While a signature followed by MD, Doctor of Medicine, or MPH, Master in Public Health was regarded as a symbol of prestige and ambition prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, it has now become an asset of global importance.
Even before the pandemic, a study showed that the number of students pursuing an MD/MPH degree rose by 434% between 2010 and 2018. Medical degrees with public health components have always been important – it is only now, when confronted with a medical crisis, that we value them even more.
The pandemic has not only shown the importance of an MPH degree, but it has also changed the way we acquire it. Both the University of Illinois and Wayne State University shortened their respective five-year MD/MPH program to four years and cited the pandemic as the reason for the change.
In this article, we will explain the practical and educational value of an MD/MPH degree, discuss its career benefits, and rank the top universities offering the MD/MPH degree. Finally, we will provide ambitious students with tips on getting accepted.
The MD/MPH dual degree trains medical students in patient and population health. Exposure to a combination of theoretical, clinical, and fieldwork teaches students a full spectrum of care: from an understanding of the social, political, economic, and global issues surrounding admitted patients to the clinical procedures and treatments addressing their symptoms.
Prospective students may sometimes apply to both MD and MPH degrees in the same application cycle. Schools allowing simultaneous applications to both programs include Johns Hopkins, Tufts, and NYU. Other schools, such as Harvard and Vanderbilt, require students to be in their second or third year of medical school before making another application to the MPH degree. Here is a list breaking down the variety of application timelines available at the top medical schools in the US:
It is possible for students accepted to the two programs to graduate from both degrees during the regular 4-year medical school timeline. At Tufts, for example, the curriculum for public health “is integrated into the regular MD track so that combined degree students complete their MD requirements in the same sequence as their traditional MD colleagues.”
This is made possible by granting students the ability to follow their MPH courses on “Tuesday afternoons during their first two years.” Northwestern, too, makes room for MPH courses in the form of evening classes. Like the University of Illinois, it makes sure students can complete their MD and their MPH degrees in four years.
Most schools, however, require students to spend five years to finish both degrees. Some of these schools still create a blended-learning environment where students alternate between their MD and MPH components. The Perelman School of Medicine (UPenn) has summarized its own MD/MPH scheduling approach:
“Completion of the two degrees separately would require six years, but the MD/MPH can be completed in five years with careful planning. Students are enrolled in the MD program full time for the first three years and in MPH course work full time during year 4. Then in year 5, students will do a semester of Medical School in Fall and a semester in the MPH Program in Spring.”
Though many schools follow UPenn’s approach to mixed learning, other institutions prefer to keep curricula separate. At Harvard, for example, students are welcome to take a leave of absence from their MD program to complete their MPH degree. Likewise, the University of Wisconsin only offers two chances for students to complete their MPH program: “either the year prior to starting medical school or between Phase Two and Phase Three of medical school.”
If you prefer UPenn’s learning approach, make sure to check Inspira Advantage’s definitive guide on getting into Perelman.
An MD/MPH degree opens a larger career horizon for medical students. The NYU School of Medicine has made clear the bright career outlook for graduates from the dual degree:
“Career options for MD/MPH students are wide-ranging and limited only by a student’s own interests, backgrounds, and ambitions. Students might go on to such positions as commissioner of a health department, director/president of an NGO, senior executive at a healthcare institution, clinician in a developing country, or working with immigrant populations in the U.S. Students who pursue clinical medicine may continue to be involved in advocacy or policy development on local or global issues.”
A review of the current landscape of MD/MPH holders – notably in the private sector –confirms NYU’s projection. The founder and CEO of Health Begins, a strategic consulting firm in the medical world, holds a dual MD/MPH degree from Tufts. Likewise, Adaptive Phage Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company addressing infectious diseases, recently appointed Robert Hopkins, MD, MPH, as its Medical Chief Officer.
Graduates with a dual degree also pursued leadership positions. The following individuals hold MD/MPH degrees:
Finally, additional background in public health has naturally brought medical practitioners to serve the public itself. Recently, Joe Biden appointed Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Salaries, especially when serving these esteemed public positions, are usually high. Among the top 10 earners in 2020 in Ontario, Canada, according to the provincial public sector disclosure list, four public health doctors are included with major earnings:
In the US, salaries for medical experts in top public positions can be even higher. According to Forbes, Anthony Fauci made $417,608 in 2019 as Director of the National Institute for Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, more than the $400,000 salary of the President of the United States.
For students indecisive about whether an MD/MPH degree is worth it, we have summarized the benefits and considerations applicants should be pondering.
An MD/MPH dual degree grounds medical students in a more interdisciplinary curriculum that will make them well-rounded doctors.
The University of Wisconsin offers courses such as Evidence-Based Decision-Making and Communicating Public Health Effectively to help medical students develop their business, data, and media skills, which are not usually part of a traditional medical school experience.
As the Keck School of Medicine of USC notes about their joint MD/MPH program, it is “designed for individuals who wish to acquire not only medical practice competencies, but also an understanding of the history, organization, goals and philosophy of public health.”
Another benefit is a stronger application for residency programs. Northwestern notes how their MD/MPH program “is designed for students who wish to complete the MD and MPH degrees within four years, making them highly competitive for residencies, fellowships and research opportunities.”
In addition, there are career-advancing benefits to the demography-oriented courses included in MPH curriculums: Stanford Medicine, for example, offers Ethnicity and Medicine and Caring for Individuals with Disabilities. Hospitals located in multicultural cities are more likely to accept graduating medical students that understand the range of socio-economic contexts underlying their day-to-day work.
One obvious disadvantage of an MD/MPH degree is the likelihood of higher expenses. Since many dual programs will require students to remain at school for an extra year, supporting oneself might be a challenge in the absence of scholarships. Students worried about expenses should check Inspira Advantage’s definitive guide on landing a scholarship from a top medical school.
These students might want to apply to the dual degrees completed in the regular timeline of four years. Students who would like to enter medical school first and earn another related degree ‘down the line’ should also consider these programs; they might find it costlier to defer their education. As the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has noted about the economic rationale of its joint program:
“The MD/MPH dual degree program provides a cost-effective option for those interested in earning both degrees. Students are charged three full years of MD Program tuition and one year of MPH Program tuition. For their fifth year, they are charged half a year of MD Program tuition and half a year of MPH Program tuition.”
In the long run, an MPH degree can signal trust to future patients and make medical practitioners who hold such a public-oriented degree more attractive in certain communities. Dr. Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH, an alumnus of the University of Illinois’s dual degree, has summed up the benefits she eventually found in her academic training:
“The MPH behind my name tells my community they can rely on me to consider what’s best for the entire population, not just individuals in my exam room. My courses in public health helped me see the big picture more clearly and understand the effects of social determinants of health on individual outcomes. I also gained specific skills on how to communicate health risks at the community level, how to use the public health infrastructure to help my patients, and I am much better at analyzing the medical literature.”
We have ranked in the top 10 MD/MPH programs. We based our ranking on three factors:
A primary takeaway from the Covid-19 pandemic for prospective MD/MPH students is the central role numbers, and rates play in public health. Biostatistics is a common course in these dual programs.
Students should showcase in their applications their ability to navigate quantitative methods. Harvard Medical School’s Quantitative Methods course, for example, “emphasizes study design, data analysis, and the application of quantitative methods within the context of epidemiology, biostatistics, decision sciences, demography, and program evaluation.”
These quantitative methods are so central to MD/MPH programs that Rutgers University even requires a “quantitative skill assessment screening test to help identify students who may have a weak math background or lack quantitative preparation.” A decision-making process drawing from a set of data is crucial for the case of a patient – but it is even more so when it is a question of a whole population.
The admissions essay component is a great place for prospective students to demonstrate their commitment to social good. The availability of courses such as Social Justice and Public Health: Tools and Models at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health or Health & Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shows the extent to which the admissions committee are interested in social commitments for prospective students.
Students should show their desire to make the world a better place and demonstrate a clear understanding of how and where social change takes place. For admissions into an MD/MPH degree, competitive applications emphasize practical experiences outside typical institutions like academic hubs or hospitals.
The Tufts University School of Medicine indeed requires MD/MPH students to “complete a 200-hour field experience in the summer between their first and second year.” Similarly, the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has a required two-course sequence called Applied Practice Experience (APEx), which includes “160 hours of practice work at a site with a faculty supervisor.” Illinois-bound students should make sure to check Inspira Advantage’s definitive guide on getting into Feinberg.
A dual degree inherently requires students to tap into different strengths which cannot be included in the curriculum of a single degree.
It is therefore important for applicants to convince the admissions committee that their curious nature can stretch itself onto two different approaches to learning about health. Applicants who can express why they relish in the sharp contrast between these two viewpoints are more likely to attract attention than students who clearly show a slight bias or sympathy for one of them.
Balance is, therefore, key to an application for an MD/MPH degree – or what social scientists call a life course approach. The University of Nebraska Medical Center even offers a course about it, and defines the term as follows:
“Such an approach addresses not only the health status at each stage of the lifespan, but the influence that health in one stage has in subsequent stages. A life course approach also considers the determinants of health – biological, behavioral, socio-cultural, and environmental – as well as the influence of policies and politics on the health status of mothers, children, adolescents, and families.”
Prospective students should explain to the admissions committee how they will be adopting a life course approach to medical school in general, seeing the need for continuity, dialogue, and critical intersections between seemingly-disparate disciplines and degrees.
Some schools permit students to defer their medical school acceptance to finish an MPH degree. Schools as varied as Harvard University, Thomas Jefferson University, and the New York Medical College permit deferrals on that basis. Boston-bound students should check Inspira Advantage’s definitive guide on getting into Harvard Medical School.
Typically, yes, but concentrations vary between schools. Emory University offers concentrations in Behavioral Sciences and Health or Health Policy and Management but not Women’s & Reproductive Health like Johns Hopkins. And schools like Tufts do not offer concentrations at all, opting for a generalist program. Students with specific interests in public health should do their due diligence before choosing their preferred schools.
Yes. Since it is a dual degree, you have twice as many destinations: medical schools and public health departments. The MPH program often involves fieldwork in the summer – credits you can complete in another country.
Students in difficult financial situations may want to check out NYU’s MD/MPH dual degree. Not only are all students admitted to NYU Grossman School of Medicine automatic recipients of full scholarships, but they would also have the time- and cost-effective option of pursuing the school’s accelerated three-year MD pathway. Subject to approval, this pathway would allow them to finish the MD/MPH dual degree in normal time.
Usually, choosing one degree over the other will not be a problem when the time to accept offers from schools comes. That said, students will sometimes be unable to change their minds after accepting admission into the MD/MPH program. Tufts, for example, is strict about that requirement: “You should accept our MD/MPH offer only if you are committed to enrolling in the program.”
Medical students who want to be exposed to elements from the MPH program could consider pursuing a certificate or summer school in public health. NYU, for example, offers an Advanced Certificate in Public Health, open to “students who are interested in the NYU Master of Public Health (MPH) degree but are unable to enroll in or attend an in-person program at this time.”
In brief, an MD/MPH dual degree is a great academic pathway for students eager to tap into different strengths, disciplines, and continents. In a globalized world, and especially with the ongoing pandemic, we are learning more and more the importance of doctors beyond borders, geographical and disciplinary.
The use of an MD/MPH is not merely attractive for medical practitioners who would like the possibility of pursuing their careers elsewhere. As the Tufts University School of Medicine tells its prospective students, “some physicians never use their MPH for work separate from their clinical work, but rather use their MPH to be a somewhat different, and we would say better, clinician.”