Kris Wain and Brian Duncan
Kris Wain, left, a second-year master's of economics student, and Brian Duncan, professor of economics

Kris Wain, a second-year master’s of economics student at CU Denver, compares being one of the first prospective students in a brand-new doctoral program to standing at the base of Mount Everest: intimidating but exciting.

After hearing from students and questioning employers about the demand for the degrees, the CU Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences added two new programs to the Department of Economics offerings for fall 2018. The MS and PhD Health Economics programs join economics and health research and are a joint effort between CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Many of our economics students go on to pursue careers in health research,” said Brian Duncan, PhD, CU Denver economics professor. “Although our students are well-trained, they can have a problem getting their foot in the door,” Duncan said, attributing the barrier partly to a misconception of what economists are trained to do.

‘More than numbers’

More than just number-crunchers, economists learn how to analyze large and diverse data, a crucial skill in science careers.

When building the programs, Duncan and others in the department solicited feedback from companies that typically hire CU Denver master’s of economics graduates. A resounding majority of employers indicated interest in hiring students with an economics degree specializing in health, Duncan said.

Wain, a medical research programmer for the past six years, said having the option to get a degree focused in health economics will boost him on his career path, allowing him to move into an analytic or biostatistician role. “There will be abundant opportunity to apply my education directly to my work,” Wain said, noting growth in the health care and medical research industries.

The PhD in health economics is a joint effort between the Department of Economics at CU Denver and the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy at the Colorado School of Public Health. Students will learn a unique combination of economic theory while uncovering the inner workings of health research, including learning grant writing and study design.

Giving students a ‘leg up’

“We believe that our students will have a leg up,” said Duncan. “A degree that combines economics with health is a great addition to our department. The well-established reputation of the Colorado School of Public Health will certainly help bring students in.”

All of the credits earned in the new master’s program can work toward completing the PhD program. The master’s program can also be completed full time or part time, finished in as little as 1.5 years. Most of the classes are offered in the evenings. Organizers hope the flexible qualities will add appeal for students with full-time jobs or other obligations.

“Although it would be helpful to have a degree in economics, it’s not imperative,” said Duncan.  “Anyone who is willing to ‘tool up’ for the program with a few prerequisite courses in math, stats, and economics is welcome.”

Excited about his new focus, Wain said he probably feels the way most students starting a PhD program feel. “I am at the bottom of Mount Everest looking up at the climb ahead. However, the health economics program is a perfect fit for my skillset, will offer great opportunities moving forward, and came along at just the right time. I am up for the challenge and looking forward to the climb.”