The MD/MPH Option

Is It Right For You?

It has been clear for many years to public health professionals that many health problems are rooted in social issues and that these problems must be addressed using the tools of public health. Just as it is important for physicians to understand how the human body works from the organism down to the sub-molecular level, it is also important for them to understand how the human being works from the organism "up" to the global level.

With that in mind, there are many opportunities for pursuing both an MPH (Masters of Public Health) and an MD. MPH programs include study into epidemiology, biostatistics, planning and management, international health, bioethics, public health law, environmental and occupational health, and the social and behavioral sciences. Most schools with joint programs recognize the confluence of the two fields and allow both programs to be completed in five years or fewer.

Johns Hopkins, for instance, allows for a leave of absence after the second or third year of medical school for the student to complete the core requirements of the MPH program. Columbia, Yale, and Rochester offer similar five-year programs; Rochester allows the student to complete the core MPH requirements before beginning medical school so as to follow a normal medical student timeline. Some schools, such as Tufts and Northwestern, allow a joint MD/MPH degree within the timeframe of a four-year medical degree. Northwestern accomplishes this by allowing medical students to pursue their MPH part-time by taking evening classes, while Tufts integrates the program directly into the curriculum. Many other schools not listed here also offer four- or five-year MD/MPH programs.

Adding an MPH to an MD gives a student an incredible range of options after graduation. Having a broad understanding of health care and clinical models makes MD/MPH degree recipients sought after for jobs in public health administration, policy and research, as well as standard residency programs. And with the ability to complete both degrees in four or five years, it is not only an interesting, relevant, and widely applicable course of study — it's a feasible option as well.