Medical Student Perspectives: The Added Value of an MPH to Your Medical Education
Are you interested in systematically improving the quality of care delivered in our health care system? Would you like to learn how to change policies in order to lessen the impact of environmental hazards on human health? Do you want to become a stronger advocate for disadvantaged populations in your community? Would you like become an expert on the application of statistics to clinical trial data? If any of these scenarios spark an interest for you or if you would like to become more proficient in these areas, perhaps you should consider pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree alongside your medical school training or even during residency.
The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) defines five core disciplines of academic public health: Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Health Services Administration, Health Education/Behavioral Science, and Environmental Science. Additional concentrations offered by many schools include International Health, Maternal and Child Health, Nutrition, Public Health Practice/Program Management, and Biomedical Laboratory Science.
In general, an MPH degree offers a perspective that may be appealing to many medical students. The public health perspective involves looking at a broader view of health than we are traditionally taught in medical school. In public health, you examine health in terms of the whole population, not just individual patients. Through an MPH, you will also learn skills that will be invaluable in your future health care practice. Some of the skills you may learn are cost-effectiveness analysis, community organizing, rigorous statistical analysis, experimental design and data collection, program development in the context of an underserved community setting, and disaster management. Both the perspective you gain and the skills you learn through an MPH program can be applied in a variety of health care settings including: hospital administration, private practice, consulting firms, public health departments, non-profit agencies, academic research facilities, and more.
The MPH curriculum goes beyond the scope of a traditional medical school curriculum and allows you to carve out a specialized niche in an area of interest that can easily complement your future career goals. I completed my MPH before medical school because I had the fortuitous opportunity of taking an introductory public health course while completing my undergraduate degree. I was engrossed with the study of health policy and management and chose this area as my field of concentration. Coursework in medical quality in particular had a profound impact on me and my interest grew throughout medical school. Now as a fourth-year medical student, I plan to combine my interests in medical quality and patient safety with cardiology through a mix of research and teaching in an academic setting. My MPH laid the foundation for this plan and taught me a unique set of skills that will be invaluable for reaching this goal.
Some of you may already attend schools with MD/MPH or DO/MPH programs and have the ability to complete an MPH concurrently with your medical degree. If not, it may be worth considering taking time off during medical school to complete an MPH at a nearby institution or even through an online program. Additionally, there are some residency programs that offer MPH degrees if you choose to wait and complete it later. If you have an interest, I suggest you go to the website of your own medical school for more information or to the ASPH website at: http://www.asph.org/.
Heidi Charvet, MPH
Council of Student Members, North Atlantic Representative
New York Medical College, 2011