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How a Masters In Public Health Can Help Physician Assistants



How a Masters In Public Health Can Help Physician Assistants

Can a Masters in Public Health help a Physician Assistant“? This is a frequent question I get asked in both my personal and professional life.

Masters in Public Health
From the Desk of Emily Smith

Keep the Net Wide

After reflecting on the numerous reasons, the main reason I keep circling back to is that it helps me keep opportunities (or what I call “the net”) wide. I derived this from the fisherman’s philosophy. While I am no fisherwoman and therefore don’t know all of the methods they use, it makes sense that by casting a wide net you are more likely to catch more fish and thus be more successful.

This analogy of casting the net wide or drawing the circle wide is something I learned at an early age from my parents and has allowed me to have many diverse experiences. I am a person who enjoys keeping myself open to opportunities and my Masters in Public Health provided me with the education, credibility, and experiences to explore other opportunities if I chose.            

Why I Got a Masters in Public Health

I have known that I wanted to be a PA since high school. I was introduced to the profession by an adult chaperone on a medical mission trip, who was a PA. After shadowing him once, I knew I had found the career that I was meant to be in. However, with my degree in Nutritional Sciences from Michigan State University and other health care experiences, I realized that obtaining medical knowledge is only part of providing quality health care.

It is important for a provider to understand the community they work in, know the resources available (or lack thereof), and understand not only how to implement programs but also determine if they are beneficial. This fueled me to research more about the dual degree MPH/PA programs.

Flint, Michigan

While I was coming to these realizations, the horrible effects of the Flint Water Crisis were becoming national news and as a native Michigander, I felt pulled to learn more about what was occurring in Flint and help in whatever way I could. I was accepted into the University of Michigan- Flint MPH program and the University allowed me to double up on classes to condense what was originally a 2-year program into 1 year.

Keeping Busy

For the first semester, I continued to gain patient care experience while taking a full master’s course load. In addition, I was also submitting my PA applications and interviewing.

During the winter, I decided I was going to attend Grand Valley State University for PA school and in the spring focused on my master’s coursework. In the summer, I completed my internship and capstone research project.

My research focused on conducting a quality analysis for my home county’s latent tuberculosis program, which required IRB approval, translating surveys into Arabic and Spanish, data analysis, a presentation to the health department and my MPH program, and a thesis paper.

I finished my Masters in Public Health in the middle of August and started my Physician Assistant program at the end of August. Needless to say, it was a busy year, but such a rewarding year.

I met some of the most amazing researchers, community advocates, and public health professionals who were working and continue to work tirelessly in Flint. I was blessed to have some of the most amazing classmates from all over the world who taught me so much and who supported each other endlessly. My professors were well-known researchers and their dedication to their students continues to inspire me.

Through my internship, working at a county public health department, in the infectious disease division, some of my roles included conducting contact tracings, working in the vaccinations/STD clinic, and working with public health nurses and program planners – all of which were irreplaceable experiences.


These opportunities during my Masters of Public Health helped me immensely in PA school and continue to help me as a provider. Having worked with a county health department, I am very familiar with the services they offer and how to work with the health department to improve patient outcomes. I better understand the crucial role health departments play in the health of our communities.

While I know there are all sorts of non-clinical and research opportunities for PAs that don’t require a Masters in Public Health, I wanted to gain more skills and training so I could be more successful should I pursue other opportunities. I wanted to gain more skills in working with statistical programs as well as designing and evaluating programs effectively. In my opinion, my experiences through my MPH helped open myself up to more opportunities in research, especially being a recent PA graduate.

Planning Ahead for a Masters in Public Health

I am a firm believer in setting yourself up now for success in the future and following your passions. As I explain to many students during counseling sessions with me, I like to cast my net wide in both my professional and personal life.

Personally, I strive to be inclusive and I truly enjoy meeting new people. I am always trying to create opportunities for myself to meet and learn from others. Professionally, I do this as well. I cast my net wide, allowing me to gather all of the experiences and opportunities that I can now to set myself up for a better future.

I enjoy designing health care-oriented programs and evaluating whether they are working – both skills I cultivated through my MPH. In addition, I enjoy gathering and assessing data to ask the question: “how does this impact my patients’ community?”

Also, I enjoy finding new and creative ways to educate my patients so that the information is communicated effectively. These are some of the reasons I chose to obtain my MPH before heading to PA school. Did it add to my application as a Pre-PA student? Maybe. Did it help me get into PA school? Maybe. However, I didn’t obtain this degree to get into PA school. I knew the work experience and GPA I had obtained in undergrad was competitive, but I was so intrigued by Public Health and the opportunities to grow that it could provide me.

My hope is that this inspires you to pursue your passions – whatever they may be – so that you too have the flexibility and skill set to achieve your goals and help to better serve your community.

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