HSSR Logo Health Services and Systems Research

PhD Program


The HSSR Track of the Integrated Biology and Medicine (IBM) Program at Duke-NUS helps prepare future scientists to become independent investigators in the fields of health services and clinical and community-based research. Our students have the opportunity to engage in applied work that connects science with clinical practice and public health, to gain exposure to health problems relevant to the needs of diverse individuals and communities, and to work closely with world-renowned faculty mentors. At HSSR, we encourage creative thinking and the development of cost-effective, innovative solutions to health service, clinical and public health challenges using rigorous scientific methods. We also offer outstanding opportunities to interact and collaborate with communities and other key stakeholders and entities, including the Singapore government.


HSSR is currently conducting research to help tackle challenges related to population ageing, long-term care, rising rates of obesity, inactivity and chronic disease, reduced access to healthcare, and constraints to the healthcare system. Our ongoing research projects include intervention projects, primary and secondary data collection and analysis, as well as systems modeling, all of which function to inform and reinforce one another. The primary disciplinary tracks at HSSR include decision sciences and modelling, gerontology, health economics, and implementation science and clinical investigation.


Students who wish to pursue their PhD with HSSR must complete the core IBM Program course, at least 36 additional modular credits, and other courses determined based on the track chosen with input from the PhD supervisor and committee.


Our Current Students:

                                                                                                               (L to R) Kang Wan Chen, Dong Di, Zhou Ke, and Pui San Tan


Dong Di is a member of the Class of 2014, the first batch of IBM Program students. In the first two years of her program, Di took courses in economics, epidemiology, sociology, and statistics. Under the guidance of Dr. Eric Finkelstein, her PhD supervisor, Di’s research has focused primarily on the economic evaluation of genetic testing. She recently conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis to evaluate the impact of using genetic testing to prevent severe adverse reactions induced by a common anti-epileptic drug. In 2012, her findings were published in the journal Neurology (Dong D, Sung C, Finkelstein EA. Cost-effectiveness of HLA-B*1502 genotyping in adult patients with newly diagnosed epilepsy in Singapore. Neurology 2012;79(12):1259-67). Currently, Di is working on a follow-up project to better understand patients’ preferences regarding genetic testing and their willingness to pay for such tests. Di is also pursuing other research projects, including cost-effectiveness analyses of new surgical procedures and a study evaluating the impact of dietary intake on long-term weight gain.


Before joining the PhD program at Duke-NUS and deciding to undertake research with HSSR, Kang Wan Chen worked as an occupational therapist and earned a Master’s of Science in Health Policy and Management from the Harvard School of Public Health. Wan Chen’s faculty mentor at HSSR is Dr. Young Do. A member of the class of 2016, Wan Chen is taking classes in health economics and finance, labor economics, and sociology. Wan Chen’s primary research interests are in long-term care financing and related issues. Since joining HSSR, she has worked with Dr. Tazeen Jafar on launching a survey to investigate primary school policies that influence physical activity levels and nutritional exposure. In addition, she is writing a literature review with Dr. Eric Finkelstein on the lifetime direct medical costs of childhood obesity.


Pui San Tan is a member of the Class of 2016. Her research interests include quantitative methods and modeling related to oncology and neurology. She is enrolled in classes on statistics, epidemiology, clinical trial design and analyses, as well as system dynamics modeling. Her mentors are Dr. Ben Haaland and Prof. David Matchar. Pui San recently completed a meta-analysis of breast cancer trials with Dr. Haaland and collaborators from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Miami. She is planning to publish her results soon, and these results will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois in 2013.


Reshmi Mukerji (not pictured) is also a member of the class of 2016. Reshmi has used her background in biology to work both in labs and in the field, including a non-profit in India where she addressed community health issues. At Duke-NUS HSSR, Reshmi studies health economics and policy. For her rotation projects, she worked under the supervision of Dr. Koh Woon Puay on a study assessing the interaction between diabetes and BMI as risk factors for tuberculosis and also under Prof. Angelique Chan, with whom she conducted a project to examine whether pain is managed effectively in cancer patients in Singapore. Reshmi’s PhD supervisor is Dr. Eric Finkelstein. During the course of her PhD, Reshmi hopes to learn how economic incentives can modify behavior and ultimately lower health risk and improve disease management. Her publications to date include a paper in the Journal of Immunology on the protein PspA, a vaccine candidate for pneumonia, as well as a study of the diagnosis and management of atypical mycobacterial infection post-laparoscopic surgery, which was published in the Indian Journal of Surgery.


After graduating from Peking University in China, Zhou Ke joined Duke-NUS as an MD student in 2010. Inspired by his passion for research and faculty at Duke-NUS, Ke decided to shift to the MD/PhD program in 2012, and he now works with Prof. Matchar on various modeling projects. Ke aims to be able to solve resilient problems in healthcare by using tools such as system dynamics modeling, cost-effectiveness analysis and so on. His clinical interest is in general internal medicine. Ke’s dream is to combine his clinical experience and research skills to make distinctive contributions to the advancement of healthcare.


Courses, Talks and Symposia:

Faculty at Duke-NUS HSSR teach a range of courses in a variety of venues, from sessions in the core “Molecules to Medicines” course at Duke-NUS to “Health Economics and Financing at the NUS School of Public Health” to “Populating Aging, Public Policy and Family in the East and West” at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. HSSR also sponsors and hosts a variety of talks, symposia and workshops related to our research areas.


Our Faculty Mentors:

Associate Professor Angelique ChanDr. Chan is a sociologist whose research interests lie in ageing and health, intergenerational transfers, living arrangements and retirement.

Associate Professor Eric Finkelstein – Dr. Finkelstein is an economist; he conducts economic analyses on the causes and consequences of health behaviours, with a primary emphasis on obesity and its correlates.

Director & Professor David Matchar – Prof. Matchar is an internist and the Director of HSSR; his current research focuses on ways to improve health service efficiency in a rapidly ageing society.

Professor Truls Østbye Prof. Ostbye is with both the Duke Global Health Institute in Durham and HSSR; he is a chronic disease epidemiologist and public health researcher whose primary research interests include obesity and ageing/life course epidemiology.

Professor Tazeen Jafar – Prof. Jafar is a nephrologist and chronic disease epidemiologist; she conducts policy-relevant implementation research and epidemiological studies, especially related to hypertension.