the substitution is not permitted for the student's convenience but may be allowed when the student has sufficient skill at composition and has a topic that is, in the adviser's judgment, especially suited to treatment in the second language. Approval to use a language other than English must be obtained in advance from The Graduate School, and a title page must be submitted in English.


Following the Defense

Doctoral students must be registered for a minimum of three credit hours of dissertation during the semester in which the dissertation prospectus/proposal is approved and the semester in which the dissertation is defended. Once students successfully defend their dissertation, no further research enrollments are necessary or permissible, and graduation should not be delayed.


Submission of Dissertation

Dissertations must be submitted to The Graduate School according to the schedule in the University Registrar's Calendar in final form designed to meet the standards defined in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide. Documents submitted electronically will not require front page signatures.

It is strongly suggested that every document be submitted well before the deadline to ensure ample time for format revisions.


Publications & Presentations

There is no official requirement for PhD students to submit to peer-reviewed journals or other scholarly publications.  However, students will be expected to actively participate in scholarly writing and dissemination of research through presentations and publications.  Likely venues to be targeted will include national conferences such as the AMIA and IEEE meeting and high impact journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.