In recent years, and especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, many pre-medical students have become interested in applying to combined MD-MPH programs for both a medical degree and a master’s in public health.
There are many advantages to obtaining a degree in public health in conjunction with medical education. However, the decision to apply to joint programs should not be taken lightly.
Adding a graduate degree in public health to your medical education means more training time and a tighter schedule. It is important for medical students before they consider this dual degree option to consider some important points before they jump into applying for such programs.
Why do you want to earn MPH
A public health degree is not for everyone, so before you apply for a joint program, consider your primary motivation for obtaining this degree.
Public health training gives you the skills to be able to work on health problems on a large scale. It equips you with the tools to identify population-wide health problems and their causes, measure their extent, design interventions to address them and evaluate the effectiveness of those interventions.
Many students who pursue public health do so with the intent of conducting clinical trials. If you are hoping to pursue an academic medical career and conduct clinical trials, a public health degree will give you the essential knowledge to properly design clinical studies and evaluate their outcomes.
Others go to public health for epidemiological studies along with their clinical jobs. If you are interested in understanding SARS-CoV-2 transmission patterns or determining why a particular type of cancer is common in certain populations, public health training gives you the knowledge to conduct such epidemiological studies.
In addition, some enter the field of public health with an interest in designing population-wide programs or health policies to improve health. The knowledge you gain from public health training allows you to design programs and guide policy making. It also allows you to examine the effectiveness of policies and advise governments on how to design more effective programmes.
MD-MPH programs are not necessarily less competitive
Some medical students assume that it is easier to get into combined MD-MPH programs than to get into medical school alone, as there are fewer applicants to combined programs. However, there are also a much smaller number of sites available in the combined MD-MPH programs.
At some institutions, applicants to the combined MD-MPH programs are evaluated separately by both the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health. Each school uses the same criteria for evaluating program applicants as it does for independent program applicants.
Even in institutions where this may not be the case, admissions committees look for a strong academic record, dedication to clinical medicine, and a proven track record of public health expertise. Without this background, entry into the combined MD-MPH programs can be more difficult.
Plan early to apply to MD-MPH programs
If you aim to apply to combined MD-MPH programs, try to explore public health early in your previous career and make an informed decision as to why you would like to follow this path. If you decide that the combined degree option is right for you, find out which aspect of public health interests you and gain experience in the field to demonstrate your commitment.
For example, if you decide that you are passionate about public health because you want to combine your medical career with epidemiological research, consider taking epidemiology courses as part of your previous career. In addition, find researchers in epidemiology at your university and look for opportunities to participate in projects with them.
On the other hand, if your interests are in health policy, you may consider finding opportunities to engage in an internship with local or federal government where you can learn more about how health policy is made.
Bundled software isn’t the only way to get MPH
The combined MD-MPH program is a great way to obtain training in public health alongside medical education. However, this is not the only way for aspiring physicians to receive training in public health. Many medical students take time off during middle school to pursue a public health degree at their home institution or other institution without being in a joint program.
The latter approach provides more flexibility to complete the MPH at a time convenient for you. In addition, most joint programs require students to complete both the MD and MPH degrees at the same institution. If you choose to get your MPH separately, you also have the flexibility to choose where to get it.
Alternatively, many individuals interested in public health pursue this degree after completing their medical education. Some residency programs may provide students with the opportunity to take a research year, during which interested individuals can pursue a master’s degree in public health.
MPH programs also allow students to complete the degree on a part-time basis and some offer online programs. Many medical practitioners who choose to pursue public health opt for part-time programs.
If you’re on the fence about whether you should apply for the joint program directly from your previous career, deferring and completing the degree later down the road may be a better option. However, for those who know they are passionate about public health early in their previous career, a combined MD-MPH program may be a great way to have a dynamic educational experience where clinical medicine and public health converge.
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