Master’s Degree Curriculum

The UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program (JMP) is a pioneer in teaching medicine in the broader context of Public Health and Health Care Systems. The Master’s has attracted students who are interested in exploring the many systems that orbit the sphere of medicine. The broad range of research topics are part of what makes the JMP MS unique. Examples include: Mapping rescue asthma inhaler use and outdoor air pollution: a geospatial-temporal analysis to How Does Income Affect Fertility? An Analysis of Oportunidades, Mexico’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program to Teaching Structure: Lessons Learned From Curricular Innovations in Structural Competency.

Topics fall into many categories like: Bioengineering, Developmental Psychology, Economics, Environmental Sciences, Health Policy, Human Rights, Immunology, Law, Clinical Medicine, Public Health, BioEthics, Microbiology, Native American Studies, Neuroscience, Public Health, Public Policy, Social Welfare, Sociology, and Toxicology to name a few. Explore the range of topics that JMP students have studied in this searchable e-scholarship database, which includes the electronic version of the vast majority of submitted theses over the last 30 years. (The most recent theses are embargoed for a two to three year period.)

As the only medical program in the country housed in a school of Public Health, the JMP is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this intersection of medicine and research in public health. Upon completion of the five year program, JMP physicians are strong clinical thinkers, able to engage in understanding the broader issues surrounding medicine through inquiry. They have the skills to: 1) conduct and interpret research, 2) work well in multi-disciplinary teams,  3) teach, and 4) challenge and change assumptions for how we think about, contextualize and practice medicine within larger systems.

The JMP strives to produce physician “changemakers” who approach medicine with a broad trans-disciplinary understanding of the social determinants of health, health systems science, population health, health equity, and data science.

To support students in accomplishing these goals, we have developed a step-wise and integrated program of MS research classes and mentorship. Our MS is based on the design and implementation of a mentored research project. This project culminates in the crafting of a thesis, including an in-depth literature review in the student’s area of expertise and a report of the research project, which often is the basis of a manuscript for submission to a journal. 

The integrated approach is 3 pronged: 1) structured research mentorship, 2) foundational courses in Public Health and Health Systems that will not only support your research but also give you a context for how you will practice medicine, 3) freedom to choose additional courses that support your research.

Below is a brief overview of the master’s degree curriculum by year.

MS 1 – Fall and Spring

Fall semester students participate in a first-year research seminar. Titled Health Systems and Systems of Inequality, this course will focus on the development of a researchable question, development of a protocol and understanding of issues regarding human subjects research in addition to providing an introduction to concepts of health inequity, structural determinants of health, and critical race theory. We are so privileged to have this class taught by Dr. Osagie Obasogie. Find out more about him here and here!

In the spring, and for the remainder of their time at the JMP, students will be part of a longitudinal 4-semester thesis seminar with their JMP Faculty mentor/advisor designed to support students towards the successful completion of research and submission of a final MS thesis.

By the end of the first year, each student identifies a research project and thesis research mentor, completes a draft research proposal, conducts a preliminary literature review and, when appropriate, an application to the research ethics committee (IRB). Additionally, students take two, 2-credit breadth courses that will provide important foundational instruction in health systems science and social epidemiology.

The first course, PH 200J Health Policy Management is taught by Dr. James Robinson. The course applies concepts from economics, organizational behavior, and political science to the structure, financing, and regulation of the public health and health care delivery systems. The other, 200L Health and Social Behavior taught by Dr. Emily Ozer uses theory and research from the behavioral sciences to explain the causes and health effects of salutary and risky behavior. Students could also choose to take Epidemiology 250A or 250B online or in person during this semester.

In addition to the Master’s classes, you will have three, 3-hour sessions of Foundational Sciences a week, one session of Patient Care & Clinical Systems, and approximately every other Monday you will have anatomy at UCSF. If you are in PRIME, there are additional sessions on some Tuesday afternoons.

The weekly fall schedule might look something like this:


This first summer is an opportunity to really dig into your research while the JMP medical curriculum is on hiatus until the fall. Toward that end, you will participate in PHW289 Interdisciplinary Seminar taught by our very own, and very popular JMP Faculty, Dr. Jodi Halpern. This 3-credit course provides training in interprofessional team-building, leadership, negotiation, and ethics. It is primarily an on-line course, but includes a 10-day on-campus team project component.

During this Summer term, students are also expected to take either Epidemiology (see Additional Required Courses below for more information) or Intro to Probability & Statistics in Biology & Public Health (PH142).

MS 2 – Fall & Spring

During the second year, students complete their formal literature review, obtain the appropriate ethics (IRB) approvals for their research, begin data collection and analysis, and take additional content and methods coursework on campus. Students present a second-year “Works in Progress” talk to the JMP community. In addition, many students present their research at conferences during the second or third year.

During the summer after the second year, although not officially enrolled in School,  students are actively engaged in data analysis and writing their final thesis.

MS 3 – Fall only

During the Fall semester of the third year, students complete their final data analysis and write up their thesis. Although we encourage writing the thesis in a format consistent with an appropriate scientific journal, there is no requirement for publication in order to receive the MS. At the end of the fall semester, 3rd year students present their findings at the Annual JMP Research Symposium. This full-day, celebratory event is open to the entire UC Berkeley community and is well attended by the JMP community, UC Berkeley and UCSF faculty, UCB graduate students, alumni, and students’ family members and friends. Students file their thesis in December. Most students elect to publish their thesis, either by submitting it for publication before JMP MS graduation or after their required clinical rotations at UCSF.

Additional Required Courses

PH 224E Health Care Quality: This 3-credit course provides instruction in continuous quality improvement (CQI) with a required CQI project in a clinical setting.

A course in epidemiology: either Epidemiology 250A or 250B.  Should students be able to test out of Epidemiology 250A through the test offered by the School of Public Health, this requirement will be met.  However, it is nevertheless strongly recommended that JMP students take another course in epidemiology to further their educational goals.

Methods elective: One graduate course in research methods in the student’s area of research which may consist of a more specialized epidemiological methods course (for example, a course in survey research methods), or a course in another area of research (for example, qualitative methods). These can be taken across campus. One very popular course is Africam 201A – Interdisciplinary Research Methods with Dr. Nikki Jones,

Content elective: minimum of two content electives in the student’s chosen area of research. For more information on courses, here is an overwhelming selection in the UC Berkeley Course Catalog. Your faculty advisor and the JMP Graduate Student advisor is available for consultation regarding these electives.


JMP students benefit from an advisory team that is committed to supporting them towards academic success, including their JMP advisor, MS advisor, research mentor, and thesis committee. The JMP advisor, assigned on a student’s arrival to the JMP, is the student’s advocate across the 2.5 years in the program, advising them in all aspects of JMP life. In the Fall of Year 1, a student’s research seminar instructor acts as the student’s initial MS advisor. Beginning with the Spring of Year 1, the research seminar instructor will be the student’s ongoing MS advisor. This JMP master’s faculty member will advise the student throughout the process of planning and completing a thesis project. During the first year, students will additionally identify a research mentor, most often (but not always) a faculty member at UCB or UCSF. The research mentor is the primary mentor to the student regarding the content and conduct of their research project. In addition to these faculty members, a student assembles a thesis committee of 3 faculty members; often the research mentor and the MS advisor are members of the thesis committee. Generally, committee members are required to be UCB faculty members, though the committee may include one UCSF faculty member. Committees are responsible for reviewing and approving the MS research and thesis, ensuring its academic rigor.

What is the difference between the JMP MS and a UCSF Bridges Inquiry project?

The two undertakings differ in scope, time, and depth. At the JMP, the medical and MS curricula are intimately intertwined throughout the student’s training. The JMP Master’s thesis is a mentored, scholarly research thesis that is broader in scope and depth and done over a 2.5 year period as is appropriate for a Master’s awarded on a world-class research-academic campus. The UCSF Bridges curriculum includes an Inquiry Project or Deep Explore which is a research activity lasting no more than 20 weeks and performed in the fourth year of the Bridges medical curriculum.

How do students fund their research?

By encouraging students to join existing research projects, it is expected that most of their funding will be through their research mentor’s grants. In addition, all students are eligible for up to $2500 for their research project though a formal faculty review process. In addition, there is a summer grant program (Schoeneman grants) that provides support for summer expenses which students can apply for one summer. If you are working with a UCSF PI, there are also opportunities for support from that campus. There are additional sources of funding for student projects from Berkeley, UCSF, and external organizations. In the accepted student’s guide, there is a list of various funding opportunities that JMP students have taken advantage of over the years.

Support the Joint Medical Program.

Help us to train outstanding physicians committed to health equity and social justice through a variety of funds, including the JMP Diversity Fund, the JMP Student Services Fund, and the Kevin Mack Medical Education Leadership Support fund.

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