Open Access Research article

A systematic review of outcome and impact of Master’s in health and health care

Prisca AC Zwanikken1*, Marjolein Dieleman2, Dulani Samaranayake3, Ngozi Akwataghibe4 and Albert Scherpbier5

Author Affiliations

1 Area Leader Education, Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Department of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka

4 ENAULD Health Research and Services, The Hague, The Netherlands

5 Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

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BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:18  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-18

Published: 7 February 2013



The ‘human resources for health’ crisis has highlighted the need for more health (care) professionals and led to an increased interest in health professional education, including master’s degree programmes. The number of these programmes in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) is increasing, but questions have been raised regarding their relevance, outcome and impact. We conducted a systematic review to evaluate the outcomes and impact of health-related master’s degree programmes.


We searched the databases Scopus, Pubmed, Embase, CINAHL, ERIC, Psychinfo and Cochrane (1999 - November 2011) and selected websites. All papers describing outcomes and impact of health-related Master programmes were included. Three reviewers, two for each article, extracted data independently. The articles were categorised by type of programme, country, defined outcomes and impact, study methods used and level of evidence, and classified according to outcomes: competencies used in practice, graduates’ career progression and impact on graduates’ workplaces and sector/society.


Of the 33 articles included in the review, most originated from the US and the UK, and only one from a low-income country. The programmes studied were in public health (8), nursing (8), physiotherapy (5), family practice (4) and other topics (8). Outcomes were defined in less than one third of the articles, and impact was not defined at all. Outcomes and impact were measured by self-reported alumni surveys and qualitative methods. Most articles reported that competencies learned during the programme were applied in the workplace and alumni reported career progression or specific job changes. Some articles reported difficulties in using newly gained competencies in the workplace. There was limited evidence of impact on the workplace. Only two articles reported impact on the sector. Most studies described learning approaches, but very few described a mechanism to ensure outcome and impact of the programme.


Evidence suggests that graduates apply newly learned competencies in the field and that they progress in their career. There is a paucity of well-designed studies assessing the outcomes and impact of health-related master’s degree programmes in low- and middle-income countries. Studies of such programmes should consider the context and define outcomes and impact.

Master’s degree programmes; Evaluation; Outcomes; Impact; Systematic review; Public health