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Brown becomes first in country to offer four-year joint MD-MPA program

Four-year program to integrate policy process, primary care training in hopes of policy-savvy doctors

The University will launch a dual-degree program in which students earn a doctorate of medicine and a master’s of public affairs in four years in summer 2017. The integrated curriculum and program length make it the first of its kind in the United States.

Beginning in the summer of 2017, students in the program will take classes from faculty members at the Alpert Medical School and policy department in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the healthcare system. This education will allow doctors who have real-time experience working with patients to add that perspective to the policy planning process.

“Healthcare politics is such an important field, … and it’s also really one of our most difficult policy problems,” said James Morone, director of the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy. “Someone who is trained both as a physician and as a policy analyst can really come to these problems … with real skill.”                

Health policy and medicine are invariably linked, said Paul George, the assistant dean of medical education at the Med School. Brown’s new program gives students a broad view of healthcare by providing them with both perspectives, he added.

Brown’s emphasis on interdisciplinary subjects created a “golden opportunity” to connect public policy and medicine in such a unique program, Morone said.

The program fits the Med School’s focus on primary care, as well as the Taubman’s mission of training students to be “savvy policy people,” he added. The program is “distinctly Brown” in the sense that separate parts of the university are coming together in such an interdisciplinary way.

The two subjects in the joint degree are a “natural” pair because medical doctors are now asked to consider problems outside of medicine and science, as well as to take into account direct implementation of public policy, said Carrie Nordlund, associate director of the public policy program.

The four-year timeline of the program — much shorter than the typical four years for an MD plus two years for an MPA — hinges on the one-year MPA program, Morone said.

“It’s really very demanding. We give the students an extra year of their life, … but there isn’t the kind of leisure time that a two-year program has,” he added. “That’s the trade-off.”

During their third year, students take part in a global policy experience working with policy makers in countries outside the United States. Last year’s students traveled to Sweden, Cambodia and Korea to gain international perspectives on healthcare. It is important to compare health policy in the United States to that in other countries to explore what practices work best, Nordlund said.

George said he believes the program will make students more competitive when applying to residencies, though it will prepare them for jobs outside of residencies. He said he envisions that students will go on to a variety of different careers after graduation.

At the end of the program, Morone said he wants students to be able to think, simultaneously, “‘Yes, I am a doctor,’ (and) ‘yes, I am a policy analyst.’”

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