What is Public Health Training for Doctors?

For many doctors, public health training provides an opportunity to specialize and explore different settings and roles of working in public health. The majority of training programs and residencies take on similar formats so that you can develop core public health skills via a certified curriculum.


The Public Health Training Process And Programs


The application process for Public Health Training usually follows an assessment of eligibility. So requiring a certain amount of training and experience in medicine, and also explores your suitability. This can take the form of both a written assessment and an in-person assessment, where you may go through different stations to demonstrate some of your competencies and your personality, as well as with any other training. Training programs will be governed by the Public Health faculty or relevant clinical body. If you are interested in public health training in the country where you are working you can understand what it looks like and the steps that you will need to go through to be able to apply for a position by contacting the relevant college or Faculty.



Public Health training will be delivered by regional bodies or local bodies and committees. If you're based in the EU, then EuroNet MRPH https://euronetmrph.org/ is a great site, which gives you a great comparison of different training schemes and what they offer. How long they last, whether they have MPHs in them what type of rotations you might do in them. And some of the ideas about how it leads on to different jobs afterwards. If you're in the US, then CDC is a great platform to look at, https://www.cdc.gov/prevmed/index.html - it has some more detail and a table which compares the residency programs there. So you can see what the preventive medicine residency program looks like, what the requirements are, what the epi program looks like, what type of work you need to have beforehand, and what type of placements you may be looking at during your training.



Some Public Health training programs will include a Masters in Public Health, and others will require this prior to application. But the main aspect through all of these programs is that you will do rotations just like you would in a clinical training program. This will allow you to rotate between different aspects of public health. You will rotate between local, regional and national bodies, and deliver public health and continue your training alongside the curriculum. So I trained in the UK and the UK training program is open to medics and non-medical trained professionals. You have to have a certain number of years of training in medicine before you can apply. A MPH is included in the training in the UK. So for me, this involved doing a full-time Masters in the first year and a day a week in a health authority placement.



Over the next four years, there were two exams, board-level exams that were required to be taken, to cover lots of different aspects of public health. The first one was much more theoretical. So largely based on all the core aspects that are epi needs, assessment, et cetera. And the second exam was a more practical exam with small stations interacting with individuals, doing role plays, et cetera, to demonstrate technical skills. I was able to continue some of my interests and passions throughout my training. I worked with international bodies and focused more on infectious diseases. I also had the opportunity to do placements where I could expand my mentoring role, and teaching roles, both within universities and the public health training program itself.


You will develop leadership competencies and skills which are important when you're stepping into your role after your training. It's key to think about how you can develop some of those skills to be able to lead after your training. So when you're looking at these programs, look at all of these aspects together as to how they pull together to develop their curriculums and what they're teaching you.


The public health system in the UK changed dramatically in terms of where it was delivered about halfway through my training. Being in public health and thinking about public health training also requires you to be fairly adaptable to the environment, any opportunity in terms of how it's delivered may reflect what's going on politically, socially, and even environmentally in your context at that time. So it does require you to think about how you can pivot and be happy with the environment that you are working with and deliver it in a way that feels aligned with your own values.


What Experience Do You Need To Work In Public Health?


So lots of people ask me about what experience they need to be able to work in public health. And I would say, take a really close look at the eligibility criteria for Public Health training programs. As with any job, these will be important- if you don't have some of those core foundation years or the core requirements, then think about how you can do that before you start applying. Most training programs or entry-level jobs will require some level of foundation medical training, good exposure to understanding illness, understanding how people respond to illness understanding how you can implement behaviour change, and exposure to healthcare settings and systems to understand where care is delivered and how effective care can be delivered to populations.


Do You Need To Do Public Health Training To Work In Public Health?


Public health training is not the only way you can work in public health.


So many doctors do find roles in public health without doing formal training in public health. Some of them might have continued on to specialize in other specialties, or they may have just stepped completely out of clinical medicine into a public health role and continued their own personal development in a different format. Some of my colleagues in WHO, for instance, whom I've worked with over the last eight years, have not completed formalized public health training. They may be paediatricians or infectious disease doctors, and they've stepped into a role in public health after specializing. I also know doctors who've moved straight from clinical work to managing health programs, for example, deciding to work more in disaster relief or working for MSF. There are lots of organizations nationally and internationally that are providing public health in different settings.


What skills do you need to work in Public Health?


Clinical skills, as well as managerial and leadership skills, where you can develop your own experience of public health and start to add in different experiences and skills. The biggest thing is that you need to be interested in preventing ill health and improving wellbeing. I believe you also need to be interested in doing medicine differently and to be able to be comfortable moving away from that model of the patient-doctor. Step away from looking at just the individual, you need to be able to think about global health, public health at a bigger level, that upstream approach, and really making an impact in a different way. I think it helps if you have a good understanding of the role and the importance of evidence-based practice and be able to interpret evidence, even if this is at a very basic level, to begin with, It helps if you're able to take research and contextualize that to your setting or a population and to really understand what it's telling us and how confident we can be in the results of any evidence.


How to find Public Health Roles?


You may already do some of this in your own role. So if you are interested in public health, start to think about how you are applying concepts and if you enjoy those aspects of your current job. For example, if you're a general practitioner and you work in a practice, the practice has to have a good understanding of the needs of its local population. General practice should be considering the best practices to implement based on the evidence base. So think about how that works for you. What's going on around you, who are those people, taking those decisions? Are there roles there that are interesting, that you can kind of use as a pivot to start stepping away from that clinical environment? If this interests you and gets you excited start to open your eyes to other colleagues and opportunities.


You will have colleagues working in Public Health who may not be doctors. Think about what they're doing and the roles and who you interact with on a daily basis to see what you are interested in and where public health plays a part.


What Does A Masters in Public Health Teach You?


So as I mentioned, a MPH can be part of formal training, or it can be completely separate. My MPH was a fantastic opportunity to focus on the theoretical side of public health and fine-tune my academic skills.


An MPH is a great opportunity to delve deeper into understanding the core aspects of public health. - health protection, health promotion, epidemiology, biostats, evidence-based approaches, needs assessment, all of these skills and ideas. A core curriculum, and then there are often opportunities to do special interest modules. For my MPH in the UK, there was a special interest module in global health and health economics. These are ways that you can start to build up different ideas and interests as you pursue your own public health career.


Don't forget that these can be full-time or part-time masters, and there are a lot of online learning platforms. You will find universities will offer MPH partly or completely online. You might be able to do a diploma or certificate first to do some modules, and then think about doing the extended modules at a later time. If you are working part-time or you have time to start thinking about exploring, then you may be able to do a certificate postgrad certificate or a diploma in addition to your work.


My MPH an opportunity to work with other healthcare professionals outside of the hospital environment, and to be around people who were like-minded and feel motivated that other people were following the same dreams and ideas and were driven by wanting to address health inequalities and use their medical skills differently. In an MPH you will have an opportunity for a dissertation to go deeper into an interesting area. You can undertake either primary or secondary research. My dissertation was primary research and qualitative research. I gained new skills to explore the perceptions of health workers supporting recently released offenders in the community.


My MPH was a stepping stone to think more about academic writing and publication, which is something I'd dipped into in my clinical work, but not explored in depth. This is another way where the MPH is a good focus of time and energy. An MPH can be a way to explore building up an academic career. You will also find that most public health training programs will have an academic program attached to them- either a slightly longer program to add on through your training. But the core skills are the same - it's just a different way to practice and deliver Public Health.


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