Residents: 4 benefits to making public health part of your career

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

You may not have public health in mind as part of your residency or fellowship training right now, but it’s never too late to learn more about the opportunities and resources available to further your competency in various public health disciplines and even make a career in that part of medicine.

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A recent panel discussion featuring four physicians who work in both public health and advocacy—some on a full-time basis—offered insight on how medical residents can follow a public health path and have a rewarding career in doing so.

Why did these physicians so strongly endorse such pursuits? Let’s take a look.

Mayur Narayan, MD, at public health panel.

Mayur Narayan, MD, MPH, is a trauma surgeon (pictured on the right, along with other panelists). His experiences throughout his career led him to pursue avenues for prevention of injuries. One such endeavor was his founding and serving as medical director of the Center of Injury Prevention & Policy at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“The best patient is the one we never see,” said Dr. Narayan, now an attending surgeon at Weill Cornell Medical Center. “That just doesn’t apply to me as a trauma surgeon.

“As you are thinking about embracing public health as a career, I do think it’s important to have credibility as an expert in your own field. So, when you go and you are trying to push the advocacy component, you have some experience, you can tell them the stories.

“For me, it’s been absolutely enjoyable to couple what I do on a day to day basis and say you know what, I don’t want to see these patients coming through my door. What can we do? How can we affect it?”

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Thomas Dobbs, MD, MPH, has spent his career working in public health. Now the state health officer for Mississippi, he has found that in the field self-assertiveness is necessary.

“In public health, nobody is going to come find you,” he said. “You have to find your pathway. But when you do, there’s a receptive audience for you.”

Having risen through the ranks to hold the title of senior medical officer for the Cook County (Illinois) Department of Health, Rachel Rubin, MD, MPH, has found her career in public health gratifying. The fact that the work can take on so many forms has been among the reasons for that.

“Having been a practicing physician, there are periods of time where I feel like I’m in a slump and need to be invigorated or change the makeup of what I’m doing,” Dr. Rubin said at the Q&A panel discussion, which was hosted by the AMA Resident and Fellow Section during the 2019 AMA Annual Meeting. “The public health aspects of my job allow me to take on other things that re-energize me and keep me going in my career, in terms of doing things where I was more focused on clinical training and teaching.”

Now an obesity medicine specialist in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, studied public health prior to attending medical school. She found that her background in the field afforded her career advancement that others without that training may not have had.

“As the sole person in any residency program [at her institution] with an MPH at the time, I was seen as kind of strange,” Dr. Stanford said.

Yet that public health training “put me on a different trajectory than many of my co-residents,” she added. “Not just with regard to my personal self, but with regard to the patients that I do serve.”