A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Medicine + Policy = Health

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Brown launches a joint MD/MPA degree program.

A doctor can diagnose a patient and prescribe life-saving treatment only to find that it’s not covered by insurance, or may have insight into how policies could provide better health outcomes for patients, but no experience navigating the system that institutes them.

Brown’s new dual-degree Doctor of Medicine/Master of Public Affairs program aims to train students in both medicine and health care policy and create the next generation of leaders in those intersecting fields.

“This degree program was developed knowing what knowledge and skills students will need if they want to effect change in health care moving forward,” says Paul George ’01 MD’05 RES’08, assistant dean of medical education. “It was important for us that students have an idea of what shapes health policy and gain practical experience in this arena, so that they would be facile in promoting health policy changes during their careers.”

This is the first integrated program of its kind in the US, in which students are able to complete their degree program in four years and take courses taught by both Medical School and public policy faculty.

Students will be able to “see patients, identify issues directly related to health policy, and then learn about those issues with the patient’s context in mind,” George says. In addition, he says, the design of the program enables a cross-disciplinary approach as students encounter issues related to health policy in clinical settings.

The four-year program begins in June, and students must be admitted to Alpert Medical School before opting for the dual-degree track.

In the first year, students take courses in health systems science and public organizations management. They also begin a four-year Policy in Action consultancy, spending a half-day per week in a health care system, foundation, or non-governmental organization, shaping and implementing a project with a real-world client. In subsequent years, students engage in a longitudinal clerkship with a mentor physician.

In the third year, they gain global policy experience, meeting with elected officials, entrepreneurs, and lawmakers to examine how policy is constructed in other countries. Past sites for these immersion programs have included Sweden, Brazil, India, and Cambodia.

“The delivery of health care is a fundamental public good, something that governments worldwide are expected to ensure through policy,” says Edward Steinfeld, PhD, the Howard R. Swearer Director of the Thomas J. Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. “Our joint MD/MPA program reflects the basic fact that to do health care well, decision makers must bridge traditional divides between the social sciences, the sciences, and the humanities. That only Brown today offers a program like this reflects the University’s fantastic strengths in interdisciplinary scholarship, education, and public outreach.”

Asked what roles he envisions MD/MPA students taking on in their professional lives, George says he hopes that “graduates of this program continue seeing patients to some extent, as I think it is important to stay involved in clinical care as one is shaping health policy. That being said, my hope is that [they]seek out opportunities to lead health policy change in government, generate innovative ideas in health policy think tanks, conduct research in academia, or act as key consultants to those shaping health policy.”

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