Research Disciplines

NIHES offers programmes and courses in several disciplines that mainly focus on epidemiology, health sciences and clinical research. Below you can find more information for each discipline.


Epidemiology plays an integral role in the application of medical research to populations, interacting with almost every other specialism.

Epidemiology studies the incidence, causes, consequences and control of disease, as well as people, patients and populations. It is a fundamental discipline for clinical medicine and public health. It may, together with basic science and clinical research, provide tools to learn about the aetiology and consequences of diseases, the possibilities for prevention and treatment and the risk profiles of individuals and populations. Using advanced methods such as statistical analyses, field research and complex laboratory techniques, epidemiologists map various elements of a disease and the ways they are related.

The objective of the epidemiology programme is to prepare candidates for a research position (e.g. a PhD project) in the area of clinical medicine or public health, or for example a more health policy oriented career. The programme comprises compulsory courses directed at study design, biostatistics, and data‑analysis. In addition, further specialization in specific areas of epidemiological research is needed. Extensive training in widely used statistical packages is also an important part of the curriculum. A large part of the programme is devoted to research.

Clinical Epidemiology

Clinical epidemiology, which is both empirical and patient oriented, is most suited for a combination of the quantitative approach in clinical research and clinical practice.

There is a growing need for physicians who can both initiate research and participate in it. Clinical epidemiology, which is empirical and patient oriented, is most suited for such a combination. It involves diagnostic, prognostic, preventive and therapeutic studies that follow directly from quantitative study designs. Training in study design and analysis provides a sound basis for successful clinical research.

The objective of the clinical epidemiology programme is to prepare candidates for a position in the area of clinical medicine, drug research or decision analysis, either as a researcher or as an executive or advisor. Epidemiology, clinical decision analysis, and biostatistics are the disciplines traditionally involved with the quantitative aspects of medical problems. The clinical epidemiology programme seeks to train candidates in these specific fields. Throughout the programme the emphasis will be on methods of clinical research and their formal applications in clinical practice.

Clinical Research

The field of clinical research offers research opportunities in a range of fields such as endocrinology, cardiovascular research, various subfields in oncology, pediatrics, obstetrics, urology, transplantation medicine, gastroenterology and hepatology, surgical research, and musculoskeletal science.

The Netherlands Institute for Health Sciences (NIHES) and a large variety of university departments with a known track-record in clinical and translational research at Erasmus MC have developed a Research Master programme in Clinical Research.

Medical Psychology

Medical psychology is an academic field which is enjoying a new found appreciation in health sciences, one that takes a closer look into the interaction between psychological factors and health. For instance, how do physical complaints affect our psychological functioning? And also: why does our psychological make-up sometimes make us vulnerable to diseases, or prevent us from getting better? Students will constantly be confronted with thought-provoking research. Apart from studying these kinds of questions, medical psychologists also study doctor-patient communication and decision-making, and develop and evaluate psychological interventions for somatic complaints such as pain and fatigue. This allows for a more enriched understanding of these topics.

Genomic & Molecular Epidemiology

The major thrust of research in genetic & molecular epidemiology in the next ten years will be the identification of predisposing genes in complex diseases and the environmental factors. This may ultimately lead to a more targeted surveillance and improved clinical care.

Genomic & molecular epidemiology focuses on the uses of genetic, molecular and epidemiological research in identifying the possible familial and hereditary factors underlying the origins and manifestations of human disease. The cause of most chronic diseases -including cancer, coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, and psychiatric disorders- may lie in the interactions between environmental factors and genetic susceptibility. Genomic & molecular epidemiology helps optimize etiological studies through an integrated approach that draws on the methodologies of epidemiology, biostatistics, genetics and molecular biology.

The objective of the genomic & molecular epidemiology programme is to prepare candidates for epidemiological research in the areas of genetic determinants of diseases and of genetic risk assessment and seeks to train candidates in these specific fields or to prepare them for an executive/advisory positions in the area of public health, or health-policy. The genomic & molecular epidemiology programme is a mix of general subjects, such as study design and statistical data-analysis, and subjects tailored with specific genetic & molecular epidemiology research and analytical methods.

Public Health Epidemiology

Public health epidemiology is the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts of society.

Whereas clinicians and general practitioners provide care for individuals, public health interventions are directed at whole populations. Many improvements have resulted from successful public health initiatives: vaccination and other forms of infectious disease control, safer working environments, preventive mother and childcare, safer and healthier foods, family planning, improved traffic safety, and tobacco control. To achieve or preserve access to effective health care services in society, there is a considerable need for public health expertise.

The objective of the public health epidemiology programme is to prepare public health professionals to draw upon the knowledge and skills from a variety of disciplines in order to define, evaluate, and resolve public health problems. Participants will be prepared for research and for positions at staff and executive levels. Topics included in the programme will be health promotion and health intervention, international health, health policy and management, and occupational and environmental health.

Health Economic Analysis

Research in health economic analysis is becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Health care costs are rising rapidly creating a serious concern for health care decision makers around the world. The sustainability of the health care system, that is accessible and affordable to all, is hard to achieve and maintain. The difficulties related to ensuring a fair and comprehensive health care system are an important incentive for conducting health economic research.

This is why health economic analysis is a dynamic and growing research area with numerous job opportunities. The specialisation offers a unique combination of epidemiological and health economic courses, which are aimed at teaching you important analytical and professional skills for designing, carrying out and reporting academic research in the field of health economics. Typically, as a health economic analysis student you will deal with questions such as:

  • How do we balance between affordability of health care and quality of health care?
  • Are new health care interventions worth the expenditure?
  • How do health care systems perform relative to each other in terms of solidarity and affordability?
  • Are health and health care distributed fairly within populations?
  • How can we improve our current health economic research methods?
  • How can we design health economic studies?This specialisation is a joint venture between the NIHES and the Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management. Prior knowledge of (health) economics is not required.

Health Decision Sciences

Within the specialization Health Decision Sciences a quantitative approach is used to address medical problems with the objective of making decisions in health care based on evidence and values. The level of decision-making considered ranges from clinical decisions to health policy decisions. We consider individualized patient decisions, decisions for groups of patients, decisions that are incorporated into clinical guidelines, policy decisions at a regional or national level, and decisions concerning the optimal use of health research funding. Topics studied in Health Decision Sciences include decision modelling, simulation modelling, diagnostic and prognostic prediction, expected value, value-based health care, comparative effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, health technology assessment, and value of information.