Student Perspectives

Student Q&As

Stanford students discuss what prompted them — in the middle of medical school — to pursue an MPH at UC Berkeley and how they think of the experience now. Below (in simple question-and-answer format) is frank and valuable feedback from those who took the MD/MPH challenge... and survived!


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PHUOC LE
Stanford University School of Medicine Class of 2006
Graduated from UC Berkeley with an MPH in May 2004

General Reflections

What made you decide to get an MPH during medical school?
I knew that I wanted to pursue international public health after residency so I thought that getting an MPH would help open up more doors for me in terms of research projects abroad and help me to establish public health connections.

What are the disadvantages of getting an MPH during medical school?
There aren't many, but one difficulty was having taken step 1 of the boards before I started at Berkeley, it was challenging to start clinical rotations after graduation since I had forgotten a lot of the material.

How has your MPH education integrated with and/or complemented your medical education?
Having a public health background has been very valuable so far in clinical rotations, especially in my ability to evaluate the research literature critically. This is helpful in deciding between different treatment options for patients. Additionally, the MPH has been helpful in my most recent research abroad, not just in my ability to have a more sound epidemiologic approach, but also in communicating with other public health professionals.

What was the most valuable part of doing the MPH program at Berkeley?
Having the ability to look at health, health care, and health access from a very different vantage point. Instead of having had a microscopic view of health, it's much easier to go to the bird's eye view.

How was your experience at Berkeley? Was it a good place for you? Any disappointments?
Berkeley provided everything I needed in a SPH. The teachers were great mentors and the students were much more diverse than what I had experienced in medical school. The only disappointment was the library.

Living and Transportation

What was/is your living situation during your year of studies at Berkeley?
I lived in Palo Alto, but during the week I slept at a friend's house near Berkeley.

How often were you back at Stanford?
Friday through Monday morning.

How did you travel from Stanford to UCB?
BART, then Dumbarton Express (great way to cause less traffic and also get a lot of reading or sleep done).

General comments about living and transportation
BART's great and no traffic jams!

Coursework, Research, and Advising

What was your Area of Concentration at UCB? How would you rate it overall?
Interdisciplinary Program with an International Health Specialty

Lots of interesting courses and great professors

What were your favorite courses at UCB and why?
Epidemiologic Methods in Developing Countries and Media Advocacy. Both had excellent teaching and provided useful skills.

What kind of advising and faculty support have you received as an MPH student?
Nap Hosang (the Interdisciplinary Program Director) is always there to guide you. Other professors are generally very accessible.

Have you done any research, and if so what kind and where? Where did you get funding support?
Two Med Scholars, two GSR positions. My current Med Scholars is in Tibet. I also did a GSR in Tibet working on an NIH clinical trial.

Additional comments?

Students should consider applying for the FLAS Fellowship, TA-ships (especially for undergrad bio courses and such... but make sure you e-mail professors in the summer before school starts), and Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) positions. I had three TA/GSR jobs before I graduated and they paid about 16-18 bucks an hour. It was basically on the job training!

Contact Phuoc: phuocle@stanford.edu


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ELISSA MEITES
Stanford University School of Medicine Class of 2005
Graduated from UC Berkeley with an MPH in May 2004

Getting an MPH at UC Berkeley... in the Middle of Medical School

What made you decide to get an MPH during medical school?
An MPH is a great way to study population-based health interventions, an important complement to the individual focus during the rest of medical school. I think my MPH year was inspiring, and clarified my intention to practice primary care and work in public health after residency. I also feel having the degree gives me an automatic entry into, and some credibility in, a world I was always very interested in. Even though I think an MD doesn't necessarily need the extra degree to be able to do public health work, it definitely helps to meet people and know people in the field.

What are the disadvantages of getting an MPH during medical school?
It's tough to be away from clinics for so long, since you inevitably get a little rusty, but I think it's easier to come back to it as a student than it would be for a resident or someone who had been practicing for a while.

How has your MPH education integrated with and/or complemented your medical education?
In clinics I was proud to tell my colleagues that I had been doing public health work, and this also helped them steer me toward the "big picture" public health issues I found important when studying or giving my own presentations.

How has been/was your experience at Berkeley? Was it a good place for you? Any disappointments?
Berkeley is a wonderful place to be a student and my quality of life during my MPH year was excellent. My classmates were also fun and creative people that I will be in touch with for many years!.

Living and Transportation

What was/is your living situation during your year of studies at Berkeley?
I enjoyed living alone in an apartment in downtown Berkeley, found through craigslist. If you live in Berkeley for the year it really isn't necessary to have a car. Berkeley students all get a free east bay bus pass with their student ID cards, and most people bike everywhere.

How often were you back at Stanford?
I only came back to Stanford to visit friends and for a few academic events. It would have been possible to commute more often but I didn't think it was necessary

How did you travel from Stanford to UCB?
Public transportation between the East and South Bay is awkward, but the drive is usually under an hour.

Coursework, Research, and Advising

What is/was your Area of Concentration at UCB? How would you rate it overall?
I studied Health Policy and Management. This area of concentration involved a lot of finance and business skills in addition to the general epidemiology and statistics courses that everyone takes. I was extremely happy with my courses and my classmates. Also, though we did various projects, we did not have a strict thesis requirement.

Did you pursue a Specialty Area?  If so, how would you rate it?
I was discouraged from pursuing a specialty area, such as international health, by the departmental advisor assigned to me at Berkeley, who felt it wouldn't be necessary for my own future goals..

What were your favorite courses at UCB and why?
My favorite class was the Strategic Management class at the Haas School of Business. My group of six public health and business students met weekly at a local brewery for drinks and discussions of how to bring a new infectious disease testing device to international markets in a socially responsible fashion.

Have you done any research, and if so what kind and where?  Where did you get funding support?
I did several unfunded research projects at Berkeley, most of which grew out of class projects.

Paying for the MPH

How have you funded your MPH?
I was fortunate to receive a University Fellowship from Berkeley that covered my expenses for the year. I applied for this grant as part of my regular application packet. Stanford's financial aid office also generously arranged to let me use some overfunding from my previous years at Stanford to fund extra living costs.

What kinds of paid jobs can MPH students get at Berkeley?
I did not work during my year at Berkeley but many students do work-study, research, or teaching.

Additional comments?

An additional benefit of studying at Berkeley is having access to the rest of the campus. I took classes at the business school and in the dance department in addition to my public health coursework, and many SPH students also take exercise or language classes.

I also considered attending the School of Public Health at Harvard. Their program targets people in medicine and so classmates are almost all medical students and practicing physicians, which is quite different from the mix of California professionals at Berkeley. Additionally they are on a quarter system which means you have more opportunities to dabble in different subjects in a one-year program. However their program is extremely expensive and they offer little financial aid. The last straw for me was when I went to Boston for a visit in April and it was snowing! (At Berkeley, I took a midday swimming class at the outdoor marble pool at Hearst starting in January!)

Contact Elissa: emeites@stanford.edu


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MATT MENDENHALL
Stanford University School of Medicine Class of 2006
Graduated from UC Berkeley with an MPH in May 2004

General Reflections

What made you decide to get an MPH during medical school?
There are lots of reasons. For one thing, I felt starved for a broader view of health. For another, I wanted to study in a place that focuses on social and health disparities and how to better understand the issues and advocate for change. I wanted an easier year to enjoy time with friends, trips to Tahoe, and being young and outdoors. The MPH year also afforded the luxury and planning an international research project over the course of an entire year, rather than trying to cram it into the medical school schedule.

What are the disadvantages of getting an MPH during medical school?
One drawback is losing pace with your classmates. I am now entering the clinical rotations with students who started medical school later than me. Additionally, I have been away from medicine for over a year, and I am finding the first month of the medical clerkship to be somewhat challenging...but not nearly as difficult as you might think.

How has your MPH education integrated with and/or complemented your medical education?
The MPH allowed me to plan a Community Partner Medical Scholars project over the course of an entire year and with insight from faculty at both Stanford and UC Berkeley. As a result, my understanding of how to plan, implement, analyze, and present research has improved drastically.

Having an MPH has made me a vastly better consumer of information. It also helps me to think outside of the traditional medical framework when confronting patients suffering from the health consequences of social disparity (like a homeless man with pneumonia, for example). My goal eventually is to use my clinical experience with this type of patient as a springboard to political advocacy.

What was the most valuable part of doing the MPH program at Berkeley?
The proximity to Stanford allowed me to maintain important relationships, work with a Stanford Medical School Faculty Advisor, pay a very reasonable in-state tuition, and stay in touch with UCB classmates and faculty afterwards.

How was your experience at Berkeley? Was it a good place for you? Any disappointments?

I had a good experience at Berkeley. I would say it is easier to feel satisfied if you set goals for the year very early — e.g., I want to learn how to use a statistical software program, I want to learn how to use GIS technology, I want to learn more about health and human rights, I want to work with Dr. X (faculty member) because he/she shares my interests, etc. Otherwise, the year goes by very quickly and you can be left wondering what you achieved.

Living and Transportation

What was/is your living situation during your year of studies at Berkeley?
I lived in a room in a house in Berkeley.

How often were you back at Stanford?
Once per month

How did you travel from Stanford to UCB?
I drove my car

General comments about living and transportation?
It is great to live away from Stanford for a year. Berkeley is a fantastic and completely different place to live. I highly recommend the experience. It also allows you to enjoy more events on campus, spend more time with classmates, etc. However, it is a huge pain to move all of your stuff to a new place every year.

Coursework, Research, and Advising

What was your Area of Concentration at UCB? How would you rate it?
Interdisciplinary Program with an International Health Specialty

The International Specialty was fine. I was a bit disappointed by the faculty's limited ties to Africa (where my research project was conducted).

What were your favorite courses at UCB and why?
GIS and Public Health — GIS is an incredibly powerful way of understanding and presenting the impact of environmental (geographical) factors on health.

Health and Human Rights — Dr. Weinstein and Dr. Iaccoppino are leaders in the field. It is inspirational to talk to them about what healthcare professionals can do to improve human rights.

Epidemiological Methods in Developing Countries or anything taught by Dr. Art Reingold. He is a fantastic teacher.

What kind of advising and faculty support have you received as an MPH student?
I was disappointed with the advising at UCB, but I hold myself to blame for this. If I had been more proactive early in the year, I believe I would have found an appropriate and eager advisor. I regret that I did not.

Have you done any research, and if so what kind and where?  Where did you get funding support?
I did a research project on shallow wells in Malawi, Africa. The project was funded through the Community Partnership Medical Scholars program with supplemental support through Traveling Scholars. UC Berkeley also provided some limited funding for the project.

Contact Matt: mattmen@stanford.edu

 

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