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VUSM’s MPH Program celebrates 20th anniversary

Nov. 10, 2016, 9:15 AM

The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Master of Public Health (MPH) Program marked its 20th anniversary during Reunion Weekend in October.

The program started in 1996 with nine students and was spearheaded by three faculty members in the Department of Preventive Medicine — Marie Griffin, M.D., MPH, Wayne Ray, Ph.D., and William Schaffner, M.D.

“We had a number of residents and fellows who wanted to do research with us, but they had little or no training in epidemiology and biostatistics and didn’t have dedicated time for research. We realized we needed a training program,” said Griffin, professor of Health Policy and director of the MPH program. “We all were involved in clinical and health services population-based research, so we thought an MPH program made the most sense.”

Among those celebrating the Master of Public Health Program’s 20th anniversary at Reunion Weekend were, from left, Marie Griffin, M.D., Kathleen Neuzil, M.D., MPH, and Kathy Edwards, M.D., MPH. (photo by Anne Rayner)
Among those celebrating the Master of Public Health Program’s 20th anniversary at Reunion Weekend were, from left, Marie Griffin, M.D., MPH, Kathleen Neuzil, M.D., MPH, and Kathy Edwards, M.D. (photo by Brad Hawkins)

The MPH program offers tracks in Epidemiology, Global Health, and Health Policy, and now enrolls 25 students per year.

Kathleen Neuzil, M.D., MPH, enrolled in the first MPH class and was recognized as a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) Distinguished Alumni Award recipient during the Reunion, along with the late Levi Watkins Jr., M.D.

Neuzil is a professor of Medicine and deputy director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s new Institute for Global Health, as well as director of the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD).

In 1996 she was a junior faculty member at Vanderbilt, having completed both her residency and fellowship here, and began to seriously consider a clinical research career.

“To be successful, I felt the need to have additional formal training in epidemiology, study design and statistical methods,” she said. “The Vanderbilt program was new, which comes with some risk. However, I personally knew Drs. Marie Griffin, Wayne Ray, and Bill Schaffner from my years of residency and fellowship training. Knowing their abilities, their commitment to mentorship, and their international reputations, I was confident that the program would be a huge success.”

The MPH program initially enrolled students every other year, and most came from within Vanderbilt. The Global Health track was introduced in 2012 and admission began to include more students from other institutions.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Neuzil recalls. “My classmates came from all different disciplines, and all with reputations and successful careers already. So, the emphasis for all of us was not on grades, but on truly learning to enhance our careers. It was the most collaborative classroom experience that I have ever had in my life. And the mentors lived up to their reputations, particularly Dr. Griffin, who was my personal mentor for my research project.”

Today, the MPH is a full-time, two-year interdisciplinary program that is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health, with 224 graduates to date. Nearly 80 percent remain in academic medicine or public health positions, as faculty (56 percent) or continuing training (12 percent) in academic medicine, or in federal, state or local public health positions (10 percent).

In the past 10 years, Vanderbilt MPH graduates have published more than 3,000 original manuscripts, including 42 in the New England Journal of Medicine, 38 in Journal of the American Medical Association and 27 in The Lancet.

Applicants to the Vanderbilt MPH Program have increased from 28 in 2011 to 175 last year. The typical class size has also increased, from 12-15 to 20-30 students per year. There are 46 current students in the two-year program.

“The first 15 years were targeted at Vanderbilt fellows and faculty, and almost everyone was a physician or a Ph.D. A substantial proportion of our graduates have stayed on or joined the faculty here at Vanderbilt, and many participate as MPH mentors and teachers for our current students,” Griffin said. “Over the last five years, we have been able to accommodate a wider diversity of students, increase our course offerings and expand experiential learning opportunities. This has been great for the program.”

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