A Guide for Pre-Med Students Considering a Career in Preventive Medicine

Marne A. Garretson
Publications Committee Co Chair
Undergraduate, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

If you are like most pre-medical students, you may not have decided upon the specialty area that you plan to pursue.   As you explore your options, be sure to consider preventive medicine as a career choice.  A career in preventive medicine may provide you with an opportunity to work in a variety of areas including:  public health, research, public policy and the military.

A preventive medicine physician may be involved with one or more prevention levels.  The levels of prevention are:  primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary.  Primary prevention involves avoiding the development of diseases through health promotion.  If you are interested in gaining exposure to primary prevention, you may want to become involved with community based organizations that immunizations. Secondary prevention involves the early detection of disease to prevent its progress. Participating in research that provides opportunities to develop early diagnostic tools will be beneficial if you are interested in secondary prevention.  Tertiary prevention works to reduce the complications of the disease, and quaternary prevention involves avoiding the consequences of excessive interventions in the health system.  You may want to become involved with research that explores options to reduce the complications of disease if you are interested in tertiary research, and if you are interested in quaternary prevention, you will want to participant in a public health internship that develops complimentary screenings of disease. There are numerous opportunities to become involved in each prevention level.  Participating in mobile health screenings will also provide you with secondary prevention exposure.

As a pre-medical student, you may not be thinking about residency options at the moment, but keep in mind the career path to entering the field of preventive medicine.  There are three different paths to preparing for a career in preventive medicine.  The first path consists of medical school, clinical postgraduate training, a Master’s Degree in Public Health or the equivalent, and a residency practicum, for a total of three years.  The second path consists of:  medical school, clinical residency, preventive medicine residency for a total of five years.  An alternative path is medical school and a combined clinical preventive medicine residency for a total of four to five years.  This is then followed by passing the specialty board examination provided by the American Board of Preventive Medicine (Careers, ACPM, 2010).  According to the American Board of Medical Specialties, preventive medicine, as a specialty, is unique in that it is the only one that requires training in both clinical medicine and public health.

•    Where possible, take courses in health services administration, biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, and clinical preventive medicine. School for Field Studies is the nation’s largest environmental study abroad program that combines hands-on environmental studies with scientific research.

•    Obtain a mentor by joining the American College of Preventive Medicine.  There is a medical student section that has a mentoring program.

•    Seek out clinical preventive medicine experiences in community based organizations and health departments by serving as a volunteer in mobile health clinics like the Family Van, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and provides access to free healthcare to six Boston neighborhoods each week.

•    Learn more about global health issues as it relates to women’s health, child health, HIV AIDS, infectious diseases and health systems by joining the Global Health Council as a student member.

•    Participate in volunteer programs like Child Family Health International, which is the leading NGO that provides health science students with global health education programs around the world.

•    Asia Source provides information about various organizations offering public health volunteer opportunities throughout Asia.

•    The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) is an international African organization focused on promoting better health in Africa, and is headquartered in Kenya. This organization offers a variety of volunteer services for students and recent graduates.

•    Amigos de Las Americas (AMIGOS) is a non-profit international organization that offers community service opportunities while improving the health and well-being of communities throughout the Americas. There are also other volunteer opportunities in the United States and Abroad.

•    Seek opportunities to conduct prevention research with the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates, the Leadership Alliance’s Summer Research Early Identification Conference, Amgen Scholars or the ASM Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

•    Present your research at the Biomedical Science Careers Program, the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students or the Annual Wilbert C. Jordan Research Forum.

•    Participate in Model United Nations Conferences sponsored by local colleges and universities.  These conferences provide opportunities to advocate for solutions regarding real world issues.

•    Participate in medical mission trips to gain exposure to international clinical medicine.  Our very own Student National Medical Association is sponsoring a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

•    Expand your knowledge of public health by join the American Public Health Association and attending the 138th Annual Meeting & Expo in Denver, CO, November 6-10.

•    Participate in summer research with the Minority Health Disparities Summer Research Opportunities Program at the University of Arizona or the Summer Enrichment Program in Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

•    Senior medical students may plan to participate in the Centers for Disease Control Medical Student Epidemiology Elective Program, a highly regarded six to eight week rotation allowing students the opportunity to gain public health experience while being assigned to a current public health project.

If you are a pre-medical student considering a career in preventive medicine, then it is a great time to participate in opportunities that provide exposure to the field.  Participating in one or more the opportunities may help you to reach your decision.  Nevertheless, the resources provided above will provide you with an opportunity to gain exposure to clinical medicine, research and public health within all prevention levels.  If you decide to pursue a career in preventive medicine, then you will be joining of team of professionals that make a significant impact on the health of both this nation and the rest of the world.

Filed Under: Global Health


About the Author: publications@snma.org

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