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Upstate receives grant for Public Health Scholars program

Upstate Medical University’s Public Health Scholars will expand in the upcoming year thanks to a grant from the Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY).

The $100,000 grant will allow Upstate to increase enrollment in its Master’s in Public Health degree, as a condition of acceptance into the Medical Doctor (MD) program upon completion. The Public Health Scholars Program is a Special Pathway for historically disadvantaged populations. 

Upstate has three Special Pathways programs, but the Public Health Scholars pathway was previously unfunded, said Christopher P. Morley, PhD, chair of the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. The one-year program is aimed at Black, Native American, Latino and female students as well as students of low socioeconomic status, or students from rural areas. It started with two students in 2014 as an outgrowth of the Medical Scholars Special Pathway, but without funding for the students. It has slowly grown over the past decade, with most years seeing four to six participants. This year, the program made nine offers to MD applicants for acceptance into the Public Health Scholars program, with seven acceptances and one deferral to a later year.

“We are, plainly, thrilled,” Morley said. “The Public Health Scholars program has been sustained for close to a decade, but at a smaller scale. We are committed to the mission of simultaneously contributing to the diversification of the health workforce, as well as to the imparting of public health skills and knowledge to those who come through the program into medicine. 

“However, with this grant, we are able to attract more parties into the program and relieve at least some of the up-front tuition burden," Morley said. "In short, we are committed to helping more people from under-represented and historically repressed groups and communities enter medicine—now, we are able to do so for more people, and with an improved focus on equity.”

The Public Health Scholars program has a dual mission to simultaneously contribute to the diversification of the health workforce, as well as to impart public health skills and knowledge to those who come through the program into medicine. Through this additional education, students learn to apply skills in research, advocacy, policy making, program design and evaluation, and the social sciences to the vexing problems of the day. 

“These include not only public health emergencies ranging from COVID-19 and environmental catastrophes to issues like community violence and the opioid epidemic,” Morley said. “Beyond that, the students learn to address health equity and the social determinants of health. In short, the program is important to upstate because it helps diversify the medical workforce and does so by imparting additional skills to excellent future physicians.”

Morley adds that the students who come through this program are outstanding individuals who have leadership roles in service learning, student organizations and research projects.

“That statement really extends to all of our public health students, including those in our traditional MD/MPH joint degree program, and our stand-alone MPH, certificate, and microcredential offerings. The fact that the Public Health Scholars, specifically, go on to help diversify the physician work force as well, is inspiring for all of us who are involved with the program,” he said.