In our constantly evolving healthcare environment, physicians with interdisciplinary skill sets are becoming increasingly valuable. Those graduating with dual degrees such as an MD/MPH are uniquely situated to tackle some of healthcare’s most pressing challenges, which include disparities in access to care, high costs, and controversial reform. MD/MPH programs lie at the intersection of medicine and public health, as they combine an individual patient-based approach with a wider population health perspective.
Those who pursue an MD/MPH do so for a multitude of reasons. Many utilize this additional skill set to enhance their standard, day-to-day clinical practice. According to the UNC School of Medicine, the MPH provides a broader social context, an emphasis on preventative medicine, and a focus on improving quality of care. Those pursuing this degree may also be looking for a role beyond patient care, which could include policy-making, disease prevention, health education, or health research.
Differences in Programs
It is essential to consider your professional goals when choosing where and how to complete your dual degree, as one may be a better fit for your particular interests. For example, NYU’s MD/MPH degree strongly emphasizes a global health perspective, whereas BU’s program is more flexible, offering concentrations ranging from environmental health to health policy and management. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) notes that “over 80 medical schools sponsor activities to help their medical students pursue a master’s degree in public health.” As such, it is essential for prospective students to compare various programs in order to find the right one for their specific interests and goals.
When to Apply
MD/MPH programs can also differ in a number of other ways – including when you would actually apply. At some schools, prospective students apply for the dual degree as they are applying for medical school admission, while others encourage you to apply once you have already matriculated. Still others, such as UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and UMDNJ-School of Public Healh, offer the opportunity to add the MPH degree after extending acceptance letters for the MD degree.
Length of Program
If truly integrated, the two degrees can be achieved in four years, as is the case at the University of Miami. Yet, the majority of MD/MPH students require a fifth year to obtain this additional degree. Harvard’s combined degree program requires a leave of absence from the medical school between the third and fourth years. Thus in choosing where to pursue your MD/MPH, it is important to consider your willingness to interrupt your medical training, as well as your ability to balance the demands of an accelerated program.
Now for the all-important question: how much is this going to cost you? This additional degree will likely come at an extra cost, yet financial assistance opportunities and discounted tuition are quite common. At Feinberg School of Medicine, the cost of an MPH is simply a surcharge on top of the standard medical school tuition. Other schools, such as Tulane offer their MD/MPH students both merit-based and research-based scholarships.
Is the MD/MPH Right for You?
To successfully navigate our complex healthcare environment, the AAMC cites the natural and essential overlap between medicine and public health. But despite the prevalence of MD/MPH programs, not every medical school offers one, and not every student interested in public health will pursue one. Today’s aspiring physicians will likely receive some public health education regardless of whether they are involved in an MD/MPH program or not. Many medical schools—often in addition to offering an MD/MPH—have now integrated public health concepts into their standard curriculum. Recent policy initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act, with its emphasis on preventive care and population health, further underscore the need to effectively integrate these two disciplines.
Depending on your personal interests and professional goals, an MD/MPH might very well be the right path for you. It is not only a decision about whether or not to pursue this dual degree, but also a matter of which program is the best fit.
And if you have any questions or are in need of guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway—we’re always happy to help!