If you’re a health care professional, you may already be aware that a Master of Public Health is just one of many advanced degrees that can benefit your career. Even if you already have an MD, an MPH can give you the critical thinking and big-picture skills you need to understand how community factors influence your patients’ health, and how the decisions you make on their behalf in turn affect their communities.
Patients don’t exist in a vacuum. Each patient exists within a complex web of socioeconomic, environmental, and community factors that can make a huge difference to his or her health. Things like clean air and water, fresh food, waste management, and proximity to neighbors can all have an effect on a patient’s health. An MPH can help you put your patients into this greater context, to provide better care and advocate for the changes your patients need.
Public Health Is Private Health
It’s easy, as a physician, to think of health care in terms of individual patients. After all, whether you’re an ER doctor or a primary care provider, you generally see and treat one patient at a time. But many of the biggest public health victories in modern history have directly affected quality of life and health on the individual level. Most physicians today won’t treat patients suffering from conditions like small pox or polio, thanks to the success of vaccination campaigns. Serious vitamin deficiencies are also largely unheard of, thanks to food fortification.
Other public health campaigns that have benefited individual patients include the campaign against tobacco use, the push for comprehensive seat-belt use, and even the advent of needle-exchange programs for intravenous drug users. Because of campaigns like these, vast numbers of individual patients are avoiding serious injury, respiratory diseases, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV.
Fight Today’s Public Health Battles
There remain many public health battles to be fought. Patients still face threats to public health in the forms of pollution, unhealthy foods, infectious diseases, gun violence, and addictive substances. When you earn a degree in Master’s of Public Health, you’ll be gaining the policy knowledge necessary to advocate for better health for all of your patients.
Policymakers depend on the expertise of clinicians to make the right decisions on behalf of populations affected by lack of clean water, food scarcity, air pollution, or overcrowding. While politicians and policymakers may have an interest in working to correct threats to public health, they need the guidance of medical experts to fully understand how.
Do More for Individual Patients
One of the best reasons to earn an MPH is to make yourself better equipped to help individual patients. Factors in a patient’s life, environment, and community can affect how well a given treatment works.
For example, prescribing exercise to help with a patient’s cholesterol won’t do much good if the patient works three jobs to support her kids and doesn’t have time to exercise. What can you do for this patient instead? In the long run, you might advocate for higher wages or more access to social services, but in the short run, you might instead think about prescribing an affordable medication, since that treatment fits in with the patient’s lifestyle.
Or, perhaps a diabetic patient needs insulin that must be refrigerated, but he can’t take it because he’s homeless and doesn’t own a refrigerator. In this case, it may be within your power as a physician to intervene in this patient’s life and help him access the social services he needs to obtain housing. Without an MPH, it might not even occur to you to investigate the patient’s circumstances and think about how they might be affecting his health.
If you’re considering a medical career or you’re already in the midst of one, an MPH can make you a better provider. The Master of Public Health degree can give you a deeper understanding of the social and environmental factors that affect health, so you can give your patients more comprehensive care. What’s more, this degree can leave you equipped to work towards policy changes that can combat some of the biggest threats to public health today. Do your part to make everyone healthier with a Master of Public Health.