Administrators roll out pre-med concentration for public health majors

Media Credit: File Photo by Lillian Bautista | Assistant Photo Editor

Undergraduate students majoring in public health will be able to sign up for a pre-med concentration next fall.

Milken Institute School of Public Health officials will debut a pre-medical concentration this fall to help public health students prepare to attend medical school.

The expansion of the pre-med concentration to the public health major comes as the public health school opens the major to all undergraduates with a GPA of 2.75 or higher, officials said. They said the concentration will give students interested in medical school an advantage when applying, and students enrolled will receive specialized “pre-med specific” attention from academic advisers about preparing for medical school.

Sara Wilensky, the public health school’s assistant dean for undergraduate education and the director of the undergraduate program in public health, said public health school officials will be able to keep track of students who register for the concentration to tailor academic support efforts to their interests.

“We also believe we will be able to serve pre-med students better in terms of outreach for events, information and advising since they will be clearly identified,” Wilensky said in an email.

She said that to take advantage of the concentration, students must fulfill all of the pre-med requirements on top of the requirements for the bachelor’s degree in public health.

A pre-med concentration is currently available only for exercise science majors in the public health school, but nutrition science majors are able to take pre-med coursework, Wilensky said.

She said planning for the pre-med public health concentration began last semester. Officials plan to develop a pre-health concentration for other public health students during the summer, Wilensky said.

“Milken Institute School of Public Health has always had a good portion of pre-med students,” she said. “We think [the concentration] will highlight public health as a major to consider for pre-med students across the University.”

Wilensky said public health school administrators have also removed the enrollment cap for the public health minor and removed the application process for the major to open the program to all students above the minimum GPA requirement.

“Every year, we had to turn away too many students who wanted to study public health,” Wilensky said. “We are excited to be able to provide the opportunity to major and minor in public health to so many more students.”

The number of undergraduates majoring in public health more than doubled in the last year and has increased by about 270 percent in the last five years, according to institutional data.

Public health experts expressed mixed feelings about the value of a pre-med concentration for public health students.

Rebecca Wurtz, an associate professor in the division of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota, said she has not heard of any other university providing students with a similar program. She said she does not think the concentration is a good idea from a “medical point of view” because future doctors should take a wide range of electives and study the liberal arts to best prepare them for their practice.

“Doctors should have very diverse backgrounds and study the liberal arts in college,” Wurtz said.

Melissa Hawkins, the director of the Public Health Scholars program at American University, said she sees the pre-med concentration as a “great complement” for students who are interested in clinical education. She said the increase in exposure is beneficial for students to understand “what health means.”

“We see a prosperity of diseases and conditions that really impact different communities and different individuals within communities disproportionately,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said students seem to be passionate about helping others and making a difference and have the ability to study previously unexplored areas of public health.

“You can have an interest in health and improving health, but there’s still lots of room to explore health and public health,” Hawkins said. “Ultimately, the mission of public health, to improve health and well-being, resonates with this generation who are looking for an education, and ultimately a career, that is going to make a contribution and be meaningful to make a difference in this world.”

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