What is public health? Going into Hamilton, I had no idea what public health was. I just thought that if you wanted to be a doctor you studied really hard and, after graduating, you went to medical school. However, to contribute to my pursuit of becoming a physician, I have made a two-year pit stop to receive my master of public health (MPH) in epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania. And while studying hard has certainly proved to be important, my eyes have been opened to the various different trajectories that can be taken in order to arrive at the final destination.
I did not know my path—I only knew where I wanted it to take me. Freshman year was a huge period of growth for me, not only personally, but also academically. It forced me to reflect internally, reprioritize, and reassess. My interest in becoming a physician did not waver, but I began to feel as if there was something I was missing. While the clinical side of medicine is absolutely fascinating, I found there to be a lack of conversation and education surrounding many of the social determinants of health, as well as the ways in which medicine intersects with the societies it is meant to treat. What I did not realize was that public health encompasses all of these topics and more.
During the middle of my sophomore year, I received an email from the Career Center about a presentation given by representatives from Dartmouth coming to speak about their MPH Program. Again, I had no idea what public health really was but I saw that the degree had “health” in its title and figured it would be worth learning more about. While I did not end up going to Dartmouth (I did not even end up applying to their program) - that information session had completely changed my life and had given me the answer to what I had been seeking and completely changed my life in the process.
So, what is public health? Public health is an incredibly dynamic field that broadens the scope of healthcare and research from the individual level to the population level. It generates research that is an integral part of creating organized health initiatives. It seeks to understand the underlying factors that influence the health of the individuals that physicians end up treating.
An MPH degree teaches you all of the methods and techniques that are necessary to make this kind of population-level impact. It teaches you to look beyond the clinical setting and forces you to get your hands dirty and get involved in the communities you are seeking to help. It allows a multi-faceted understanding of patients and enables you to interact with incredibly diverse populations. As someone who wishes to be a physician, I think that having this degree is non-negotiable. Public health is a field that has opened my mind and challenged me to think in ways I never have before. In two years, when I am on my way to attend medical school, I believe I will be a stronger physician because of my public health education.