A Master’s in Public Health is a great degree to learn the fundamentals of public health. An MPH can open doors for you and can bolster your career as a physician in many ways. However, if you are thinking that getting a Master’s degree in Public Health will get you into medical school, I would advise against it. Only get an MPH degree if you are passionate about public health and willing to invest not only your time, but also your money.
Benefits of Getting an MPH
Public health is all about conceptualizing health issues on a population basis. Getting your MPH allows you to think about systemic problems differently as your training is in a population-based approach rather than focusing on an individual. If you want to improve health on a population level and not person-to-person as a healthcare professional usually does, you should look into obtaining this degree.
You most likely will take courses in epidemiology and biostatistics that may allow you the ability to analyze research more thoroughly. Even though I was in research labs as an undergraduate, I never truly understood how to correctly read and analyze research articles until I started taking these courses. You will gain skills that will allow you the opportunity to develop and implement health solutions. If you want to learn more about health policy, whether it’s the economics or analytic side, you’ll be able to do just that.
You will also have more career options available to you as you go through your medical journey. It may allow you to work in different avenues of healthcare rather than just clinical. Your networking will also be more extensive. Having an MPH may give you more power and credibility in the public health sector than having a medical degree alone.
When should I get my MPH?
Option 1: Before Medical School
I chose to get my MPH before applying to medical school because I wanted to work full-time while obtaining my degree. I wanted to acquire the ability to view medicine from different population perspectives, such as social or economics. Earning my MPH allowed me to focus on the end goal without getting burned out by the medical school curriculum.
While it will be an asset to your medical school application, having an MPH will not give you a one-way ticket to acceptance. However, if you are taking time off before medical school and you are actively interested in public health, then I would recommend going for it. If you do not like school, and you want only to receive your medical education, then another degree may not be worth it in the long run. The most apparent limitation if you choose this route is financing. It can be costly, especially if your program does not allow you to both work and go to school full-time. Let your institution know if you are going to be continuing to medical school following completion so you can work out repayment plans or any financial aid.
Option 2: During Medical School (aka a Dual Degree)
If you genuinely want an MPH and do not want to take time off between undergraduate and medical school, getting a joint degree may be the best option for you. It also may be a cheaper solution than earning an MPH before you enroll in medical school. Sometimes the tuition does not increase, or they may offer you more scholarships. Another pro is the potential to break up your med school load with your public health courses. Furthermore, tying in your public health education with what you are learning in medical school may help you avoid burnout by reminding you of the bigger picture. If you complete your MPH during medical school, it may open up doors to work on public health projects that are more specifically related to medicine within your institution.
Since you will be enrolling in two higher education programs, there may be additional stress that you will encounter. Also, there may be fewer or crammed MPH courses as sometimes the curriculum is shortened to fit into medical school. Usually, the options are to complete your degree the year between 2nd and 3rd, or you may choose after 4th year. Some medical schools also allow you to complete your MPH during summers. This may take away from other opportunities such as research, studying, or even a break. Also, not every medical school offers dual degree programs, so make sure you do your research!
Option 3: After Medical School
You can also get your MPH during residency or even afterward. The physicians I know who have chosen this option realized their passion for public health during medical school and then decided to get their MPH to help tailor their goals. I also know some older physicians who have been practicing medicine for years and then realized they wanted to create systemic changes in healthcare and then decided to pursue an MPH to support their work. Other reasons to wait until after medical school could be that your residency program or institution may pay for your MPH, you get a break from practicing medicine, or it may be an excellent time to start a family when completing this type of education.
Is It Worth It?
If you want an MPH, then get it. Do not get it as an accolade on your medical school applications. Do not do it to have three letters behind your name. My most sound advice is not to get it because you think it will get you into medical school. An MPH is NOT necessary to practice medicine. You can still serve the vulnerable and underserved populations without this degree. Many MD/DOs do research, policy, or public health work without additional degrees.
Do it because the return of investment is worth it in your eyes. Do it because you believe that getting an MPH will allow you to create the change you envision. The phrase “is it worth it” is entirely subjective. Do what you love, and you will accomplish great things in medicine with or without an MPH.