The Best of Both Worlds: Physician Assistant and Public Health

In 2015, I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Public Health and during the course of my undergraduate education, I completely fell in love with the field. A question that I get all the time is, “What is public health?” When asked, I attempt to encompass what it is into a sentence or two but it’s not truly possible. Public health is everything. It truly touches every part of our lives without us even realizing it. Seatbelts, leash laws, vaccines, fire codes, healthcare systems and policy, public parks, ending hunger, activism.. All of these things are examples of public health in action. If you boil it down to the most basic concept, public health is simply making as many people as possible healthier.. mentally, physically, and socially. This, to me, is a beautiful mission and it’s something that I have internalized and carry with me through my studies of diseases, drugs, and surgeries.

With that being said, when I graduated, I felt somewhat disappointed because I felt like I still had more to learn and do within the public health world. However, my ultimate goal was to become a PA and there was no way I was turning my acceptance down to pursue another degree. After expressing this to my faculty and advisors, there became talk of a brand-new dual degree program for physician assistant studies and public health! After many long months of curriculum planning and set-backs, I officially became the first and only student (aka the guinea pig) in UAB’s dual PA/MPH program. Although I was honored and excited, I was very apprehensive. PA school is infamous for the rigorous curriculum and exam schedules. Many people liken it to “trying to drink from a firehose,” which I can attest to. Now, after 2 semesters of public health work and 2 semesters of PA school, I am nearing the end of my didactic education, completing my internship, and I have NO REGRETS!

I believe that a working knowledge of public health is crucial to those who provide healthcare services. While PAs are trained to respond after disease or illness has already occurred, public health workers are trained to prevent that disease in the first place. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and in today’s healthcare economy, that could not be more important. With drastic changes to insurance coverage and skyrocketing costs of medical procedures and office visits, people can no longer afford to become sick. I wholeheartedly believe that the marriage of public health practice and clinical work is the key to combatting these problems. I believe that healthcare providers have a moral obligation to counsel patients on how to avoid illness and to consider the root causes of disease and morbidity when developing treatment plans.

-steps off soapbox- So, I said all that to say this.. If you are a new PA student, and also have a passion and desire to learn something else along the way, consider dual-degree options. Some programs offer dual degrees in physician assistant studies and other options such as business, public administration, or public health. If the program you’ve been accepted to doesn’t currently offer what you want, talk to administration! If you’re willing to put in the work and the planning time, it is possible to create something brand new! If what you will learn will make you a better provider, you owe it to yourself to see it through. If you have any questions about dual programs or what my curriculum is like, I would love to talk about it! Email me or leave a comment!

Love and light,




2 comments / Add your comment below

    1. It adds on two extra semesters to a normal PA program, however you can begin to complete those requirements during undergrad if you don’t want it to throw your expected graduation off too much!

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