Joint MD/MPH program in College of Medicine approved

Students can earn medical and master of public health degrees in five years

The College of Medicine has received approval to begin a five-year joint Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health (MD/MPH) program beginning in January 2022.

The new joint program adds to the college’s offerings of an MPH, that was established in 2008 and certified by the Council on Education for Public Health, and baccalaureate and associate’s degree programs created earlier this year. The MD/MPH program will be led by Whitney Bryant, MD, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. Bryant obtained her MPH degree from the Mailman School of Public Health during her first year of medical school at Columbia University.

Bryant says that the need for physicians with public health training has exploded with the coronavirus pandemic, and comes following a period when an insufficient number of physicians received training in public health.

“We clearly need to rebuild large swarths of public health in our country. I would argue that the pendulum swung too far away from having enough physicians with training in public health. I think it’s time to start moving back in the other direction,” Bryant says. “I think people who complete this program will be a vital part of that team.”

Students will take the usual medical courses during their first two years in the new program while also completing a two-semester longitudinal course, “History and Ethics of Public Health.” Following the students’ third year of medical school, or clinical clerkship year, they will be enrolled as graduate students in the MPH program for summer, fall and spring terms. During this year they will take 30 credits in the public health curriculum, with core topics such as epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health policy and social determinates of health. Students also will select one of seven concentrations offered by the MPH program: biostatistics, environmental public health, epidemiology, global health, health education and promotion, health services management and occupational public health.

Dr. Whitney Bryant

Whitney Bryant, MD

A centerpiece of the program is the Applied Practice Experience, which includes 120 hours of public health practice working with a community organization or research group. A thesis, or capstone, is started during the public health year and finished during the program’s fifth year, the student’s final year of medical study.

“I see this as a career accelerator for people who want to both practice medicine and practice public health,” Bryant says. “That can mean a lot of different things such as occupational health, health policy, and leading departments, hospitals and health systems. People also can work at the state or county level in public health. There are a lot of avenues that students may be interested in pursuing.”

Charles Doarn, professor in the Department of Environmental and Public Health Sciences and director of the MPH program, was extremely pleased to have the MD/MPH program approved to broaden the current MPH program.

portrait of Charles Doarn

Charles Doarn

“The addition of this opportunity for our medical students will provide an excellent foundation and enable individuals to address systematic problems with the health care system,” Doarn says. “While health care is in the business of treating illness and injury, it is also part of a larger ecosystem, one that requires competent understanding and effective tools in the five pillars of public health: biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental public health, health education and promotion, and health services management.

“The MD/MPH program will enrich the educational experience for all students by increasing the experiential breadth and diversity of students,” he continued. “Physicians with a dual degree will be able to not only address an individual’s health needs, but also possess a strong foundation on addressing population needs as a whole. By providing additional skills such as leadership, policy development and epidemiology, these future physicians will be better prepared, which benefits the discipline of medicine and society as a whole.”

Bryant says the pandemic has exposed the public to the importance of public health and demonstrated its importance. “Who would have thought that epidemiology would be a cool, sexy topic before the pandemic, but now it’s something where the broader public has a sense of what an epidemiologist does.”

“The idea is to have a program that introduces medical students beyond the MD curriculum to public health ideas, show them how it could benefit their career and really start to foster, advise and mentor them and connect them with people who are physicians practicing public health as well to get them on a path that hopefully fits with their career goals,” Bryant adds.

It is anticipated that about 10 to 15 medical students each year will enroll in the MD/MPH program with hopes that the numbers will grower larger in coming years. The MPH program’s current faculty are expected to be able to handle the initial medical students added to the program. Surveys from last year’s first- and second-year medical classes indicate significant interest in the joint program. Beth Steiner, a medical student entering her second-year at the College of Medicine, is eager to enroll in the new program.

portrait of Beth Steiner

Second-year medical student Beth Steiner

“I believe that the scope of the practice of medicine can and should go beyond clinic walls,” Steiner says. “Individuals in our community are impacted by health policy and the social determinants of health on a daily basis, an idea that has been made much more evident in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to be a physician who not only accompanies my patients through their medical journey, but also one who advocates for policies and changes that can improve my patients’ health and medical care in a larger context. I believe that studying public health will give me the tools and knowledge to do just that and obtaining this degree will help give me a foundation of knowledge and skills that will make me a better physician and advocate.”

Steiner says she plans to select the global health concentration as part of the public health studies and would like to conduct global public health research. She adds that she also is impressed with the interdisciplinary nature of the program and is excited that the college has launched it.

“I am very grateful for the hard work that so many wonderful faculty members have put into making this program a reality,” she says. “I feel as though the education made available through this program will make a lasting impact on the lives of the medical students who enroll in it, as well as the lives of the patients and communities that they will serve over the course of their careers.”

Featured image of Whitney Bryant, MD, and Beth Steiner in the UC College of Medicine courtesy of Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand