Combined MD, Masters of Public Health Degree Offers Students a Diverse Medical Education Focused on Public Health, Policy
For medical students with a special interest in public health issues and policy, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine offers the combined Doctor of Medicine/Master of Public Health (MD/MPH) degree. MD/MPH students are taught alongside health care professionals and doctoral students in biological and social sciences and have the opportunity to apply their newly acquired skills among the diverse communities that make up the greater Chicago area.
The program, which currently enrolls 53 students, is fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health and has many ties to the public health community in the Chicago area, throughout the country, and internationally. Also, Feinberg is home to one of only a small number of MD/MPH programs that can be completed in four years.
“Students enter the program because they are interested in being physicians who make a difference for entire communities in addition to treating individual patients,” says Rowland W. Chang, MD, MPH, professor of preventive medicine, medicine, and physical medicine and rehabilitation, and director of the Feinberg MPH program. “They see themselves as future educators, advocates, activists, and change agents. Our students are interested in studying risk factors for disease and evaluating treatment effectiveness. “
Chang says graduates of Feinberg’s MD/MPH program pursue every imaginable field â from those that are closely associated with public health, such as pediatrics, general internal medicine, family medicine, and obstetrics/gynecology, to those that may seem less connected, like radiology, anesthesiology, and surgical specialties such as orthopedics and urology. Many graduates complete fellowships and eventually accept positions in academic medicine.
“Some of our students go beyond the immediate area to obtain public health experience in Africa, Asia and Latin America,” says Chang. “Our former students are spread throughout the United States and some have even served abroad in places like Malawi, Sudan, and Antarctica.”
The MD/MPH degrees are offered through Northwestern University’s Program in Public Health (PPH), which educates students in a wide variety of graduate programs, spanning the boundaries between public health and other fields. The PPH program is housed in the Feinberg Department of Preventive Medicine â a leader in epidemiology, health promotion and disease prevention research for over 35 years.
“Besides promoting healthy living and advocating for public policies aimed at improving the health of populations, the Department of Preventive Medicine is engaged in preparing a public health and medicine workforce for the 21st century,” says Chang.
Erika Wallender, a third year MD/MPH student, is training to be a part of that workforce.
“I find it impossible to think about medicine without considering the positive impact addressing prevention can have on health,” says Wallender. “Public health training gives us the tools to both understand and intervene in more diverse and creative ways than understanding medicine alone.”
During her undergraduate years, Wallender volunteered for a needle exchange program and became a hepatitis counselor for injection drug users. It was this experience â working on a public health intervention to prevent HIV and hepatitis in a medically underserved community â that sparked her desire to integrate public health and medicine.
“Feinberg provided the perfect opportunity to combine the MD and MPH degrees,” says Wallender. “Few schools offer the combined degrees in four years, not only reducing the cost of an MPH, but also allowing me to continue developing my public health skills with expert mentorship over four years rather than just one.”
Balancing the demands of both the medical and public health curricula can be tricky, Wallender says, but faculty members and fellow classmates help her keep her equilibrium.
“I have a close bond with the other MD/MPH students. We have lively discussions, support each other, learn from each other, and are all passionate about public health,” says Wallender. “Also, the public health faculty are accessible and invested in our success.”
Wallender is currently interested in specializing in infectious diseases and hopes to have a significant component of epidemiological research in her career. She has even applied to a one year fellowship in epidemiology, which may extend her studies to five years.
“As I learn how to conduct and critique the research that is the basis of medical practice and study the strategies used to prevent illness, I feel like I am gaining a more complete view of the medical field,” says Wallender. “I know that this knowledge will open doors for me in the future.”