52 Students Inaugurate Four-Year M.D./M.P.H. Program

Growing up in Miami-Dade County, Chanelle Diaz saw some exemplary models of health care delivery, but mostly she noted glaring health disparities.

Diaz, a Williams College graduate who wants to “design systems to improve access to health care,” is certain she is on the best path to prepare her to be both physician and public health advocate who can help end those disparities.

That path to innovation began at the Miller School on Monday morning when Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., joined faculty and staff in welcoming Diaz and 51 other students to the University of Miami’s inaugural M.D./M.P.H. program, one of a few in the country that enable students to earn both degrees in four years rather than the five years most M.D./M.P.H. programs require.

“We are delighted to have you here,” Dean Goldschmidt told the group culled from 456 applicants. “We’re providing you with an opportunity to learn not only the art and science of medicine, but also the opportunity to do meaningful work with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.”

Designed to alleviate a severe shortage of physicians trained in both public health and health care delivery, the program received a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration to support innovative components of the curriculum.

Students, who will all be armed with iPads, will complete the first two years of the program on the Miller School’s Miami campus, integrating public health coursework and research experiences from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health with the medical education experience.

Years three and four will take place predominantly in Palm Beach County at the clinical teaching sites currently affiliated with the University of Miami’s regional medical campus. In addition, the Palm Beach County Health Department and the Florida Public Health Institute will be important sites of clinical and public health education.

“We have been planning for you for many months,” Julie Kornfeld, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Masters in Public Health Program, told the students. “This is really an integrated educational experience that will give you competencies in both medicine and public health. We are breaking ground with this program … we want you to go out and change the world.”

Both Dean Goldschmidt and Hilda Pantin, Ph.D., executive vice chair for epidemiology and public health, encouraged the students, officially part of the Class of 2015, not to lose sight of the impact they can have on disease prevention and general patient care, both nationally and globally.

Indeed, some students, including Adam Crosland, said they chose the program specifically because they wanted to work at an international level.

“But I also chose this program because it has a very strong faculty that seems very willing to draw from the students’ experiences,’’ said Crosland, who graduated from the University of Florida. “I feel an emotional connection with this program.”

The enthusiasm from Crosland and other students was reaffirming for Mark O’Connell, M.D., senior associate dean for educational development and principal investigator on the federal grant.

“I really believe we are embarking on a new era in training physicians for the future health care needs of our country and the world; this program and UMMSM will have a leadership role in that new era,” said O’Connell, who worked on the program with an august group including: Laurence Gardner, M.D., executive dean for education and policy; Daniel Lichtstein, M.D., regional dean for medical education; Robert Hernandez, M.D., senior associate dean for medical student administration; Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education; and Richard Weisman, Pharm.D., associate dean for admissions. They collaborated closely with their public health colleagues to assemble the right curriculum and students who best fit the vision.

“These inaugural students are trailblazers and will be examples of the public health-conscious physicians we need for the future,” Mechaber said.

Calling the inaugural M.D./Ph.D. class “a fantastic group,” Lichtstein said, “We are confident the curriculum, both on the main campus and the regional campus, will fulfill all of their expectations. When they graduate, these students will not only be more sensitive to the needs of public health in the United States, they will be trained to fill positions of significant need throughout the country and the world.”

That’s exactly why University of Florida graduate Nicholas Cortolillo chose UM and the new dual M.D./M.P.H. path.

“I see the program as really setting us up for leadership roles to revolutionize medicine,” Cortolillo said.

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