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About a dozen Yale undergraduates met with faculty and staff from the Yale School of Public Health in an information session Monday for the new combined B.A.-B.S./M.P.H. program offered by Yale College and the School of Public Health.

At the meeting, Brian Leaderer, interim dean of the School of Public Health and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said nationwide interest in public health issues is consistently rising, and Yale has mirrored this trend.

Mark Schlesinger, director of undergraduate studies at the School of Public Health — a position created only four months ago — said two types of students are expected to participate in the program: social activists who will use the M.P.H. as a terminal professional degree and those who will go on to obtain degrees in fields such as medicine, law or public policy. The latter group comprises about three-fourths of the standard two-year M.P.H. program’s enrollment, said Anne Pistell, dean of student affairs at the School of Public Health.

But not all students fit neatly into either group. Some said they are considering earning a second degree after their M.P.H. but are hesitant to make the decision now.

“I think that getting an M.P.H. is essential to my career goals,” said Anjali Varma ’08, who attended the meeting. “I’ll think about getting a medical degree later, if it furthers my work.”

A medical degree is one of the most common degrees students pursue in addition to their M.P.H., but it is by no means the only one.

Jessica Stephens ’09 said she plans to apply for the combined program next year and anticipates working for several years afterward before ultimately applying to law school.

Future plans vary among interested students, and their reasons for entering the field of public health also differ. Several said they have always had an interest in the subject, but for others, their interest developed more recently.

Sarah Milby ’07 said she was always broadly interested in the field, but narrowed her focus to global health after a spring break trip to Nicaragua.

“I knew it would be eye-opening,” she said. “But it was a slap in the face that conditions would be that much worse there.”

Milby furthered her interest this past summer by volunteering in a health clinic in Peru while teaching English in a rural school. Her experience is similar to the sort of summer internship in which B.A.-B.S./M.P.H. students will be required to participate between their fourth and fifth years in the program. The internship requirement will help give students the real-world experience they may not have by entering directly from college, said Kaveh Khoshnood, a professor of epidemiology and public health.

Program organizers said lack of real-world experience should not be a problem for the students admitted into the program.

“It has to be a student who knows this training is part of their professional plan,” Pistell said. “Why now, why the joint degree? That’ll be important to me when I’m reading [applicants'] essays.”

But some, including Pistell, said the program may not be right for everyone.

“It takes a certain sensibility to know what you want to do,” said Tom Cannell ’06, former editor in chief of the Yale Journal of Public Health. “It’s not a liberal arts education.”

While Leaderer said there are no immediate plans to implement an undergraduate major in health studies, Schlesinger said a committee is still assessing the possibility, though no progress has been made recently. He said an undergraduate course on American public health policy will be taught next year by public health professor Elizabeth Bradley through the departments of Political Science and History of Science, History of Medicine.

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