Let’s learn about the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree – a candidate’s journey and experiences, with Meghan Haffey

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Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Meghan Haffey to talk about her journey from discovering public health to the present day, where she is a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) student in the Health Promotion & Health Education program at the University of Texas, School of Public Health.

You’ll Learn

  • Meghan’s journey prior to pursuing her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree, including the premed route that she first started off in, switching into public health, and pursuing a Master of Public Health and specializing in Epidemiology
  • That it’s okay to start off in one field and then switch to a different one; just because you choose it, doesn’t mean you have to stick to it; don’t think that the years you may have spent in one area was a waste, it is all part of the journey
  • The sentiment and people’s preconceived notion that exists when one chooses to switch from the medical school path to a public health path, which Meghan did.
  • Additionally, normalizing the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree, so that it is acceptable if one chooses not to pursue a PhD.
  • Why Meghan decided to pursue a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree, how she decided between a PhD or a DrPH degree, what she did to make the decision (informational interviews, employment perspectives, demand for each of the degrees)
  • Tips for when you are trying to decide on a doctoral degree
  • The difference between a DrPH and a PhD
  • Why she chose the School of Public Health at the University of Texas and a bit about the program:
    • Her specialization: Health Promotion and Health Education (Minor in Health Policy)
    • A walk-through of the first two years of the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) program
    • Her experiences to date – a glimpse of what it feels like to be in the program, including courses, prerequisites, and work experiences she has gained through the faculty
  • Life after her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree – where she hopes her public health path will take her

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Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) programs
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This tool compares 51 DrPH programs across 27 variables.
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Today’s Guest

Meghan Haffey

Meghan Haffey is passionate about health advocacy, wellness promotion, nutrition, disease education and prevention, languages, serving people of all cultures, and leadership. She is currently finishing her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree in Health Promotion and Health Education with a minor in Health Policy. She has completed all doctoral-level coursework, passed the preliminary exam, and is now working on her dissertation. She is also working full-time as a graduate research assistant on the UTHealth RADx-UP121 COVID-19 testing and vaccination project and on the production of a health promotion graduate school textbook.

She graduated from Baylor University as a University Scholars major in the Honors Program, concentrating in the sciences, public health, Spanish and Chinese. She then completed her Masters in Public Health (MPH) degree in Epidemiology with a Leadership Studies Concentration at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. She also graduated from the Archer Graduate Program in Public Policy at the Archer Center in Washington, D.C. As an Archer Graduate Fellow, she worked with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) in the Government Affairs department. Her experiences have ignited a passion to ultimately pursue a public health career in disease prevention, health education and wellness promotion.

 
 

Resources

Other PH SPOT resources:

Access the list of
Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) programs
around the world

This tool compares 51 DrPH programs across 27 variables.
This is the tool you need to get started on your application.

Episode Transcript

Meghan 0:00
I’m hoping that as we’re kind of normalizing the conversation around this new degree that people will experience that because just like people are like, oh, they’re getting a PhD, like everyone knows what a PhD is.

Sujani 0:11
Yeah.

Meghan 0:12
Hopefully at some point, you know, people will be saying that having that same idea towards a DrPH, like, it’ll be that much more of a normal degree plan.

Sujani 0:23
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:41
Hey there, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, I am the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Today’s episode is focused on the Doctor of Public Health degree, or DrPH for short. I sit down with Megan Haffey, to talk all about it including her journey from discovering public health to the present day where she is a doctor of public health student at the School of Public Health within the University of Texas. So if the Doctor of Public Health or DrPH is something you have not heard about, you’re going to learn all about it in today’s episode, we also have a number of additional resources that we’re going to link up in the show notes page. In case you are interested in learning more about this program. But in short, the DrPH is a doctoral level program that unlike the PhD focuses on leadership management, and essentially practice based training in public health versus immersing you in research skills, which is the focus of a PhD. And there are a number of universities around the world that offer the Doctor of Public Health degree, including one in Canada at the University of Toronto. Since a Doctor of Public Health degree isn’t a well known program within many of our public health circles, I decided to sit down with Meghan to hear more about it. She tells us about discovering the program, why she decided to choose a Doctor of Public Health over a PhD. Her experiences so far, having completed two years of the DrPH program. And just a little bit more about the University of Texas and what her specialization has been within this program. We also walk through kind of what a day looks like how her classes are, and her hopes for the future with her Doctor of Public Health degree. So without further ado, here is our conversation.

Sujani 3:03
Hey, Meghan, thank you so much for joining me on PH SPOTlight on this episode. And I’m so excited to dive into this topic of this program that you’re in the Doctor of Public Health. So welcome. And thank you first.

Meghan 3:18
Yes, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited that you’ve given me the opportunity to talk about this program, because I wish I would have had someone to listen to talk- to talk about it when I was a student looking for graduate school programs. So,

Sujani 3:31
Yeah.

Meghan 3:31
I’m excited.

Sujani 3:32
Awesome. And I think I told you this, you know, I’m in Canada, and we do have followers for PH SPOT across the world, but predominantly, they’re in Canada. And this past summer, we had our first doctor of public health program kind of open up in the country. So there’s been a ton of interest, like we published a blog post or we had a contributor write a blog post about the doctor public health program a year ago, and it’s still one of the most popular posts. And then this summer we also interviewed the individual who spearheaded the doctor public health program here in Canada. And that ended up being one of our top podcast episodes. So I’m sure that this one is going to get as much I guess listenership so no pressure.

Meghan 4:22
Yeah. I’m excited that people are so interested to learn about it. Because I think that for a while, it was not even known to be an option for people who wanted to pursue higher education. I think if you wanted to go about something past a Masters, even in public health or a Masters of Science, it seemed like the PhD route was the only available route. And for a lot of people, including myself, that’s just not a good fit. Or it’s not why we would want to pursue another degree after a master’s and so I’m really glad that people are exploring the DrPH route more, because I think a lot of people are going to be very pleased with what it offers.

Sujani 5:05
Yeah, myself included, I never saw myself kind of pursuing a PhD, I knew that I wanted to do higher education after my master’s, but the PhD was just never attractive for me. So I’m totally in that boat of individuals who are excited about the doctor public health program, and just to learn more about it. And, you know, so nice having you here, because you are currently in the program. And I think it’s the best way you can just learn from individuals who are going through that journey. And so I thought we could start with kind of before you coming to this decision of pursuing a Doctor of Public Health, like, what were you doing? I know, you got a master’s in public health degree as well. So maybe if you could tell our listeners kind of what sort of background you had before you even considered a Doctor of Public Health.

Meghan 5:55
Sure. So we can start all the way back into college if we want to. I, forever since I was really young, I knew I wanted to do something in the health care world. And for most of my young adult life, I thought that being pre med was the only option. I thought that if I wanted to do anything with health or anything with helping people with their health, then I would, I would need to go get an MD, I thought that that was the only route that was open for that area of interest. And so for the longest time I was at- I went to Baylor University for undergrad and I was pre med, all through probably almost up until the end of my junior year. And just by chance, I ended up taking a public health elective course that was offered in one of our one of- one of the departments that was near the science building. And I remember thinking, well, I don’t know what public health is, but I’m sure it would be complementary to what I’m learning in the sciences, because I need to know how to help the public with their health. And so I took it as an elective. And I remember sitting in that course and thinking, oh, my gosh, this is everything that I- I’ve been saying I want to do in medicine. But this is considered a whole other field. Why has no one ever told me about this before. And so long story short, almost up to my senior year of starting, I decided that I was not going to go to medical school. And I made the really difficult decision at the time, because it was probably one of the biggest decisions I had made. When you think you’re on a path that you are, you know, prepping for for so many years, and then you realize that it’s not actually what you were thinking it was going to be. I decided to make the complete switch and jump into public health and get the most out of the coursework that I could. At Baylor University, I was very fortunate that since I was in the university Scholars Program in the Honors College, I had the flexibility to kind of switch up my coursework and take advantage of the public health courses that they offered. And then I decided that since I kind of got into the public health field late in the game, in my own opinion, because a lot of people are college knowing they want to do public health, but I didn’t know about it until almost finishing college, I knew that I wanted to pursue a master’s first I had a lot of friends who in their areas of interest in biochemistry or molecular biology, they weren’t just going to jump right into a PhD. Because for some people, that is the right decision for them. But I knew that since I got in to the public health realm a little bit later than I would have hoped, I wanted a little bit more schooling in it. And so that’s what led me to get my master’s in public health. At the time, I was very unaware of all of the different program options that existed.

Sujani 8:57
Yeah.

Meghan 8:57
And also all of the different disciplines that were offered. With regards to you know, not just all of the different programs out there, but the different departments that existed. So like epidemiology, biostatistics, health promotion, community health. And so at the time with having very little knowledge of all of these options, and where I would fit the best, I decided to get my master’s in public health and epidemiology because I was under the impression that epidemiology is applicable to any area of public health that you study, unfortunately, that understanding was correct. And people told me that that is definitely true. And so I was able to kind of build that Public Health Foundation, getting that master’s of public health and epidemiology. And then, after I got my master’s in public health, I thought to myself, well, you know, now that I’m more familiar with what exists in this field as a whole. I have a better idea of how I want to contribute to the field. And I felt that for what I wanted to do in the field that I would need a doctorate degree, whether that was a PhD or a DrPH. And so I knew that I didn’t want to stick to epidemiology, because I- while I enjoyed it, I didn’t want that to be all that I did. And so I decided to look into the programs that were out there for, you know, how you could focus in different areas for your DrPH, because just like I picked epidemiology for my masters, you can pick, you know, a certain concentration, or a certain department, I guess, for your doctorate program. And so I ended up settling on health promotion and Behavioral Sciences, or I guess, in this case, it’s called health promotion and health education. And I also selected a minor in health policy. And so that is kind of how I got to this degree. And one of the things that I think was the biggest takeaway, just from this kind of general overview of of my, my academic journey, is just because you start off in one field, doesn’t mean that you have to stay in it, if you find that something else better suits your interests and your passions, no matter where you are in the game. So if you find out later, don’t think that all of the schooling that you did for that other path was wasted, or, you know, all for nothing. I actually had having all of that pre med foundation actually helped make me a really great candidate for my master’s degree anyway, so it’ll happen for a reason. But that’s a little bit about my, my journey to the DrPH.

Sujani 11:42
It’s, it’s quite interesting, because I was just talking to a friend before you and I jumped on this call about how both her and I had discovered public health because of this, like, elective course, we just happened to take. And it’s funny to hear that you also had a similar path. And my friend was saying she’s also heard similar stories. And you mentioned kind of that you knew people who, right off the bat knew about public health, and that’s what they started their university or college in. So yeah, I’m always fascinated about how people discover public health. And it seems that there’s these two groups, one group that just always knew about public health and a different group who had no idea about public health, and this one elective they ended up choosing, leads them into this path of public health. So that’s super cool to hear how you and I, and a lot of other public health professionals kind of just stumbled into public health and end up thinking, wow, this is- this is the program or the career path that was meant for me.

Meghan 12:43
Yeah, and I think, and I’ve actually been fortunate enough to be able to speak to a lot of people who kind of had the same experience I did with starting out as pre med, and then coming into public health. And for whatever reason, and I also experienced this as well, there was a weird- there was a weird idea that going from being pre med to public health was like taking a step down. And I don’t know, I don’t know why, I don’t know where that idea came from, or, I don’t know, if it had to do with just the notorious rigor of being pre med. And for some people, rigor equates to, you know, notoriety or success or, or, you know, the better path for that person. And so I just wanted to share that as well, because I did experience that from people who made me feel like I was almost like choosing the easier route, for whatever reason. And I just wanted to reiterate, I want to reiterate that that’s not the case at all. And- and people should not feel that way. I don’t know if it has to do with just the fact that, you know, public, the public health field is so vast, and so you can, you can kind of explore areas that you’re interested in a little bit more freely. Whereas when you’re pre med, you don’t really have that flexibility. In the beginning, you’re kind of locked into this curriculum. But I don’t know if you’ve heard any other listeners or people share that experience.

Sujani 14:13
Yeah, totally. I have. I actually recorded an episode much earlier, if individuals are interested, it was called “Why I will not be applying to medical school”. And it’s an episode with the individual by the name of Sophiya Garasiya. And she wrote a blog post for us a number of years ago, and that also ended up being popular, which kind of showed us that others were also feeling this way. And Sophiya, in that episode talks about, you know, her deciding to after years of telling everyone that she wanted to go to medical school ends up, you know, having this like reflective period in her life where she decides that that’s not the path that she wants to go on. And public health is a path that she wants to take and kind of all these comments that she’s heard from people and it’s quite similar to what you mentioned. So, if individuals are interested, we can certainly link that up. And I’d love to hear from others, you know, in the comments or email about if you’ve heard similar comments like Meghan mentioned.

Meghan 15:13
Yeah, I think it’s an important conversation to have, especially when people are, it’s a very difficult, you know, decision to make when you’re at- when you’re expected to make a, you know, a career decision when you’re that when you’re young and in college, and you’re still figuring it out. And so having those, you know, weird preconceived notions, kind of also floating around in the back of your mind, that doesn’t help the decision making at all. And so I’m hoping that, as we’re kind of normalizing the conversation around this new degree that people won’t experience that because just like people’s are like, oh, they’re getting a PhD, like, everyone knows what a PhD is.

Sujani 15:49
Yeah.

Meghan 15:50
Hopefully, at some point, you know, people will be saying that having that same idea towards a DrPH, it’ll be that much more of a normal degree plan, because I still have to explain to people what it is. And so that’s great, because people are asking.

Sujani 16:04
Yeah.

Meghan 16:05
But, but yeah, I’m really glad that people are talking about it more, because that I think that for a lot of people, they’re going to realize that this is a really good degree for them.

Sujani 16:14
Awesome. I’m excited to dive into this much more deeper than and like, you know, you said, decisions are often hard. And so you mentioned in your kind of intro that you knew that the Doctor of Public Health was the journey that you wanted to go on. So I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about like, what sort of experiences or reflections are just, I guess, life experiences, or maybe academic experiences or work experiences that kind of like led you to come to that decision of the Doctor of Public Health being the journey that you wanted to take next?

Meghan 16:53
Sure, yeah. So, so like I had mentioned earlier, I knew that I wanted to pursue some sort of doctoral degree. So at the time, it was really understanding the differences between the PhD route in public health and the DrPH route. And so I actually did a lot of informational interviews to get people’s opinions and perspectives on each of these degrees. And so I knew kind of just from my own general research that I think I was fitting in more with the DrPH route. And so some of the questions I actually asked these professionals had to do with, you know, what are the differences in prospects for employment with a DrPH versus a PhD? What are the jobs that, you know, are more suited for DrPHs versus PhDs? You know, where do you see the demand for each of these degrees being in the public health world. And one person actually gave me a really wonderful analogy to kind of understand the difference between both degrees. And so I actually would love to share that really quick for anyone who is kind of wanting to know, like the surface level differences. And so I was told that the PhD, if you think about it is more education plus research, with a little bit of leadership, but it’s not as focused on leadership. So PhDs are focused more on, you know, publications, academia, and the leadership roles that are available, and that usually kind of stay within that realm of work. But the DrPH is actually more education plus leadership. With a little bit of research. It’s not as focused on research. And so the DrPH, is more, it more avoids the publish or perish, quote unquote, mentality. And the DrPH degree will actually set you on more executive tracks and leadership. So for example, being a dean or a program director. And you can have these leadership roles in other areas outside of academia too. And that’s what really attracted me to the program. I loved that the program was designed to train students for leadership roles as public health professionals. In both governmental and non governmental agencies. You could also work in health departments, or even if you’re really interested in research in or even in the academia setting, it seemed like you could kind of be this public health chameleon with this degree. You’re able to have different opportunities in different areas of the field and you’re not really locked into just academia or just research or just teaching. In my experience, the DrPH degree emphasizes kind of the- the development, the implementation and the evaluation of, you know, theory based public health interventions and why people behave the way that they do or or why, why Population Health patterns are what they are. And you’re able to then if you kind of go the route that I did, and then you do a policy minor, you’re able to then communicate your findings to policymakers and to the public and to people who, who need to understand what we’re learning, and who, who would benefit the most from that information. And so, of course, now public health is becoming a lot more talked about with everything going on with COVID-19. And we’re seeing a lot of that community health messaging going out with educating people about, you know, how to avoid contracting the virus, right. And so for people who are interested in seeing kind of firsthand the practical applications, that of what you learn in this degree, we’re seeing them right now every day. And so, ultimately, I knew for myself, when I was deciding between the two degrees, I didn’t want my career to be research dominant. And honestly, that was kind of the real decision decision maker there. I didn’t want it to be research dominant, I knew I’d love to collaborate on research projects and papers if I wanted to, but I didn’t want that to be kind of the center of my career. And so because of that, I knew that the DrPH would be the better fit for me because I, I had the freedom to decide, you know, where I wanted to be a leader. And I think one of the first things that I would suggest to people if they’re really stuck between deciding or even just if they want to learn more about what, you know, the differences and similarities between different DrPH degrees in different institutions, look at the degree planner that is made available to students or even reach out to a faculty member to get access to one because I remember having the printed out versions of the PhD degree planner and the DrPH one side by side on my desk, and I was just looking at the different classes that were required of each. And I instantly knew that I was not going to enjoy a PhD, just based on the classes that were required.

Sujani 22:15
Do you remember what some of those, like specific course differences were, it might have been way too long for you to remember.

Meghan 22:23
I remember the PhD being a lot more biostats and statistical analysis and at the heavy, and also a lot more research heavy. So you’re doing a lot more analytics courses, you’re learning all of the different levels of research and different analysis. Whereas and so you’re a lot more in that realm of- of research and publications and writing proposals and grant writing courses. Whereas for the DrPH, and keep in mind, I’m looking at just you know, the health promotion, department, it was a lot more behavioral science heavy, and we’re looking at the theoretical frameworks behind why people behave the way that they do. And, you know, looking at different actual like, like different frameworks surrounding like emergency preparedness and chronic disease and disease prevention practices, and how to properly create materials for people to, you know, have these ideas communicated to the community and looking at both individual level behavioral frameworks and community level ones. And so I really loved just the practical application mindset that the DrPH presented. And I knew I wanted to be a quote unquote, population health doctor, as opposed to, you know, the individual health doctor that MDS are and so I really was drawn to, to that degree plan for that reason.

Sujani 23:55
And I guess, I need to keep reminding myself that the Doctor of Public Health Program is a lot more mature in the US. And so you do have these options for, I guess, call them concentrations or more of like streams within Doctor of Public Health degree. Whereas this first one in Canada, if I remember correctly, it’s a generic Doctor of Public Health Program. Similar to how you know there are a generic Master’s of Public Health Program and there are others who allow you to specialize in Epi or health promotion based on your interest. So I guess I’d suggest for individuals who are kind of interested in more specific stream definitely check out universities around the world and the US certainly has mature programs that kind of speak to the examples that Meghan is giving us. And I guess, you know, similar to myself, Meghan, it sounds like you went from your undergrad university program to your masters kind of, almost immediately. And I did the same thing. And you know, I got a lot out of my master’s program, but at times I used to think and sometimes still do, would my experience in the Master of Public Health Program have differed? Or would I have gotten a lot more had I, maybe just a couple years of work experience in epidemiology or in public health, depending on where your interests are, I wonder if you’ve had similar thoughts. And I know, you kind of worked for a little bit as an epidemiologist before your doctoral public health program. But I wonder for individuals considering the doctor of public health program, are there kind of recommendations or suggestions that you could provide to them based on your own experience?

Meghan 25:47
Sure, I think, I think that ultimately deciding whether or not you’re going to jump right into school, again, right after college, or taking some time off to get, you know, full time work experience. It varies depending on kind of the resources at your dispose of at that time, I remember that I was fortunate to be able to have the option to because the school I wanted to go to was in Houston. And that’s where I grew up. And so I was able to move back home, and go to complete my master’s and ultimately, my DrPH from home. And so one thing that my parents really wanted me to think about was, you know, it’s a lot easier to keep the momentum and just kind of knock it all out back to back to back while you’re young, and you don’t have children, and you kind of are only thinking about setting yourself up for the success that you want. I will say for people who decide to do it that way. There are a lot of at least with my institution, there were a lot of really good work opportunities to do alongside being a student. And so I think that if you are someone who would rather kind of do both at the same time, a lot of the programs make that possible too. However, I know a lot of people who took some time off and and worked in the field, and then that helped them also decide where they wanted to focus. And so I think a lot of it has to do with kind of where you’re at in your academic journey. I remember at the time, I was considering- I was considering the idea of pausing between my masters and my DrPH and working then I don’t think I felt prepared to jump into a public health position right after college because I had started that field so late. I think what made me decide to just push through to the DrPH and not take time off to work was that I already had, I already had a pretty good amount of epi experience during my master’s just as- as part time work. And actually keep in mind, too, we had hurricane Harvey at that point. So I got epidemiology emergency preparedness kind of all in one experience during that disaster. But I think, I think I felt like I knew what I wanted to focus in for my DrPH at that time to- to where I felt comfortable just jumping right in, I think if you’re someone who still is unsure of where you want to focus, it would be really advantageous to take some time to maybe not only work in the field for a year or two, but also talk to people in the field that you know, and get their advice on other resources that you could seek out or other people that you could potentially do informational interviews with, because informational interviews were really important for me in deciding that I even wanted to continue on to do a DrPH.

Sujani 28:58
Yeah, I think ultimately, it’s about how clear are you on with the direction that you want to go? And if you’re feeling unclear, like you said, best to get out and get some experience and talk to people before you kind of committed to a four year program right?

Meghan 29:16
Now, I will say depending on the institution, some DrPH programs require applicants to hold an MPH or a master’s degree in another field or two plus years of professional work experience. And so, you know, some people may instead want to work for two years, and then go into a DrPH instead of spending two years getting their master’s.

Sujani 29:40
Okay.

Meghan 29:41
So that’s also something to think about when it comes to the different requirements for the institution that you’re looking at.

Sujani 29:47
Yeah, absolutely. So you said that you ended up choosing the University of Texas if I got that correctly, because it was back in your hometown. So I’m just wondering if you could talk to us about whether there were other requirements for the doctor or public health program when you were deciding which university to pursue? Or was it kind of almost all based on location?

Meghan 30:14
It’s so funny that you asked that question. I, it was so funny I was I had, after I finished my master’s, I was on this, you know, high horse of like, okay, now that I’m going to do my DrPH, I want to go to like the most prestigious school, I don’t care where it is. But I want to, you know, I had all these high hopes, right, and, and I remember thinking to myself, you know, I, I want to apply to all these different places, just so I have all these options. And I remember I knew that the UT Health, the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health in Houston was a fantastic institution. Regardless, I mean, the location is amazing, it’s in the, it’s in the smack dab in the middle of the largest medical center and in the world. It has a plethora of opportunities just in its immediate vicinity. And the faculty and the school itself are just amazing. But I also kind of went through a really brief phase where I was like, I don’t want to be in Texas I have my whole life, I want to explore another school in another state. And so naturally, like any public health person would- would look into I was really drawn to Johns Hopkins. And because Johns Hopkins is like, you just look at it. And you’re thinking, oh my gosh, this is like the Holy Grail of public health schools, right? But I remember thinking to myself, at the time, there were things going on in my personal life that really wouldn’t, wouldn’t make it a good decision for me to completely move out of Texas and move to a whole different part of the country. And so, for those who are interested in it, Johns Hopkins actually offers an online, DrPH program, I think their requirements are that you have to, you know, fly there and attend, I think, three different events in the semester, but you complete most of the work online and remote. And so I’m over here thinking that this is perfect. Like, I can go to the school without having to be at the school, I just visit the school. And this is awesome. And then I crunched the numbers for comparing tuition in state versus out of state tuition. And I instantly said, okay, that’s not going to be a smart financial decision for me. And so I bought, I think that- I think that the, the prestige of both institutions were were both, you know, were equal. But I remember thinking that financially, it was a better decision for me to stay in state. I also remember that when I was thinking about kind of I made like pros and cons list of both institutions, I remember thinking to myself, you know, what, you had a really good- even though you’re not staying in epidemiology, you had a really good experience in your masters at UT Health, and you already have such wonderful connections at the school, who, who really care about you, and who want to see you succeed, and who are in your corner. It’s going to be really hard to cultivate that support system remotely, in a whole downstate for a whole degree program. So that was another reason why I decided to stay because I, I had this gut feeling that I would want to continue cultivating those relationships with the faculty, and then ultimately, it ended up really benefiting me, currently in my program.

Sujani 33:33
Oh, that’s neat. Yeah, I find that as you become more of an adult, you tend to make decisions that are a lot more responsible, right? With finances.

Meghan 33:45
You’ll think about how much tuition is until you see it and hear-

Sujani 33:48
Yeah.

Meghan 33:48
Oh, my Gosh.

Sujani 33:49
And you start paying it back.

Meghan 33:52
Yeah. And I just remember thinking, I have- I have other opportunities to collaborate with amazing faculty from this institution in the future. But I don’t think that it’s a good fit for me right now.

Sujani 34:03
So absolutely. All make sense. Yeah.

Meghan 34:06
It’s nice that they have online options for people who are interested, because I don’t even think that existed, you know, five or six years ago. So.

Sujani 34:13
Yeah. And I wonder how things are going to change with COVID-19 now.

Meghan 34:19
Right?

Sujani 34:19
And yeah, being in the middle of a pandemic right now. I wonder if institutions are thinking about the future and whether they’re going to, you know, keep it remote, or they’re going to go back to their previous way of teaching in the classroom. I think the experience you get out of both is quite different. I really enjoyed my in class experience. So I don’t know if I would love to be completely online. But yeah, it’ll be interesting to see what institutions decide.

Meghan 34:47
Yeah, definitely. I think that for anyone who- any listeners who are considering a school in the States, UT Health is incredible, and they’ve been really wonderful with accommodations for remote learning for those who are higher risk like myself. And so that’s definitely I think it’ll be really interesting to see how just accommodations in general are going to evolve.

Sujani 35:11
Yeah.

Meghan 35:11
But my experience has been nothing but positive. I’ve been really impressed. And so you should never be at an institution that makes you feel like you have to put your academic career on pause. Because of, you know, things that are out of your control.

Sujani 35:27
Yeah, that’s a good point. So I guess you’ve been in the program for about two years or so is that right?

Meghan 35:35
Yes. So I think technically, now, I’m officially a DrPH candidate. So that means that I completed all of the coursework that’s required. And so now I’m just in my dissertation phase, which is crazy. I was able to complete the coursework in two years, so- So you are correct in saying that I’ve been in it for a little over two years now. I started in fall 2018. I know that, from what I’ve been told that students can get a DrPH in about three to five years, typically. But they, they usually have to complete a dissertation. And that’s what really can kind of change the timeframe for some people just depending on the process for that, and who they end up collaborating with. And if they’re able to do secondary analysis, or if they have to collect their own data. But three to five years is the usual timeframe. And so my goal is to graduate next fall, so fall 2021. So my fingers crossed that I’m able to complete it in three years. But we’ll see that that’s my goal right now. And I will say also, I know for when students are comparing degree plans, I know that in certain institutions, the PhD has more required credits in the DrPH, I, at least in my institution, not by a whole lot. But in my degree plan, it requires that I take 48 credit hours total. And I never really had a problem getting to that amount, because you are doing a minor and you also have to enroll in dissertation hours. So I bet I know some people are curious about the number of credit hours. So just to give them a ballpark, it’s minus 48. Yeah.

Sujani 37:22
So can you kind of take us through what those first two years were like? You know, did it feel similar to the coursework that you had done during your masters of public health? Was the experience different? Like, I think just to give individuals a glimpse of what it feels like to be in that program.

Meghan 37:42
Yeah, absolutely. So my experience is a little different, because I got my master’s in public health in Epi in, in epidemiology. And then I decided to switch departments for my DrPH, and I’m in health promotion and health education now. So there wasn’t really much overlap with because you know, how, if some people start in one department, and then they continue in that department for some programs, you can kind of opt out of classes if-

Sujani 38:09
Yeah.

Meghan 38:10

  • we did those courses in your mind in your masters. So that was not the case for me. So I didn’t get to opt out of any courses. I- I was able to- actually there was one epidemiology one course that I opted out of, but I ended up taking a different course instead. Because I, I said to them, I, you know, I got my whole Master’s in Epi, I have to take epi one again? So- So yeah, but my experience has been- has been really wonderful. I went in a little bit nervous because I was going into a whole new department, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I was also really nervous about the preliminary exam, because it’s like this big monster exam that for whatever reason is like super taboo, and they don’t let anyone talk to you about it, because I guess they don’t want to give away what the exam entails. Because then students can prepare earlier.

Sujani 39:04
And this is taken in your first year?

Meghan 39:06
It’s take- so it depends on how quickly you finish. So there’s- there’s prerequisite courses that are required to complete that you complete before you are eligible to take the preliminary exam. And so in the degree planner, it kind of shows you which ones you need to complete before you’re eligible. And so I think I was able to complete those preliminary exam, prerequisite courses my first year or my first two or three semesters. And then I took the preliminary exam, and I was able to, thank goodness, I was able to pass it on my first try, you get two chances to take it and so I passed it my first try. And then you go in and you take kind of post preliminary exam coursework. And I- so I did that for the next three semesters and then I was able to begin my dissertation, you know, committee formation and thinking about topics that I wanted to do. And I was able to start that process. I will say that I really enjoyed the opportunities that the faculty provided students to work as teaching assistants as well. I think that alongside the coursework, one of my favorite things about my DrPH experience so far has been the work experience that I’ve been given from the faculty themselves. I’ve been teaching the same three courses, probably for the last four or five semesters. And now I actually just started, we got a really big COVID grant a few months ago, it’s with the it’s an NIH funded grant, to look at COVID-19 testing behaviors among underserved populations and ways that we can improve that behavior. And so I’m a graduate research assistant on that project now, and that actually will help to complete one of the papers of my dissertation. And so I’m incredibly grateful for the work opportunities and the wonderful relationships that I’ve been able to have with the faculty at my school because I don’t know where else I would be able to have these incredible teamwork and writing and publication opportunities alongside my coursework, too. So one of my biggest pieces of advice that I would give to someone who is interested in starting the program is deciding where to go. As you’re starting the program, or deciding, you know, what department you want to be in, think about the work opportunities that you might consider exploring alongside your coursework. That is, of course, unless you’re already employed elsewhere, and you have a job outside of school. But there are so many incredible faculty who want to see students succeed, and who want to see students kind of come into their own and even potentially set students up with a dissertation topic before they’re even at that point in their degree plan. So I think one of the biggest things that I’ve enjoyed with my program is just having so many different opportunities to expand my skill set. I’ve, I’ve really enjoyed that. And I never would have gotten these opportunities if I didn’t pursue the DrPH.

Sujani 42:31
Yeah, that’s incredible. I think, yeah, one of the- one of the requirements, at least in my head when I’m choosing a program is-

Meghan 42:39
Yeah.

Sujani 42:39
-how supportive is the faculty going to be, what opportunities are going to be, be there right within the faculty that you’re at because that just makes your experience at that program so much more, I guess, wonderful. And you’re, you feel like you’re set up to succeed when you graduate, right?

Meghan 42:59
Oh, absolutely. I actually, the program or the project that I just started now, the COVID project, the program coordinator even said to me, you know, hey, if you’re in Houston after you graduate, even if it’s just for the remaining time of the project, I think the project is two years total. So by the time I graduate, it will be I think less than a year left or something like that on the project. She said, if you want to stay on, we can just take you on full time. And that’s wonderful working with us right after you graduate. And I’m thinking like, like who else- who else says that unless they really care about you as a team member, and they really value your work ethic and they want us- they want to see you you know, be successful in something that you’re passionate about. That’s just an example of kind of the the community experience that I’ve had. And- and the same thing happened as well with. So my teaching experience, I made really great relationships with the teaching team in the intervention mapping realm for coursework and research. And the professor’s were, they liked working with me as a TA so much that they actually asked that I’d be on the team for the development of their new intervention mapping textbook, like the new edition of that textbook. And I never would have, I never would have had that opportunity if I didn’t TA for them, you know, multiple semesters and get that teaching experience of the material in addition to me being a student in the course. And so I’ve just really appreciated how the faculty see my interests, they see how I’m growing in the areas that I’m working in. And they seem to really come through for me with here’s like a good next step in this for you. So you’ve TA this course for, you know, four semesters now you clearly we think that you’re a quote unquote expert in it, right?

Sujani 44:48
Yeah.

Meghan 44:48
What’s kind of this next step that we could put you on with us to further enhance that skill set? And I just really appreciated that and I think that- I think that that’s definitely qual a quality that you want to. But you want to make sure that you have in any program that you select. And usually, when you go to visit the institution that you’re interested in, you’re able to kind of talk to the faculty that are there, and you can get a feel for that. But also, you know, you, you, you want to be prepared for any opportunities thrown your way also, and you want to put on a good face for, for people to see those skill sets and things that you can bring to the table. And so. So there’s a lot that I think the the faculty want to see in their students in terms of seeing them succeed. And so they want to set them up for that success.

Sujani 45:41
Oh, it’s really wonderful to hear. I guess, you know, you touched a bit- bit about how the program is and what students can expect. And wondering, you know, the classroom size, and who else would be kind of taking the same courses as a doctor in a public health student? Could you tell us a bit about that? Maybe?

Meghan 46:04
Sure. So there are some required courses that transcend multiple departments. And so for example, in my intro to biostats course, during my master’s, or even during the doctoral degree, there’s people from multiple departments in that course, because it’s just a foundational course that people- that people from all different departments need to take. But as you kind of move through your degree plan, you kind of are, you’re more aware of the cohort that you’re in. And actually, my cohort was a lot smaller than I was expecting. I think over the last couple of years, the- the number of admissions to the program has grown quite a bit. Because actually one of the courses that I TA doubled in size in the last year, we had 20 students last year, and this semester, we had 40 in the course and so, but my cohort was like I think six or seven people, it was really small. And originally I was thinking oh, no, like, there’s not a lot of people to talk to like, what if- What if I can’t make any friends? Or what if- what if, you know, there’s only so many chances, you have to have a friendship with six people, right?

Sujani 47:16
Yeah. So these are like the individuals taking a doctor public health program at the same year as you was six.

Meghan 47:23
Yes. And in the same department.

Sujani 47:25
Okay. Got it. Yeah.

Meghan 47:26
Yeah, so all of the Health Promotion DrPH students in my cohort, I think it was like six people. And I loved it, though, because they were from all over the world. I had, we had someone from Nigeria, we had someone from England, we have multiple people from the US, it was really cool to also get to study health problems that are, you know, issues all around the world, not just in our immediate communities. But yes, so- so it was a very small cohort. But I actually liked that because I came from, you know, a pretty big institution like Baylor University, into a master’s program that still was relatively big for a master’s program. And then when you kind of go into that next step of graduate school, it just kind of gets smaller and smaller, because people are finding their niche. But what I did like about it is that, you know, I had familiar faces from the start. And we kind of formed this really cool little like, unit. Now, not everybody had the same research interests, but we all were going through the same classes. And so we could kind of empathize with people on the struggles of the classes that have the different requirements. But I really did like the fact that the class size was smaller. Now, my cohort was kind of sprinkled into classes that maybe had like 15 people, because they were kind of those foundational required classes. But as you kind of moved into the coursework, and as you got closer and closer to prelims, the class size would get a little bit smaller. I think the largest class I had was 20 to 25 people. And that’s pretty big for grad school. But that was one of those foundational courses that and keep in mind, a lot of these courses are taught across multiple campuses. So UT Health has a school in Houston, a school in Brownsville, a school in Austin, in Dallas, in El Paso and I think there’s one more so- so, you know, a class of 25 people is scattered throughout like six campuses or five campuses. So overall, it’s relatively small. And so I never felt like I wasn’t able to have, you know, close relationships with my professors and my, my peers.

Sujani 49:56
So I think we got a bit of a glimpse into kind of your interests with pursuing a Doctor of Public Health. But I want to spend the next little while kind of hearing about what your thinking life after your Doctor of Public Health Program is going to be like, where do you hope it will take you?

Meghan 50:15
Yeah, so from the informational interviews, I kind of gathered that more DrPH oriented careers are more management positions within nonprofits or governmental agencies that you know, develop or run different programs or initiatives or partnerships. And so I actually had the opportunity to work with the National Association of County and City Health Officials in DC, during my master’s in public health program for my practicum. And that was kind of my first real experience in what health promotion public health practice looks like. And so that actually was a big experience that made me pursue the Health Promotion DrPH, but I would love to, I would love to pursue a leadership position with a nonprofit or the director of a health department, or be you know, since my minor is in health policy, I’d love to be a health policy adviser, or even a public health consultant. I know that consulting and public health is growing quite rapidly, especially because of the pandemic. And so I’m not- I’m not 100% sure yet. I think if I wanted to, if I- if I had to decide right now, it probably wouldn’t be working for a health department, I’d probably want to work with more of a national national public health agency like NATO or potentially with a, a nonprofit organization, and be in pretty high leadership with- with that organization. But I’ve also had a lot of faculty tell me that I should really look into public health consulting, so I’m still exploring all the different options.

Sujani 52:07
Until do you think you’ll always have kind of one foot in academia and maybe collaborating on research projects? Or do you think you’ll kind of just stick to a leadership or management position?

Meghan 52:20
I know that’s so hard. For so long, I was I would always say, gosh, I just hate research. It’s-

Sujani 52:27
Yeah.

Meghan 52:27
not fun for me at all. And it’s just, it’s just so dull, and I don’t enjoy it. And I don’t get to like really be in the community and work with people. And but I think, I think honestly, this COVID project might- might change that a little bit. For me, I think one of the things that’s been really eye opening with this work experience is that a big project and a big grant like this, we have a lot of community partnerships that are working with us. And so I don’t have to necessarily be an academia to be a community partner on a research project. Especially if the community partner is an actual like organization that you are collaborating with on a certain grant funded project. So I think that that kind of gives me hope that if I didn’t stay in academia, I still could kind of have my foot in the door to collaborate on research projects. But I don’t know I’ve been TA-ing for multiple semesters, and I really enjoy it. And I’ve had faculty telling me that I should do that. And so I will say, I did have a professor who has his DrPH so you can teach if you have a DrPH, so don’t let people say that you can’t. I don’t know. I’m, I’m kind of figuring out where I fall. I’m happy to know that I at least could teach if I wanted to.

Sujani 53:52
Yeah.

Meghan 53:53
Yeah. So I’ll probably have a better answer for you, the deeper we get into this COVID project.

Sujani 53:59
Awesome. And like we were talking about before we started hitting record, this, we’re hoping is kind of the first of many episodes together around, you know, just different public health topics. And so when we do have you back on the podcast, I’m hoping you can kind of share your update with us. Life update, that’ll be fun to hear from you. But, you know, just for our listeners, if you’re interested in hearing more about Meghan’s journey throughout her doctor of public health, so if you have specific questions, Meghan’s offered to come back on and dive deeper into some of the topics that she touched on today. So just want to say thank you so much, Meghan, for joining us on this first of hopefully many episodes that you’re going to record with us.

Meghan 54:46
Yes, thank you for having me. I’m so excited and I hope that this helps many people decide to pursue the DrPH route because it is very, very, very exciting and it’s very rewarding. So I’m so glad that we get to talk about it.

Sujani 54:59
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Meghan and learned more about the Doctor of Public Health degree. And if this degree is something that you’re interested in exploring more about, we have a number of tools and resources on phspot.ca. To help you get started, so we’ll link all of those up on our show notes page, which you can find at pHspot.ca/podcast. Or you can head on over directly to pHspot.ca/resources. For this. And one more thing is if you are interested in the Doctor of Public Health degree, and want to take that next step, we have a great tool that we recently released, which summarizes all of the different programs from around the world. And you can find this on our resource page at pHspot.ca/resources. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning in to PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

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About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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