Idaho State University and the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine are partnering to offer dual enrollment for students working to obtain a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and a Master of Public Health degree at the same time.
“This is the second program of its kind through this unique partnership,” said Stephanie Dillon, ICOM Director of Communications and Marketing. “ICOM students may also pursue a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) degree through Idaho State University.”
The Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, a private medical school, opened in 2018 with the mission to train osteopathic physicians to care for residents in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and beyond. The curriculum involves four years of academic study with an emphasis on preventative medicine and holistic patient care. The cohort size is 162 students, though ICOM receives more than 3,000 applications during its annual cycle.
Ryan Lindsay, chair of the Department of Community and Public Health at ISU, says this is an exciting opportunity.
“Joint training through our accredited master's degree in public health and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine marries two excellent training programs in Idaho that complement each other well to prepare the health workforce that Idaho needs to continue our response to COVID-19 and other current pressing public health issues,” Lindsay said.
Both Lindsay and Lisa Salazar, director of the Master of Public Health program, say the pandemic has made a major impact on the future of health care providers.
“The idea of a "once-every-hundred-year" pandemic is shortsighted and shouldn't make us feel like we have plenty of time to rebuild our public health workforce; we need a stronger public health workforce now and having training in Idaho that allows simultaneous completion of a DO with an MPH, all in Idaho, is an exciting step forward,” Lindsay said.
Salazar confirmed there has been an increase in applications to health-related programs since the pandemic began.
“Some researchers speculate that the connection between these increased application numbers is the result of the organic humanistic responses to the dedication witnessed,” she said. “Not unlike the surge that 9-11 caused in first responder applications, the witnessing of front-line workers seems to have encouraged potential students to be part of the public health discipline too. Others may have been looking for a pandemic-proof vocation and clearly public health fit that bill.”
These new health care providers will be critical, as some in the health professions may be looking elsewhere for work since experiencing the stresses of a pandemic.
“I was reading an article that referred to the results of a survey conducted by MDLinx last summer,” Salazar said. “The survey was directed at US physicians to see how the pandemic had impacted them personally and professionally. Out of the more than 1200 responses, about half were rethinking their career choices. About a third was going to change their practice setting, approximately 20% was going to retire or start a new career completely, and 49% were not planning to make a change.”
Salazar says these numbers could be devastating to our healthcare systems across the country, and it means we need to get more physicians and health practitioners trained and into practice. Salazar explained how public health is a complex and, at times, abstract concept.
“While many define health as being free from disease, looking at the concept of public health introduces additional topics such as advocacy, health equity, and social determinants of public health,” Salazar said, adding that having physicians trained more broadly in planning, policy, and partnerships is beneficial for all involved. “A strong foundation of well-trained practitioners only enhances the positive outcomes of public health interventions.”
Now more than ever, Salazar says, collaboration between medical professionals is going to be critical to projected physician shortages in the next decade.
“We simply cannot keep working on the limited resources available in the public health sector,” she said. “We must graduate passionate and motivated students to become champions of change and bring about systemic and deliberate change that can be sustained long-term. Collaborations with other medical provider degree programs like ICOM allow us to strengthen the foundation of this movement.”
ICOM’s inaugural class will graduate in May 2022 and will welcome its fourth cohort in August 2021, set to graduate in May 2025.
"The unique public-private partnership between the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine and Idaho State University allows for collaborative ventures such as the DO-MPH degree option," said Dr. Tracy J. Farnsworth, ICOM President. "ICOM students who combine an MPH with their professional medical degree will gain additional competencies to advance their career and increase their ability to improve health outcomes.”