New public health certificate debuts for medical students

March 1, 2018 by Molly Riegert

This article was originally published on The GW Hatchet.

Starting this summer, medical school students will be able to gain their medical degree along with a graduate certificate in public health as part of a new combined program.

The five-year combined doctor of medicine and master’s of public health program between the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Milken Institute School of Public Health has now been revised to include a certificate option, allowing students to get a combined degree faster. The certificate can be earned within the four years of medical school, as opposed to the MD/MPH program, which adds a year onto a medical education.

Officials said the combined programs will enable medical students get knowledge of both clinical practice and health policy – a skill set that medical students are increasingly seeking.

Anne Banner, a spokeswoman for SMHS, said five first-year medical students will be starting one of the combined degree programs this summer, “with enrollment growing over time.”

“Medical students at GW have increasingly expressed interest in public health,” she said in an email.

Students applying to medical school are increasingly aware of the health care environment and worsening health disparities, drawing them to a public health education, Banner said.

“These students recognize that combining their medical knowledge with an in-depth public health education will help them address these important issues,” she said.

All medical students take some public health credits, but students enrolled in the combined degree program will take additional public health courses between their third and fourth years of medical school. Certificate students will complete their public health courses in their final year of medical school, Banner said.

The MD/MPH requires 30 public health credits, in addition to 15 cross-credits from the medical program. The public health certificate can be completed with 10 credits, in addition to five cross-credits from medical school courses, according to the website.

Thomas LaVeist, a professor and chair of the health policy and management department at the public health school, said medical students often take public health courses, but now those courses will count to a master’s degree or a certificate in public health.

“Medical students are finding value in having additional training in public health,” he said. “It’s only a new program in the sense that we’ve sort of coordinated things to make it a little easier and to facilitate students who want to do the MD and MPH.”

Public health and medical school faculty have also been pushing for more cross-school partnerships in the future because the fields of health and medicine are intertwined, LaVeist added.

This combined program will appeal to a wider array of students and backgrounds because many come to GW for their interest in national and international health policies, he said.

“Having more students than those we already have – who are from the clinical field – will certainly deepen the discussions we can have,” he said.

Michael Lu, the senior associate dean for academic, student and faculty affairs at the public health school, said the combined program will give students the “toolbox to really make a difference.”

“I think it provides opportunity for medical students to really broaden their knowledge, skills and experience that will ultimately help them better serve their patients, but also help them better serve their communities,” Lu said.

Lu added that he has a medical degree and a masters in public health and has learned vital skills in health policy and practice from both.

“The MPH has made me a much better doctor and gave me a much broader perspective about population health and about social determinants of health,” he said. “The MD has made me a much more effective public health professional, just that frontline experience of taking care of patients, of addressing their needs.”

Richard Hughes, a lecturer in the health policy and management department at the public health school, said some students may benefit more from having a few years of work experience in between getting the two degrees. Hughes said he was able to have valuable work experience between his medical and public health degrees.

“I do think there is some benefit to getting these degrees separately that students might want to consider,” he said. “Each student needs to decide for his or herself the merits of doing them separately versus doing them together, and would they benefit from sort of real world practice in between degrees versus the efficiency of getting it all done.”

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