In recent years and particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, many premedical students have become interested in applying to combined M.D.-M.P.H. programs to obtain both a medical degree and a master of public health.
There are many advantages to receiving a public health degree in conjunction with a medical education. However, the decision to apply to combined programs should not be taken lightly.
The addition of a graduate public health degree to your medical education means more training time and a more rigorous schedule. It’s important for premedical students considering this dual degree option to take into account a few important points before they jump into applying for such programs.
Why Do You Want to Earn an M.P.H.
A public health degree is not for everyone, so before putting in an application for a combined program, consider your underlying motivation for seeking this degree.
Public health training gives you the skills necessary to be able to work on solving health problems on a large scale. It equips you with the tools to identify population-level 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 intention of conducting clinical trials. If you hope to have an academic medical career and conduct clinical trials, a public health degree will give you the foundational knowledge to properly design clinical studies and evaluate their results.
Others go into public health to conduct epidemiological studies alongside their clinical careers. If you’re interested in understanding the patterns of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus or determining why a certain type of cancer is more prevalent in specific populations, public health training gives you the knowledge to conduct such epidemiological studies.
Additionally, some enter public health with an interest in designing population-level programs or health policies to improve health. The knowledge you acquire from training in public health 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 programs.
M.D.-M.P.H. Programs Are Not Necessarily Less Competitive
Some med students assume that combined M.D.-M.P.H. programs are easier to get into than medical school alone, as there are fewer applicants to combined programs. However, there are also significantly fewer spots available in combined M.D.-M.P.H. programs.
At some institutions, applicants to combined M.D.-M.P.H. programs are evaluated separately by both the medical school and the school of public health. Each school uses the same criteria to evaluate applicants to the program as they would for applicants to the stand-alone program.
Even at institutions where this may not be the case, admissions committees are looking for a strong academic record, a dedication to clinical medicine and a track record of experience in public health. Without such a background, getting into combined M.D.-M.P.H. programs can be even more challenging.
Plan Early to Apply to M.D.-M.P.H. Programs
If you aim to apply to combined M.D.-M.P.H. programs, try to explore public health early in your premed career and make an informed decision about why you want 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 that area to show your commitment.
For example, if you decide that you are passionate about public health because you want to combine your medical career with epidemiology research, consider taking courses in epidemiology as a part of your premed career. In addition, find researchers in epidemiology at your university and seek opportunities to get involved in projects with them.
If, on the other hand, your interests are in health policy, you may consider finding opportunities to get involved in internships with local or federal government where you can learn more about how health policy-making takes place.
Combined Programs Are Not the Only Way to Get an M.P.H.
A combined M.D.-M.P.H. program is a great way to gain training in public health along with a medical education. However, it’s not the only way for aspiring medical doctors to receive public health training. Many med students take a leave of absence during med school to pursue a public health degree at their home institution or another institution without being in a combined program.
The latter approach offers more flexibility to complete the M.P.H. at a time convenient for you. In addition, most combined programs require students to complete both their M.D. and M.P.H. degrees at the same institution. If you choose to obtain your M.P.H. separately, you will also have the flexibility to choose where you obtain it.
Alternatively, many individuals interested in public health pursue this degree after completing their medical education. Some residency programs may offer students the opportunity to take a research year, during which interested individuals can pursue the M.P.H. degree.
M.P.H. programs also allow students to complete the degree on a part-time basis and some offer online programs. Many practicing doctors who choose to pursue public health opt for part-time programs.
If you are on the fence about whether you should apply for the combined program straight out of your premed career, holding off and completing the degree later down the road may be a better option. However, for those who know they are passionate about public health from early in their premed career, a combined M.D.-M.P.H. program may be a great way to have a dynamic learning experience where clinical medicine and public health converge.
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