The Path of Distinction in Public Health offers an opportunity for medical and physician assistant students to customize their education with a public health emphasis that develops through a public health research or service learning project and supplemental coursework.
The Path of Distinction in Public Health collaborates with several programs throughout the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health including Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health (TRIUMPH), Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM), the global health program and Shapiro Summer Research. This allows students to determine their area of interest, identify the public health and/or community engagement component and craft an experience that is specific to their interest.
The particular “path” a student chooses is usually an individual decision. Learn more about how some current Path of Distinction in Public Health students are developing their own experience.
Hometown: Shorewood, Wisconsin
Undergrad: Grinnell College, BA in chemistry and Chinese
Why I chose the Path of Distinction: I have always had a passion for public health and had been planning to pursue a MPH degree in addition to the MD since before starting medical school. The Path of Distinction in Public Health aligned perfectly with this goal and provided an opportunity to get exposure to public health topics early in medical school and to meet other public health-minded students and professors. The overlapping requirements made it simple to participate in both the PoD and the MPH program.
Path of Distinction project: My project is with the Department of Environmental Health at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center in Milwaukee. We are assessing the impact of the Kinnickinnic River Corridor Neighborhood Plan on the health of the surrounding community. I started the project in my M3 year as a TRIUMPH student, and am able to combine it with my MPH field experience requirements and PoD project requirements, ultimately providing 2.5 years for me to delve into this project.
Greatest benefit/experience gained from project: The opportunity to work with an organization like Sixteenth Street Community Health Center has been a great part of the experience. I have really appreciated getting to work with and learn from experts at an organization that provides such a wide range of programs to its patients, from clinical care to environmental health programming and WIC services. In addition, learning to plan, organize and be responsible for keeping a project running has been a both a challenge and also great learning experience.
Future plans: I plan to use my training in medicine and public health as a family medicine doctor in an urban underserved community.
Hometown: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Undergrad: Grinnell College
Why I chose the Path of Distinction: The mission of the Path of Distinction to integrate public health leadership into medical practice greatly aligns with my future career goals. Before applying to medical school, I worked in public health programming and surveillance in the Chicago Public School district. There, I learned to value the lens of a public health perspective. I came to UW Madison because programs like the PoD promoted helping students like me develop a public health lens and structure it around a clinical practice. I hope to be able to combine the training from the PoD with my clinical experience to have impactful, empowering encounters with communities and patients.
Path of Distinction project: Much research has been done analyzing thematic norms presented in birth stories to improve healthcare practices and patient experiences. However, very little data has been collected on how physicians’ own birthing stories shape the ways they provide care. My study on How Doctors Birth explored if and how the personal birthing experiences of female providers had any impact on the care they provide patients by listening to their powerful birth stories (pdf).
Greatest benefit/experience gained from project: The experience of interviewing and working side by side strong female physicians was by far the best part of my summer project. As a young student in training, I am still learning to develop strategies of balance in a career that can be equally rewarding and exhausting. The women I interacted with throughout the study all had unique ways of balancing a career as a physician with life as a mother while simultaneously being an advocate of health for a community. Each story was inspiring and will be a formative piece in the way I practice as a physician.
Future plans: As a National Health Corps Scholarship recipient and a member of TRIUMPH, my future plans will definitely involve working in an urban underserved community as a primary care provider. Right now, I hope to work in an federally qualified health center (FQHC) as an obstetrician and gynecologist, but my third year has only just begun!
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Undergrad: Mount Holyoke College, BA in mathematics, and University of Massachusetts-Amherst, BS in industrial engineering
Why I chose the Path of Distinction: Before deciding to pursue a medical career, I studied industrial engineering, a field that analyzes people and systems. I wanted to use this background to add to my clinical work by initiating on upstream public health programs; that is, the PoD program led me to explore and implement preventative measures in health systems that can lead to better long-term health outcomes.
Path of Distinction project: I carried out cultural fieldwork, sought funding and ultimately implemented a pilot program called “Citesc Zilnic ('Read Everyday'): A Physician-Initiated Early Childhood Reading Program in Cluj County, Romania.” This project was inspired by the American Reach Out and Readprogram whereby physicians are encouraged to tell parents and caregivers about the long-term health benefits of reading to young children and physicians promote this by handing out free books.
Greatest benefit/experience gained from project: By founding Citesc Zilnic (pdf), I honed my leadership skills and gained hands-on experience in a sometimes difficult healthcare delivery system as I became reacquainted with the medical system of my home country of Romania. This in turn, reinforced an invaluable perspective with which I can view problems in the U.S. healthcare system.
I learned an enormous amount about collaboration and setting up international partnerships – this was the beginning of a “beautiful friendship” with the Cluj School of Public Health, the institution that is now carrying forth the Citesc Zilnic mission of educating Romanian physicians and their patients about the value of reading to children in infancy and early childhood.
Future plans: As I write this, I am in the midst of doing my rotations that will help me determine my medical specialization. Suffice to say, however, I plan to have public health as a significant part of my career, playing an advisory role or perhaps taking a leadership position in the implementation of health policy improvements.
Hometown: Williams Bay, Wisconsin
Undergrad: UW-Madison, BS in biology
Why I chose the Path of Distinction: I came to the UWSMPH with the intentions of becoming a great physician, but after interacting with several faculty and mentors, I discovered that what I actually wanted was to become a future community health leader. The PoD has allowed me to bridge that gap between the clinical knowledge gained in classes and the social determinants of health affecting the community at large. As a WARM student, the PoD is perfectly aligned with my aspirations to improve the health of rural communities and allows for the incorporation of my third year community project.
Path of Distinction project: During the summer between M1 and M2, I worked with a clinic coordinator at a free health clinic near my hometown in Walworth County to develop a return on investment model that would allow us to demonstrate its current and future value. With this project, we had hoped to quantify the presumed benefit a free clinic provides to its community and local healthcare system. Shortly after starting, I found myself learning about an entire new side of healthcare that I had previously never considered, and while I do not see myself working in a finance department, I know that having this kind of breadth of knowledge will only serve to help me in my future endeavors.
Greatest benefit/experience gained from project: As the project came to a close, it was great to see all the numbers in our ROI model come together, allowing us to definitively prove the free clinic’s worth. The highlight, however, came months after the project was complete, when the information was used to help the clinic acquire a large grant. This money has allowed the clinic to move into a larger facility and one step closer to becoming a fully functional community health center.
Future plans: I am currently in my third year and trying to figure that out, but regardless of my specialty, I know I will be splitting my time between helping solve problems inside the clinic and preventing those that are out in the community.