Public Health Issues Key for Medical Schools, Applicants


From America’s prescription drug abuse epidemic to the Zika virus, the world is facing ever-changing public health issues. But current physicians aren’t the only ones who need to pay attention to these issues – lifelong learning about public health is everyone’s responsibility.

Medical schools have been adapting their curriculum to better educate physicians about these crises, and states like Vermont and Ohio are requiring a number of physicians to complete continuing education courses on prescribing opioids. And prospective medical students need to understand the world’s current public health issues and be prepared to discuss these topics during medical school interviews.

Like other drugs, health care providers must learn not only indications but all the negative consequences that can occur to the patient or others around them.

Our school, for example, requests students attend a 12-step group to hear individuals talk about their experience and its impact on their lives. Online courses also abound. There may be modules from online resources like our Center for Technology-Enhanced Knowledge and Instruction required for health care providers that are also required of students. Stanford University also has online continuing education courses, including a free one on prescription drug addiction, for example.

The Association of American Medical Colleges MedEdPORTAL’s Public Health Collection CE Directory shares continuing education course outlines, objectives and outcomes and is available to students and the general public who are interested in seeing offerings from faculty and staff at different institutions or even presenting their own.

Other public health issues in the news are fair game for medical school applicants to discuss in applications or interviews, so start paying attention. One of the most prevalent right now is the threat of Zika virus infection.

On Aug. 2, more than a dozen locally acquired cases of Zika virus were reported in Florida, just north of Miami, resulting in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing a travel warning. While much is still unknown about the Zika virus, we do know that the Aedes species mosquito will continue to travel and spread the virus to those who have not protected themselves or taken sexual precautions. Vaccines are still in development.

Hopefully, you have been paying attention over the past few months and recognize how many countries have identified cases. The map on the CDC website illustrates how many countries – far beyond Brazil, where many of the cases began in late 2015 – have confirmed Zika infections.

Knowing that infection occurs from either a mosquito bite or a sexual encounter with someone who was infected is critical knowledge; so is knowing that birth defects – such as microcephaly – cognitive and motor delays and a higher risk for cerebral palsy can occur in infants whose mothers have been infected.

The CDC and the World Health Organization have excellent websites that they regularly update, and anyone can sign up to receive their email updates.

Radio stations, newspapers, blogs and many websites are addressing our educational needs about Zika. I was impressed by the educational packages available to teachers to incorporate into their lesson plans.

Know that you will be asked about public health issues as you interview this season for medical school. You will be expected to have some knowledge and reflections on what the Zika virus means to your community and the world. Be prepared for these interview questions, as well as questions on other public health concerns.