M.A. Program

The Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt offers an interdisciplinary Master of Arts and a graduate certificate for students interested in studying health-related beliefs and practices in their social and cultural contexts. Our graduate curriculum draws from the strengths of MHS faculty and affiliated faculty in departments and programs across the University in the College of Arts and Science, Peabody College, the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the Law School, the Institute for Global Health, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, and elsewhere.  Among the areas of inquiry explored within the curriculum are: racial and ethnic health disparities; men’s health; social foundations of health behaviors; health policy; global health; medicine, humanities and the arts; bodies, gender and sexuality. To supplement their degree, MHS graduate students may choose to earn a Certificate of Global Health offered by the Institute of Global Health. Graduate students work with a faculty advisor to select appropriate plan of courses that meets their professional goals.  Detailed MHS program and course descriptions are available in the Graduate Catalog.

Degree Requirements

The MA in Medicine, Health and Society requires a minimum of 24 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive exam. Students may choose a thesis option (24 hours of coursework plus 6 hours of thesis research) or non-thesis option (30 hours of coursework). Each graduate student works with a faculty mentor to craft an appropriate plan of study. Requirements include the 3-hour core colloquium, MHS 300/6100, an introduction to graduate-level interdisciplinary work in medicine, health, and society, drawing on the perspectives of anthropology, economics, history, political science and policy studies, philosophy, religious studies, and sociology. Additional requirements include MHS 302/7100 Research Workshop, MHS 301 Interdisciplinary Methods, guided research or internship. A contract of courses must be formally approved by the student’s adviser and the MHS Director.

Requirements are the same for the two-year MA degree and the 4+1 combined BA/MA program. Students in the BA/MA (4+1) program must satisfy all requirements for both the BA degree and the MA degree. There is no double-counting of credits. In order to complete the program in five years, students should be in a position to complete most of the requirements for their undergraduate degree by the end of the first semester of the senior year.

It is expected that students who can devote themselves to the MHS program full time will complete their studies in three terms (i.e., two semesters and one summer or three semesters). However, the length of the program will be flexible to accommodate the needs of different constituencies.

Students should meet with their faculty advisor to discuss their course plan. Registration instructions and Registration Related Forms are available through Vanderbilt Graduate School. Graduate students taking an independent study with a faculty member or requesting permission to receive graduate credit for an undergraduate level or professional course should complete and submit these forms by the first day of class.

Comprehensive Exam

The MA requires a written examination, tailored to the student’s specific course of study, requiring the student to integrate material from the different disciplines. The MHS Director, in consultation with the MHS Curricular Committee, will appoint an examination committee consisting of the student’s adviser and two other faculty members, at least one of whom must be from a field different from the adviser’s. The examination committee will write up the exam, which the student will take during his or her last semester of study (or last summer session) and no later than the week of final exams.


For students in the thesis track, the examination committee will also constitute the thesis committee and will administer an oral thesis defense. The thesis should draw on at least two disciplines and follow Vanderbilt Graduate School’s thesis guidelines. Students in the non-thesis option will submit for evaluation by the MHS Curriculum Committee one course paper demonstrating their ability to integrate approaches from different disciplines.

Graduate Certificate in Medicine, Health, and Society

Requirements include the 3-hour core colloquium (MHS 6100) and an additional four courses drawn from the list of approved courses. Students are required to submit a paper to the MHS curricular committee for evaluation. See graduate certificate guidelines in the graduate catalog.