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Online Master’s in Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality (PSHQ) Degree Programs

The safety of patients and the quality of the clinical services they receive is not a new concern. However, innovations in health and medical technologies and advances in the evidence-based practice of medicine and nursing have created new approaches to and opportunities for risk reduction and the improvement of healthcare outcomes. This area of research, policy, and professional training is known as patient safety and healthcare quality (PSHQ). It encompasses a range of proficiencies related to designing, assessing, implementing, and coordinating programs, protocols, and initiatives that reduce error, mitigate risk, and improve patient outcomes. The goal of PSHQ policy is to foster a culture of accountability among clinical and administrative staff, and to promote organizational changes that lead to better safety protocols and higher standards of quality. While this mission involves the work of professionals throughout the healthcare system, there are managers, administrators, and consultants who specialize in PSHQ issues, often through training and instruction offered by master’s in PSHQ degree programs.

What Is a Master’s Degree in Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality?

A master’s in patient safety and healthcare quality is typically a Master of Science (MS) degree program with a curriculum that provides specialized training and instruction in healthcare leadership, safe practices and risk reduction strategies, patient safety protocols, and the integration of better clinical outcome assessments and safety improvement policies into the management of healthcare enterprises. These programs are designed to prepare students for the challenges of designing, implementing, and overseeing PSHQ strategies in hospitals, clinics, private medical practices, and other healthcare organizations. Students in these programs study current PSHQ issues and new approaches to raising standards of care. They learn how to critically evaluate relevant epidemiological research and use research to drive evidence-based innovations in quality care. They are introduced to biostatisical data collection and analysis methods and informatics systems that help track patient outcomes. And they integrate this knowledge with professional communication and team leadership skills in order to effectively manage and coordinate PSHQ policy and operations.

Online Master’s in PSHQ Programs

Online master’s in PSHQ programs offer a more convenient and flexible alternative to traditional campus-based programs, accommodating students who cannot or would prefer not to relocate or commute to earn their degree. These programs utilize distance learning technologies to offer all or most of their coursework online. They are generally designed to meet the needs of working professions and others who have significant commitments outside of school. Students in an online program view lectures, participate in discussion groups, and complete course assignments through a school’s learning management system (LMS), which commonly provides access to a range of educational resources and facilitates interaction with course instructors. By logging on to an LMS, students in an online master’s in PSHQ program receive the professional training and instruction that students in a campus-based program must be present in a classroom in order to complete.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Master’s in PSHQ Programs

There are several common designation for master’s programs that offer a PSHQ curriculum. These include:

  • Master of Applied Science in Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality
  • Master of Science in Health Science in Health Care Quality
  • Master of Science in Patient Safety Leadership
  • Master of Science in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety
  • Master of Science in Quality, Safety, and Risk Management in Healthcare researches programs and classifies them based on their curricula. To be included on the site, programs must be offered by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities, and they must offer all or most of their instruction online. Programs that require students to attend more than two on-campus sessions per year are not currently included on the site.

What Students Learn in an Online Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality Master’s Program

The MS in PSHQ curriculum integrates knowledge and proficiencies across several disciplines into a practical set of administrative and analytic skills that are applicable to the management and promotion of quality care in a range of clinical settings. This includes coursework in areas of public health, medical science, and organizational leadership. Students learn about the structure of healthcare organizations and roles played by various professionals within these organizations, including doctors, nurses, and administrative staff. They study the current healthcare policy and regulatory environment, ethical concerns in patient care, and the impact of these factors on quality and safety imperatives in day-to-day and strategic operations.

A major focus of the PSHQ curriculum is research in the field of risk paradigms, error prevention, and a systems approach to improving patient outcomes. This includes learning how studies are scientifically designed, conducted, and interpreted, as well as how informatics systems are used to mine data, identify problems, and inform decision-making about patient care improvements. Students typically examine PSHQ case studies critically and formulate communication and leadership strategies for the implementation of quality and safety improvement initiatives, often as apart of an applied capstone project.

Online Master’s in PSHQ Program Courses

The table below offers an overview of the types of courses that are commonly incorporated into a master’s in PSHQ curriculum. The course titles and descriptions are adapted from actual online master’s in PSHQ programs.

Course TitleCourse Description
Introduction to Healthcare QualityFundamental concepts in healthcare quality management, including systems and change theories, and patient safety initiatives conducted at varied environmental and structural levels within the US healthcare system.
The Science of Patient SafetyAn introduction to the science of safety and how it relates to problems in healthcare, with a focus on creating a framework for understanding factors that cause, mitigate, and prevent errors and improve quality of care.
Case Studies in Quality & SafetyAn examination of strategies to assess and improve quality, including the measures of structure, process, and outcome that are used for quality assessment, and those that are used for external reporting and accountability.
Building a Quality CultureAn analysis of quality and patient safety challenges, with a focus on political and environmental influences, patient safety initiatives, legal and ethical frameworks, and the influence of regulations on quality and safety.
Error Science, Risk, & DisclosureAn examination of error theory and systems thinking, methods for risk assessment and patient safety improvement, high-risk contexts for error occurrence, and the role of disclosure and reporting in promoting safety and accountability.
Communication & CollaborationAdvanced communication strategies for patient safety success, including individual and group design/presentation techniques, chain of command, critical thinking strategies and skills, stress and time management, and learning team dynamics.
Biostatistical EvidenceAn introduction to the foundations of biostatistics and statistical software programs used in clinical and translational healthcare research.
EpidemiologyAn epidemiological approach to identifying risk factors of disease, and disease prevention mechanisms, and use of descriptive studies, surveillance, and analytical studies in patient care improvements.
Health Information for Quality OutcomesTechnology and information management in the rapidly changing healthcare environment, including the use of informatics to support data-driven clinical and administrative decision-making.
Economics, Policy, & EnvironmentAn analysis and review of accreditation and regulatory issues in quality control; federal and state constituents and laws relating to patient care; and institutional and individual legal issues in the healthcare safety movement.
Creating Human & System ChangeMethods for assessing current systems and creating effective change strategies for the implementation of process improvements, behavior change, and the facilitation of a culture of patient safety within organizations.

Admissions to Online Master’s in PSHQ Programs

Admissions policies and criteria vary by program. Some online master’s in PSHQ programs extend eligibility to applicants who hold a bachelor’s in any major from an accredited college or university, while others are designed for students who have completed undergraduate coursework in biology, health sciences, nursing, or a related field. There are also programs that require or prefer students to have two or more years of professional experience in healthcare, an advanced degree in a healthcare field, or licensure in an area of professional practice. Prospective applicants should examine programs carefully to determine whether or not they meet eligibility requirements. In addition to undergraduate transcripts, applicants are typically asked to include two or more letters of recommendation and a personal goals statement as part of the application process. Some programs require GRE test scores, and applicants may be asked to submit to a formal in-person, phone, or video conferencing interview prior to admissions.

Note: Master of Science (MS) in PSHQ programs are not the same as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs with a PSHQ specialization. Applicants to an MSN program are required to hold a valid Registered Nurse (RN) license, which is not a requirement for admission to an MS in PSHQ program.

Online Master’s in PSHQ Program Formats

While online master’s programs are generally designed to be convenient and flexible enough to accommodate a range of students who may have professional obligations and other commitments outside of school, prospective applicants should be aware of several relevant variations in online program formats. For example, there are two types of online instructional methods that impact online course scheduling: synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction. There are also different part-time and full-time enrollment options that affect the time it takes to graduate from a program and the time commitment per semester. And, while there are programs that offer all of their coursework online, some programs require students to attend a limited number of campus visits that involve travel and may cause scheduling conflicts.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Instruction: Courses that utilize asynchronous instruction provide flexibility for students who would prefer to view lectures and complete coursework at their own convenience, 24-7. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component, and students are free to log on to the program’s LMS at any time of the day to engage in instructional activities. In contrast, synchronous instruction incorporates designated meeting times for lectures and other class activities. Students in a course that utilizes synchronous instruction must be prepared to be present online for scheduled classes. There are benefits to both modes of instruction: synchronous instruction provides more structure, while asynchronous instruction offers greater flexibility. Prospective applicants should be aware of the differences between these two methods of online instruction and may want to weigh the relative benefits of one or the other when choosing a program.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Full-time enrollment in a master’s in PSHQ program generally involves taking an average of three courses per term for roughly two years or four academic semesters. Some online programs adhere to an academic calendar that differs from the traditional semester system. For full-time students, this may mean taking two courses per eight-week term with four or five terms per year. Many online programs provide part-time enrollment options for students who would prefer to take fewer courses per term, and some program are only offered part-time. A student enrolled part-time in a master’s in PSHQ program may take one or two courses per semester, or one per eight-week term, which can lengthen the time to completion by six months or more.

Campus Visits: Some online programs incorporate a limited number of on-campus sessions that students are required to attend. These campus sessions, often referred to as on-campus immersions or intensives, may include seminars, workshops, networking opportunities, and other activities that have instructional and/or professional development benefits. There are also programs that offer 100% of their coursework online and do not hold on-campus sessions. does not include online master’s in PSHQ programs that require more than two campus visits per year. However, prospective applicants should be aware that on-campus sessions are required for some programs and should take this into consideration when exploring program options.