Value of MD/MPH

Value of an MPH to Medical Students 

The MPH degree provides medical students with an introduction to the population sciences. This introduction prepares students with the information and skills required to critically approach and explore issues surrounding healthcare. The School of Medicine trains students to treat individual patients. The School of Public Health broadens this perspective to focus on groups (ie, “populations”) of people as well as individuals. 

The MPH degree provides more than a new way of viewing health issues. It is also an eminently practical degree. The value of medical students or physicians getting an MPH can be considered in at least three ways:

  1. Value in caring for individual patients

  2. Value in making a positive contribution to the health of the public

  3. Value in training to participate in clinical research.


Caring for individual patients

Some medical students and physicians may believe that people getting an MPH degree are looking for a way to leave clinical medicine to practice “public health." The fact of the matter is that the great majority of clinical people getting an MPH at UNC are NOT leaving clinical medicine. Instead, they are seeking a way to practice clinical medicine more effectively. 

An MPH makes clinicians more effective in the clinical setting. MPH students learn how to:

  1. Critically read and evaluate medical literature. This helps clinicians know which research findings to apply to their own patients. The MPH teaches the reasoning that goes into determining the extent to which research findings can be extrapolated to a specific patient, and whether the benefits outweigh the harms.
  2. Approach concepts such as quality of health care and access to health care. Individual patients will not benefit optimally if the health care they receive is not accessible or of high quality. MPH training helps clinicians understand these concepts and organize care so as to optimize access and quality for individual patients.
  3. Integrate preventative medicine in their practice. Given the critical role of prevention medicine, it is important for clinicians to consider the problems of prioritizing preventive care interventions and how to actually provide the most appropriate preventive care to each patient.

Making a positive contribution to the health of the public

We are all in clinical medicine because we want to have a positive impact on the health of the public. We are taught in medical school how to care for individuals. These are important lessons we should not forget. However, there are many examples where both the problem and solution lie outside the physician’s office: domestic violence; obesity; heart disease; HIV/AIDS; many types of cancer. Many clinicians, in fact, are frustrated by their lack of ability to have a greater impact on their patients’ health.

Within this context, it becomes easier to see the similar goals of public health professionals and clinicians. These are not totally different disciplines, but rather groups of professionals working in different places in different ways but toward the same ends. Public health training for clinicians provides a new set of eyes and a new set of tools by which to optimize one’s impact on the health of the public. The health care leaders of tomorrow will be people who can think BOTH in terms of individuals (as taught by the medical school) and in terms of groups (as taught by the School of Public Health). 

With the MPH, a clinician can begin to have an impact beyond the medical encounter. He can work with others in the community (including public health professionals and community members) toward preventing disease and improving health in various sites and ways. The MD-MPH has an important role to play with others interested in health in efforts to better understand health problems and find the best ways to deal with them, whether on the local, state, or national levels. 


Training to participate in clinical research

A misconception of the MPH degree is that it is primarily a research degree. The fact is that many people getting an MPH never intend to conduct clinical research. Yet the MPH can also be the beginning of a career in clinical research, either as a primary focus or as a participant in research projects from a career focused primarily on patient care or teaching. Just as the MPH teaches one to critically appraise the health care literature (thus becoming an informed consumer of research evidence), the same training also teaches one how to develop new evidence that is valid, reliable, and useful. 

The MPH is flexible so that clinicians interested in conducting research in such areas as clinical epidemiology, treatment, risk factors, or health services organization (and others) can take courses that prepare them for these types of careers. Indeed, it is difficult for many young researchers to establish themselves as researchers without either an MPH or similar training. 

Thus, although an interest in conducting research is NOT a prerequisite to getting an MPH, an MPH is a terrific entrée into the research arena.