Med students join the fast track to public health career
From the start of this year, Monash University began offering a unique opportunity to study a combined Doctor of Medicine / Master of Public Health degree. The program provides students with a fast-tracked way to get a taste of a different area of healthcare, greatly improve their ability to undertake and assess medical research, and will give them a competitive edge over their colleagues.
Completing an MPH helps medical students understand health in a broader community context that complements the narrower, individual-focused health taught in their medical degrees. Students are trained in the full range of research, analytical and communications skills necessary for leadership in public health.
The six-year program comprises four years of BMedSc/MD, followed by one year of MPH and ending with a final year of BMedSc/MD, shaving six months off usual time to complete both qualifications.
Student Susannah Westbury is currently undertaking the MPH year of the program and is grateful that it allows her to explore public health in more detail.
“Public health was always on the periphery within my MD degree, with clinical studies and anatomy having always been the main focus. The MPH allows me to see the bigger picture of medicine, looking at the whole public health system in its entirety. I have gained a greater understanding of the determinants of health and learnt more about why diseases and illnesses occur and how socioeconomic factors underlie these issues,” she said.
Susannah believes the MPH has provided her with a much clearer understanding of research methodology and statistical analysis, giving her a greater ability to interpret research papers.
She’s enjoying the program and the immense support from staff during the pandemic.
“It is fun, it’s been lovely having very active online forums and coordinators that are so involved. The coordination team have done a great job making a big cohort feel like a community, especially during such trying times.”
The MPH has allowed her to pursue research in global health, collaborating with supervisors from Warwick University. Her project is a systematic review exploring the associations between aspects of the food environment and dietary, nutritional and health outcomes in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries.
Susannah recommends the program to other medical students “especially those who have enjoyed the research and public health units in medicine, are interested in expanding their knowledge and enjoy being at university”. It would especially benefit students “who like writing and thinking, not just memorising, and who want a different kind of year that results in receiving a fantastic and relevant qualification”.
Fellow MD/MPH student Edward Meehan said he was already considering studying an MPH and this program “was the fastest way to do it”.
“I was worried that the workload might be too high but it has definitely been manageable. The content is really interesting, we cover only basic biostatistics in medicine, so the master degree really expanded my knowledge in statistics,” he said.
“Most medical students probably won’t end up working in public health but the principles are applicable to any field of medicine. Social determinants of health, being able to read a research paper and understand it – I think that’s all very relevant,”
Like Susannah, Edward believes the MPH has developed his research skills and kindled a strong interest in him. Upon graduating, he’d like to pursue research in public health alongside a clinical career.
He’s researching social prescription and is also supervised by an academic from Warwick University. He’s evaluating a program in the UK whereby GPs prescribe social interventions as an alternative to medicines.
“The pandemic that we are currently living through has really highlighted how relevant public health is more than ever before. I think the skills that we learn in this Master will only become more relevant and appreciated going forward into the future,” Ms Westbury said.
“Public health is the field of medicine where you can have the most impact on the largest number of people.”