National Public Health Week 2019

Happy National Public Health Week!

From time to time I get asked, “Is a MPH degree worth it?” or “What do you do with a public health degree as a PA?” So in honor of NPHW, I invited some of my dual MPH/PA friends to help me answer my most FAQ about public health!


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MPH/PA Student Panel
  • How did you get interested in public health? We often tend to get a glimpse of both of the fields overlapping, but I never knew what public health entails on its own that will help me be a better clinician. I did my bachelor’s in Health Sciences and I knew I wanted to pursue MPH at one point to further my knowledge about public health issues around the world. I grew up in a not so suburban community in India and I always imagined myself educating the community there about sexual & reproductive health because it’s such a taboo topic and focusing on health promotion overall. – Nidhi, MPH Candidate
    • My interest in public health started while I was volunteering with a student-led HIV education group and the local health department in sophomore year of college.  During this time I came face-to-face with the HIV epidemic; infection rates were continuing to increase in the community, particularly among young men who have sex with men. I witnessed the impact of health disparities, such as stigma, on this population and the need for better public health strategies to address them. These volunteering experiences eventually led me to apply for a two-year CDC fellowship and pursue my MPH.
      Trevor, MPH, PA-S
    • I became interested in public health during my senior year of undergrad. I took an Introduction to Public Health course and had the most incredible professor (Hey, Dr. G!). On the first day of class, she showed a clip from a Parks and Rec episode, which served to segue her into a moving lecture about health disparities, health literacy, and access to care. I was hooked.
      – Jordan, MPH, PA-S
    • Public health is what initially drew me to medicine. Growing up, disparities in access to health was a reality that was familiar to my community. Witnessing families, including my own, hesitate to receive medical care due to the financial burden it would cause was a phenomenon I wanted to help combat. Public health and its emphasis on tackling determinants of health bloomed into a passion of mine and eventually gave me the desire to pursue a PA degree in order to further help serve marginalized communities and increase access to healthcare. – Jennifer, MPH, PA-S
    • I was an undergraduate student at Arizona State University when I took a class called HIV Ethics, History, and Prevention. It was during my senior year that I was introduced to the idea of providing health disease prevention interventions to populations in need. This was a different concept to me because I was a pre-med student with plans of providing individualistic health care for my future patients. Yet this class changed my professional goals, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of bigger change, and taking part of changing community health and more specifically prevent disease and disease related complications in the medical arena. – Lillian, MPH, PA-S
  •  Do you feel like it helped you get into a PA program? Obtaining my MPH prior to PA school was one of my best decisions to date. I think on paper, it potentially may have helped me get an interview to PA school. But more importantly than that, I know it helped me secure a seat in my program during interviews, and I am sure it has vastly helped me delve into patient histories, provide heightened patient education, and ultimately be a better provider. – Jordan, MPH, PA-S
    • Completing an MPH before PA school will only prepare you to become a better PA. I believe my public health experience is one of the strongest qualities that I bring to my PA program. From my various career positions and education, I have had opportunities to see from both population and individual perspectives on how societal and environmental factors impact people. In addition, I have ingrained the belief that health is comprised of physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and social needs that complete its wholeness. Quality healthcare is not merely a matter of reviewing an individual’s physical ailments and prescribing an appropriate therapy or treatment. It is also a matter of taking into account the other factors, such as socioeconomic status, that may impede this individual from obtaining their best health.
      Trevor, MPH, PA-S
    • I definitely feel like it added to my application, but it is a decision that needs to be measured carefully due to the amount of time it takes to complete (1-2 yrs. for most programs) and the added cost. Though I am grateful for my degree and master’s program, attending a private university definitely added more to my debt than I would have liked. I would not change my decision to get an MPH prior to PA school, however, I believe it is a choice students have to be truly passionate about in order for it to be worth their while.  – Jennifer, MPH, PA-S
    • I believe schools have a high appreciation for public health background and I truly think it helped me get in because it shows the school you are applying to that you can complete graduate work and you are a well-rounded candidate. – Lillian, MPH, PA-S
  • How do you plan on utilizing your public health skills in the clinical world?After I graduate, I would like to explore my opportunities within the field of clinical research and of course, be a health educator. MPH has taught me how to excel at this skill specifically by teaching me the resources, limitations, and driving factors it takes for an individual to bring a health behavior change. I plan on incorporating my public health skills and experience in the field into disease preventative and health promotion overall for my patients.
    Nidhi, MPH Candidate
    • I’d love to volunteer or work internationally and provide both medical and public health. I’m just not sure how that looks like for a PA at the moment.
      – Nicole, MPH, PA-S
    • With my MPH, I intend to get involved in evidenced-based research, take part in more extensive interprofessional collaborations, and engage quality improvement strategies with my employer. On a patient level, I will ask about determinants of health, (attempt) to tackle health behaviors and incorporate participatory medicine to achieve shared decision making. News flash, this could be done in any specialty and in any setting in the clinical world!
      – Jordan, MPH, PA-S
    • I desire to be a PA that provides compassionate care to any individual, and based on my public health experience I will always be drawn to serving marginalized populations. Regardless of whether I assume a PA position in an emergency room or community health center, I desire to continue my role in reducing health disparities among individuals with inequitable access to quality healthcare. – Trevor, MPH, PA-S
    •  I hope to work with nonprofit organizations in the community to provide medical care to undocumented and underserved individuals in my state. Many hospitals I’ve encountered have established public health initiatives and I also hope to use my background to join these initiatives and work to improve the lives of my patients beyond the clinical setting. – Jennifer, MPH, PA-S
    • I will practice clinically and simultaneously be involved in research with the intention of improving health outcomes and publishing evidence-based approaches to manage diseases. With the extensive research experience, I obtained studying patients with diabetes and the rising number of patients affected, I plan to participate in diabetes related projects.  – Lillian, MPH, PA-S
  • Is a MPH worth it?/Any advice for those wishing to pursue public health studies?If you’re pursuing MPH, be sure to get the guide for CHES (I’m not sure about CPH since I haven’t used it) which will tie all of your knowledge together & help you see the bigger picture, you can even start using it from 1st semester! (wish I did). If you’re applying for PA school, be sure to get a well-rounded experience on your application, not just the hours that are required for school. Do something that truly interests you and that you see yourself doing in the future as a clinician as well. Most importantly have faith & patience!
    – Nidhi, MPH Candidate
    • If you are on the fence about obtaining your MPH, one of the best ways you can make up your mind is by talking to those who have been in your shoes. Meet with or email the director of the program you are considering. Have coffee with a PA or MD who has their MPH. Find a community on social media who’s willing to share their thoughts. If their insight resonates with you, it might just help you get off that fence. And if you still feel stuck, try channeling your inner Leslie Knope. That always works for me! – Jordan, MPH, PA-S
    • The completion of your MPH and the knowledge acquired will only better serve your future patients and you as a healthcare professional. I know it may be added stress and cost with the MPH coursework but it will be worth it in the long run, especially if you plan to practice in community settings. If cost or other factors are concerns for pursuing your MPH, then I highly encourage you to try volunteering in different environments, such as the local health department, to provide opportunities to work with diverse groups of individuals with different needs. – Trevor, MPH, PA-S
    • If pre-PA students are looking for a fulfilling way to spend their gap years, I would strongly recommend considering a public health degree!
      Jennifer, MPH, PA-S
    • This degree will not only provide you with more education by completing courses such as epidemiology, health intervention, environmental health, biostatistics just to name a few. Yet, it will equip you with skills to address problems that many providers may not be aware of. It will bring you the confidence to discuss any problems with your patients because you will be prepared to address their concerns. – Lillian, MPH, PA-S

[ PRACTICING PAs ]

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Melody Reyes, PA-C, MPH IG: @stethoscopesandyoga
  • How did you get interested in public health?I got interested in public health through a summer internship at the Centers for Disease Control & Kennedy Krieger Institute. The internship opened my eyes to a new concept, and I loved learning about factors (besides disease states/pathology) that also affect one’s health. I eventually landed a job as a public health researcher working on policy advocacy and improving access to clinical and preventative services.
  • If you were dual enrolled in a MPH/PA program – Why did you choose to dual enroll? Which program did you attend? After doing research in public health, I knew I wanted to get the MPH—either before or after PA school. When I found out there were schools that offered the dual degree, I looked solely into those. I attended Touro University, which was the only school that offered the dual degree in California at the time. Not sure if any other schools offer it now! If you know you want to do both, consider a dual degree program—saves both time and money. The MPH was a wonderful experience. As part of my capstone project, I completed a 6 week field study in Bolivia.
  • What were the pros/cons? And if you had to redo grad school again, would you still consider dual degrees?In terms of cons, it primarily has to do with time and money. While most PA schools are about 2 years in length, dual degree programs are slightly longer. Remember that in addition to the rigorous PA school curriculum, you’re also responsible for the MPH portion. This meant our days in class were often from 9 am-9 pm. Since it is two degrees, it also costs more. However, if I had to redo grad school, I would definitely choose the dual degree program again!
  • If you are a practicing PA – how do you utilize your public health experience to provide care for your patients?I use it everyday with patients, primarily because our school did a great job at incorporating our public health with clinical practice. I think I approach patients slightly different than those without the MPH. It may be taking the time to ask why a patient always cancels his/her appointments, figuring out why he/she is not taking the prescribed medications, or enrolling my patient in the diabetes education course at our clinic. As part of primary care, I help with program management and implementation of our health education programs.
  • Do you believe a public health degree is worth it?While I do believe it is worth it, I also think it is not for everyone. If you don’t have any interest in public health, then I’d be cautious about getting an extra degree that you may not use!
  • Any last-minute advice for pre-PAs who want to dual enroll or even word of advice for PAs who are considering returning for their MPH?If you have any interest in reading more about my dual degree experience or my global health field study experience in Bolivia, you can find them in my blog!
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      • Bridget Winterhalter, PA-C, MPH IG @botoxbybridget
  • How did you get interested in public health?My undergrad major at George Washington University was Exercise Science. This program was housed in the School of Public Health.  Throughout my undergrad classes, we would have public health classes sprinkled in.  Honestly, I loved them.  They were just general classes, but they highlighted the importance of public health and how it affects how people interact and how medical treatment is provided.
  • If you were dual enrolled in a MPH/PA program – Why did you choose to dual enroll? Which program did you attend? What were the pros/cons? And if you had to redo grad school again, would you still consider dual degrees?I initially applied to the Yale PA program, individually.  I knew that that Yale offered a dual degree program but was not totally set on applying. I was THRILLED when I received an interview at Yale. During the interview, they asked if anyone was interested in hearing about the dual degree program.  I raised my hand, because I thought, “why not?!”  I did not know much about how the dual degree worked.  I was coming directly out of college, so I knew it was going to be a significant amount of work, but I figured there is no issue with hearing more info.  The way Yale’s program works is that you do a full year of Public Health (taking an extra class than the regular students) and then you start the PA program the following year.  You would be in didactic year of the PA program and also would need to take 1 class in the public health school.  You saved a semester of tuition from both programs (still very expensive!!!!).  I liked the idea of just getting it all done and I thought it really made me stand out as a new PA graduate with an MPH.
  • If you are a practicing PA – how do you utilize your public health experience to provide care for your patients?I used my MPH greatly right after graduation!  While studying for the PANCE, I worked as a research coordinator using my MPH to help with clinical trials.  Now that I am a practicing PA, I often use my MPH in a broader sense.  I see a lot of older patients who do not have rides to appointments or need home nursing set up. I think back to my classes where we discussed barriers to care. It’s important that patients, regardless of age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, obtain quality care. I ask breast cancer patients who is their support system at home.  I try to dive a little deeper than the standard history and physical and try to explore how navigating the health system is going for them.  Also, in the practice I currently work in, we often have active clinical trials. I am able to lead a lot of the research products as a PA.
  • Do you believe a public health degree is worth it?I do.  Because first, public health is present in every single aspect of medicine. It’s important to not only know how to read evidence based medicine and identify quality research, but it’s also important to understand how individual problems are impacted by various levels.  For issues to be adequately addressed it is necessary to treat not just the symptoms of the problem, but also the source of the problem.
  • Any last minute advice for pre-PAs who want to dual enroll or even word of advice for PAs who are considering returning for their MPH?Don’t let the idea of “more school” or “extra work” get in the way of you going for an extra degree.  Don’t let a daunting price tag scare you away. Figure out what you want out of a public health degree, focus on that, and go for it.
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    • Elizabeth Prevou, PA-C, MPH, DMSc Candidate IG @ PAPrevou
  • How do you utilize your public health experience to provide care for your patients? “I worked for administratively for 6 months at a PA salary with my MPH as Clinical Practice Manager, while waiting for more licensing and credentialing. Made up for the cost my degree… also use my MPH every day in clinical practice for sure.”

 

 

IMG_4181I want to thank these lovely individuals for sharing their public health experience with us! Public health is so broad and incredibly fascinating. From experience, every public health individual I have ever met is full of passion and enthusiasm. I hope you enjoy reading their stories as much as I did!

To read about my personal journey in public health and how I use my public health degree in clinical practice, check out my original post here re: NPHW 2018!

Now go out there and hug a public health worker!
Xx, Ngan

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