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Epidemiology, So Hot Right Now

September 19, 2008

The Washington Post carries a story about the growing demand for public health courses on college campuses.  I posted previously here about the need to incorporate basic epidemiology into the pre-med curriculum.

Much of the education going on in public health graduate programs needs to move towards undergraduate study.  Currently, few majors can prepare students for advanced graduate work in public health.  Thus, valuable graduate education is spent bringing new students up to speed on basic research and mathematical concepts needed in public health.  By moving this portion of the work to an undergraduate degree, graduate students can focus more on their particular area of study and spend more time honing practical skills.  This shift would also allow pre-med students to major in public health and get a solid grounding in population health (a big hole in current medical school curriculum) before they move on to their medical training.  Doctors need to be able to see the “forest” not just the sick “trees.”

This article also makes an interesting point about the general applicability of basic epidemiology skills:

The concepts introduced in basic epidemiology courses include causation and correlation, absolute risk and relative risk, biological plausibility and statistical uncertainty. Nearly all health stories in the news — from the possible hazards of bisphenol A in plastics and the theory that vaccines cause autism, to racial disparities in health care and missteps in the investigation of tainted peppers — are better understood with grounding in that discipline.

Any aspect of health or medicine is better understood with some basic training in epidemiology.  This is the exact point I was trying to make in my previous post advocating for the inclusion of epidemiology in pre-med curriculums.  Most liberal arts educations could benefit from some exposure to basic epidemiological principles.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Christine permalink
    October 1, 2008 11:14 pm

    I’m a recent graduate of an MPH program now currently in my first year of medical school. I agree with your expressed points. As an undergrad in a liberal arts school, I “happened” upon an inter-disciplinary major of Biology & Psychology, which laid the foundation for my public health program. However, most others had not had that exposure to statistics and statistical programs, so we spent our first semester of my program catching everyone up to the same level. In my opinion, we could have spent that time studying the application of all these skills we learned. Sadly to say, this applies in medical school as well. While medical and public health schools in theory say they work together, I have seen little collaboration. This leaves one like me at a bit of a loss – how do I incorporate my medical treatment of the “tree” while researching the “forest”?

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