History of Health Sciences (MA)

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Degree Offered: MA
Program Leadership
Dorothy Porter, PhD, Program Director
Admissions Inquiries:
Bonita Dyess, Program Manager

Program Description

The History of Health Sciences (HHS) program trains students to examine the history of health sciences – medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, alternative healing, and biomedical research – from a variety of critical approaches. With an emphasis on modern (late 19th to 21st century) contexts, the program’s faculty and students investigate how medicine, health, and illness are historically perceived, and how these perceptions reflect and shape culture and society.

The Master’s program is a two-year degree that is composed of two years of coursework and either a Master’s thesis or a Qualifying Exam for graduation. Students learn to make use of all aspects of historical research: identifying appropriate sources, evaluating and interpreting the content of published and unpublished documents, contextualizing and analyzing those documents within the broader framework of contemporary knowledge, society, and culture, and writing a thesis that provides both historical narrative and interpretive analysis of their topic.

Students are admitted to the History of Health Sciences program biennially, in odd-numbered years. This keeps the student-to-faculty ratio very low, enabling students to work closely with their faculty mentors.


There are four core faculty and three faculty members with other academic appointments in the HHS program; and 27 other affiliated faculty.

Research Focus Areas

  • Public health
  • Healthcare systems
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Biomedicine

The History of Health Sciences program office at UCSF is located at the Mission Bay campus. Visit the program website for more information.

The History of Health Sciences program is offered by the UCSF Graduate Division. The program is administered by the UCSF School of Medicine (SOM), and courses are delivered by faculty members in SOM.

Admission Requirements

BA in History or a related field or a BS in the sciences

Learning Outcomes

  • Articulate the dynamic interrelationship between medicine and society through history.
  • Demonstrate how to formulate an original argument both in an extended written thesis and in oral form drawing on basic critical skills and the historical record itself.
  • Promote a historically informed understanding of the health sciences.

Additional Information

Program Faculty