The Making of a Doctor in Public Health

For centuries, physicians have focused on helping sick people become well again. As scientific knowledge accumulates and new diseases emerge, the amount of information they must master as medical students grows and becomes more complex. Yet only a small part slice of medical education deals with the prevention of disease and maintenance of good health at the community level.

Theodora (“Teddie”)Brandonwants something different. So instead of joining her classmates for the third year of medical school, she will spend this year earning a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree at theUniversityofGeorgia. .

She is the first and only student at the young Georgia Health Sciences University-University ofGeorgiaMedical Partnership to take this path. And although that can be lonely at times,Brandonis driven by her long-term desire to be an epidemiologist with a major public health agency, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

 She figured it was now or never. “I know that after I become a physician it would be hard for me to come back to school,” she said, “so I might as well do it now.”

Brandon’s choice is respected by her classmates and by faculty at the medical school and theCollegeofPublic Health, who realize that the world needs more physicians who are also expert in health policy and public health.

Important people have helped. Campus Dean Barbara Schuster worked with public health faculty to devise a one-year MPH program forBrandon.

          “As I support each medical student to follow his or her passion, I fully support Teddie,” said Dean Schuster. Having MD and MPH degrees will giveBrandon“the opportunity to view healthcare with a multi-focal lens.”

Many medical students find public health education dull in comparison to the exciting advances in biomedical sciences reported every week, they may not see health policy or population-wide interventions as their job.

Decades of research show that much of a person’s health status is determined by economic and social conditions, primarily poverty and resulting problems such as poor nutrition and inadequate shelter. A recent study of medical schools around the world showed that faculty members have tried to increase awareness of social factors among medical students.

However, almost everywhere the effort has been unsuccessful, according to Dr. Milton Roemer, a UCLA public health professor and researcher for 38 years at theUniversityofCalifornia-Los Angeles.

A tremendous barrier is that public health is at the bottom of the academic prestige ladder in the eyes of most medical school students and faculty members.

Despite all this,Brandonis determined to cultivate both kinds of expertise. On June 30, just two days after taking the first part of the grueling national licensure exam required for allU.S.students who’ve completed two years of training,Brandonflew fromAtlantatoIsrael.

There, she met role models from around the globe.

Pediatrician Dorit Nitzan got into “the business” in the early 1990’s, when she volunteered to provide care for international refugees inNew York, A Columbia University professor observed her kindness and invited her into the MPH program there.

Today, Nitzan heads the World Health Organization’s office forSerbiaand South-Eastern Europe. “Compared with treating individuals, public health changes many people’s life at same time”, said Nitzan, “And it changed my life too.”

Obstetrician-gynecologist Haim Rothbart practiced his specialty, one patient at a time, for 15 years before retraining as a public health doctor.,

“I do not earn as much as money before, but what can complain about? I know what I am doing is important,” said Rothbart, who is the assistant director forIsrael’s Ministry of Health in Northern Region.

Brandonspent six weeks as an intern with the Ministry of Health in Northern Region of Israel, a one-of-a-kind program for Israeland for UGA. It gives American students a chance to see the world through a different lens, working in a health system that the World Health Organization ranks 28th in the world – better than the U.S.’s 37th place standing.

Also, according to the Ministry of Health, this is the first public health internship program in the history ofIsrael. And this is done by a group of people includingBrandonfrom theGeorgiastate.

“I encountered public health there, like mother-child clinics that deal with non-sick people, which is quite new to me.”Brandonsaid. In theU.S., similar clinics are available for low-income women and children who are at risk for problems such malnutrition or hypertension related to pregnancy. But free services are not routinely offered to low-income women or children who are healthy.

“We need doctors to be more oriented to public health in U.S.; only through prevention and population-based approaches to health care can we make progress,” said Dr. Richard Schuster from UGA, who runs the internship program in Israel and teaches global health systems at the College of Public Health.

“Not all clinicians have come around to this point of view and many underestimate the power of public health,” Dr. Rothbart said.

But he believes thatU.S.opinion leaders are beginning to see the value of population-wide interventions. “That is because money talks: investing in prevention will be worthwhile in the long run.” He said.

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