HC&P FAQs

1. Should I pursue an MPH?
2. If yes to #1, when should I pursue the MPH?
3. If I decide to pursue an MPH during my time at UNC School of Medicine, which MPH program should I choose?
4. What is the coursework like in the MPH program?
5. What is a Master’s Paper?
6. What is a Practicum Experience?
7. When does the MPH program start? Should I choose to start in early July (Summer Session II admission) or in mid-August (fall admission)?
8. What is the deadline for applying?
9. How do I apply?
10. Is there scholarship money available?
11. How do I deal with the financial issues of pursuing an MPH?
12. If I pursue an MPH, when should I take STEP II?
13. Will I receive any School of Medicine credit for my MPH work?
14. When should I plan to return to the School of Medicine?

1. Should I pursue an MPH?

The MPH is usually a one-year program that some medical students and physicians find is a great help in future years. It can be helpful regardless of your chosen medical specialty and regardless of whether you plan to work as a community practitioner, an academic researcher, or in some other medical field. We discuss some of these benefits in The Value of an MPH, which we encourage you to read.

The idea of the MPH is to add a different perspective to your MD training, the perspective of understanding the health of groups of people as well as the health of individuals. Having this perspective gives physicians ways of contributing to the health of their communities (or to the public at large) beyond providing individual medical care. The MPH year is a time for reading, thinking, and discussing important issues in health care. Most students have found it to be an important complement to their medical training. Hear comments from some recent students.

If you have an interest in the MPH, we encourage you to discuss your interest in person with Dr. Anthony Viera, the MD-MPH Program Director (anthony_viera@med.unc.edu); Dr. Sue Tolleson-Rinehart, Associate MD-MPH Program Director (suetr@unc.edu); or Dr. Georgette Dent, Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the School of Medicine (georgette_dent@med.unc.edu).

2. If yes to #1, when should I pursue the MPH?

Most UNC medical students pursue the MPH between the third and fourth years of medical school. Others do it between fourth year and internship/residency. A good reason for doing it between the third and fourth years is that having clinical experience from the third year enhances the MPH experience, and still allows for returning to clinical work in the fourth year before starting internship/residency.

Some students prefer to pursue the MPH later in their training, after residency. This may work in some circumstances, but if students do not find themselves in a good MPH situation at that time (because of either being in a place without an MPH program or being in an inconvenient place in their lives), then the MPH may never be earned at all. At UNC, students have available to them one of the best Schools of Public Health in the country, and the UNC Schools of Medicine and Public Health work together very well in the MD-MPH program. Basically, we think the decision about when to pursue an MPH is an individual decision that people must think about along with other important considerations in their lives.

3. If I decide to pursue an MPH during my time at UNC School of Medicine, which MPH program should I choose?

Medical students at UNC have available 5 different MPH programs from which to choose: (1) the Health Care and Prevention (HC&P) track within the Public Health Leadership Program; (2) Maternal and Child Health (MCH); (3) Health Policy and Management (HPM); (4) Epidemiology (EPID); and (5) Nutrition. The HC&P program is the most popular MPH program among UNC medical students, primarily because of its flexibility in allowing students to take courses in various departments within the entire school. In addition, several HC&P courses have been designed with the MD-MPH student in mind. It is possible to complete the HC&P MPH program in 12 to 18 months. Programs 2-5 are within departments in the School of Public Health and are specialized to their discipline. They tend to allow students to go deeper into a single area of public health but are less flexible, offer fewer electives, and may take longer to complete.
If you are especially interested in pursuing a degree in one of the non-HC&P programs, we recommend discussing your interests with the following departmental advisors:
MCH: Dr. Anita Farel, Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, anita_farel@unc.edu
HPM: Dr. Bruce Fried, Director of the Residential Master’s Program, bfried@email.unc.edu
EPID: Dr. Stephen Cole, director of Graduate Studies, cole@unc.edu
Nutrition: Joanne Lee, Student Services Manager, joanne_lee@unc.edu

4. What is the coursework like in the MPH program?

Every MPH program in the US requires students to take 5 core courses: (1) Intro Epidemiology; (2) Intro Biostatistics; (3) Environmental Health; (4) Intro to Health Policy; and (5) Behavioral and Social Public Health. Many of these introductory courses are large – although the HC&P program has redesigned several of them to be smaller and more interactive.

After these core courses (usually taken during the fall semester), departmental MPH programs have additional departmental requirements. The HC&P program provides more flexibility for these additional courses, with more electives. There is a wide variety of elective courses available within the School of Public Health, including courses in health disparities, international health, health communication, health policy, critical appraisal, and epidemiology, as well as in special health conditions (e.g., HIV or STIs, cancer, heart disease) and special populations (e.g., underserved groups, adolescents, older people).

In the HC&P program, one may also do international study for credit. We encourage students to take charge of their own education as adult learners. We are interested in supporting them in doing this.

5. What is a Master’s Paper?

A Master’s Paper is a big deal. It is more than a long paper for a single course. In the HC&P program, one can choose any population health topic for the paper, but it must show a rigorous analysis, a population perspective, depth of understanding, and clear communication. The paper can be a research project (primary or secondary data allowed), a systematic review, a policy analysis, a program evaluation, or some hybrid of these. The papers are typically 50 or more double-spaced pages long with multiple references; they require sustained work over a period of time to write. Students work with 2 advisors and earn academic credit for writing the Master’s Paper. Some papers are publishable. By the end of the process, students have become an “expert” on a specific issue. Looking back later, many students find this paper to be one of the most rewarding parts of the MPH.

6. What is a Practicum Experience?

A practicum is an experience of learning outside of the classroom, allowing people to learn to use their population perspective in the real world. There is great flexibility in these experiences – they can be done in Chapel Hill or in another part of North Carolina or another part of the world. The practicum experience starts with learning objectives – we help the student to decide “what do I want to learn?” and “from whom and in what situation could I best learn it?” This often involves some combination of readings and activities with a knowledgeable person or group. At the end, the student and his/her practicum mentor assess the extent to which the learning objectives were accomplished. Each year, faculty compile a list of possible practicum experiences; students may choose to participate in one of these existing projects, or design an experience to fit their own interests, using these as an example. Students earn academic credit for doing the practicum, the amount of credit dependent on the number of hours involved.

7. When does the MPH program start? Should I choose to start in early July (Summer Session II admission) or in mid-August (fall admission)?

HC&P students have the option of starting in either early July (Summer Session II admission) or mid-August (fall admission). On the application form, you MUST specify which entry date you prefer. Because it is difficult to change the entry date after you are accepted, we advise applicants to give careful consideration to which semester they want to start before submitting the application and paying the enrollment deposit.

We encourage students, if they can, to start in the second summer session (SSII). The advantage of starting in Summer Session II is that, for HC&P, you can get credit for activities done in the summer, allowing you a head start on earning the 42 credit hours required for the MPH degree. Most students who start in the summer take the excellent HC&P summer policy course (PUBH 600),* the only required core course available in both the summer and fall. Taking this course in the summer allows students to take an elective in the fall.

  • *NOTE: The starting date for the summer PUBH 600 course is in early July, later than the Summer Session II beginning date on the university’s academic calendar, in order to accommodate the schedules of medical students, fellows, and residents who are completing School of Medicine commitments in June.

In rare situations, students may complete their practicum experience during the summer before starting classes in the fall. Since a practicum is meant to be an opportunity to apply what is learned in the MPH classes, doing a practicum in the summer before taking any classes requires special approval from the Program Director, the Director of the Public Health Leadership Program, and the Graduate School.

Though we encourage students to start in the summer, for various reasons some students prefer to start with the fall semester, which does not place these students at a significant disadvantage. If you are not sure about which semester to start or think you may change your mind after applying, you should choose fall semester.

8. What is the deadline for applying?

All School of Public Health applications are submitted through the UNC Graduate School. Each MPH program has its own deadline. For the HC&P program the 2015 deadline is March 1 for both second summer session (SSII) and fall admission.

9. How do I apply?

To apply to the Health Care and Prevention MPH program, follow the step-by-step instructions in How to Apply.

10. Is there scholarship money available?

The School of Public Health and the Public Health Leadership Program offer financial assistance, guidance, and awards for financing your education. To be considered for any financial aid, either merit-related or need-based, all applicants must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. HC&P applicants are encouraged to submit their FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1. For more information on financial aid, please refer to the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. In-state tuition at UNC, of course, is much less expensive than most other Schools of Public Health.

11. How do I deal with the financial issues of pursuing an MPH?

Current UNC medical students can remain with the financial aid office in the UNC School of Medicine while they are in the School of Public Health. Most students will be able to keep their same financial aid package during their MPH year. The FAFSA form must be submitted prior to March 1. For additional information on financial aid, please contact Sheila Graham, Financial Aid Officer, UNC School of Medicine, at 919-962-6117 or by email at Sheila_Graham@med.unc.edu.

12. If I pursue an MPH, when should I take STEP II?

There is not one answer to this question. Former students suggest that you take it as soon as possible after the end of your third year. Some students find that that they would like to study for STEP II between the end of the Summer Session II policy course, usually around August 8, and the beginning of the fall semester, usually around August 20. (Note that fall classes always begin on a Tuesday; new students are also expected to attend the HC&P/PHLP orientation on the Monday before the first day of classes.)

13. Will I receive any School of Medicine credit for my MPH work?

For the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years, the UNC School of Medicine will allow the transfer of one month of elective credit (up to 6 credit hours) from the School of Public Health for medical students who complete their MPH degree requirements and graduate in August of the term in which they return from Leave to the medical school curriculum.

14. When should I plan to return to the School of Medicine?

The HC&P program and the UNC School of Medicine encourage medical students to complete their MPH requirements before returning to the School of Medicine. To allow adequate time to complete the practicum and master’s paper requirements, we strongly recommend that students plan to return to the School of Medicine in July. (Note that for August graduation, the completed master’s paper must be submitted by early to mid July.)

Students will not be approved to register for the School of Medicine block 0 rotation in June unless they have completed all MPH requirements.