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Four-year UTHealth program addresses need for public health physicians

Published: March 13, 2011 by Jade Waddy, Office of Advancement


Sharon Cooper, Ph.D., regional dean at The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio Regional Campus.

Sharon Cooper, PhD, regional dean at The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio Regional Campus.

To address the forecasted public health workforce shortage, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have created Texas’ first four-year Doctor of Medicine (MD)/Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

Researchers from The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of UTHealth, and the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, assessed the four-year dual degree program based in San Antonio for its perceived impact, student satisfaction and areas for improvement. “In medically underserved regions like South Texas, in the face of rising national and local public health threats, there is an urgent need for well-trained public health and prevention-oriented physicians,” said Sharon Cooper, PhD, professor and regional dean at the UT School of Public Health San Antonio Regional Campus.

The program provides a means of addressing critical problems such as obesity, diabetes, infectious diseases, environmental health concerns and border health issues.

“This dual-degree program is an important option for all medical students as a means of addressing pressing health issues in our society,” said Cooper. “The program can train students in public health as well as medicine in order to address the predicted public health workforce shortage.” The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) forecasts a need for an additional 250,000 public health workers, including public health physicians, by 2020.

“Students in the program are able to engage in discussions with other medical school students about the public health perspective of medicine, which has the ability to enhance everyone’s education,” said Claudia Miller, MD, MS, professor and assistant dean for the program at the School of Medicine in San Antonio. “In addition, savings in time and money are advantages of the program.”

Cameron Culver, a student in the first MD/MPH class said, “Within the first year, many students felt that the dual-degree program had already shifted our perspectives in career- and life-changing ways.” Culver has been named the incoming chair of the American Public Health Association’s Student Assembly.

The Institute of Medicine defines a public health physician as one whose training, practice and world view are based in a large part on a population focus rather than individual practice. A public health physician assures the availability of essential public health services to a population using skills such as leadership, management and education as well as clinical interventions.

There are currently more than 75 MD/MPH programs across the country; however, fewer than 10 offer a curriculum that can be completed in four years, according to Cooper. The UT School of Public Health currently offers five-year MD/MPH degrees with the UTHealth Medical School and Baylor College of Medicine.

In addition to traditional courses, online courses allow students to begin their public health studies prior to beginning their medical school curriculum. According to Cooper, this contributes to the viability of the program. MPH classes focus on five core disciplines: biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health administration/policy and health behavior. Students may also choose an MPH concentration in global health.

For more information on the program, visit: http://www.sph.uth.tmc.edu/ or call the UT School of Public Health San Antonio Regional Campus at 210-562-5500.