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Eso233

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Sorry I'm longwinded, but bear with me, I'm currently working at a prestigious internship in Public Health, while there my research mentor suggested to me that Social Epidemiology might not be the best end goal for me and what I want to do.

I like working with people, talking to people, administering treatment and health to them and capturing their stories. I would enjoy medicine, however, I chose a direct path to Public Health because I'm iffy about working in hospitals and would hate surgery and beyond that I felt that Public Health is the best way to address to problems and issues that concern me, the inequal health outcomes of vulnerable populations based on their skin color, gender, and sexuality and societal structure.

My mentor, an epidemiologist by training, told me that 90% of the time an Epidemiologist simply crunches numbers and they're not really in the community, creating initiatives the way most people believe they are. She suggested Medical Anthropology for me, saying that a Ph.D in that field is scarce and would prove beneficial for getting exactly the work I want to do. However, I've been googling and researching about the field and came up with very few details about employment, support, and feasibility.

I personally assumed that social epidemiology programs like that of Columbia would be a perfect niche for me and a perfect mix of both marketable hard quant skills and engaging social sciences. But supposedly I have a fundamental misunderstanding of what epi work is about. I had the end goal of a PhD in Social, Behavioral Sciences or Global Health after the epi master's, but according to my mentor something else may be a better fit.

In reaction to this discussion, I did research into programs that marry my interests in social determinants, global health, and research methods and learned about dedicated 4-Year Global Medicine programs like UIC's, programs that ontop of making you into a clinician teach you core epi skills and global health related social sciences that would make you adept as a public health worker as well. I never knew about these programs until now and my second bachelor's degree is a premed degree so I would qualify, it marries a lot of the things I'm interested in and has the strong reputation that a M.D. carries. Beyond that, in my experience M.D.'s are prevalent throughout Public Health either holding leadership positions or doing the same job with higher salaries. For me the largest issue a dedicated Global Medicine program would provide is the expense.

So my question is, should I stick with Social Epidemiology with the hope of working on the ground helping people through interventions and research with NGOs or is Medical Anthropology or Global Medicine better route to what I want to do?
 

aspiringsocialepi

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I don't think you have a misunderstanding of social epidemiology, in my opinion. Yes, epidemiology involves a lot of crunching numbers- but many researchers go out into the field and directly interact with the populations that they are researching! One of my research mentors regularly travels to South Africa and meets with patients in order to collect data for his HIV/AIDS research. As a social epidemiology student, you have the opportunity to conduct meaningful field research regarding social determinants of health. Epidemiology is great because you'll be given vast quantitative skills to truly research health outcomes in vulnerable populations, which helps inform policy through evidence-based research. I'm not sure if I personally could have been a Social/Behavioral Sciences student simply because a lot of research done by these students are qualitative, and therefore not as impactful in producing sustainable interventions in vulnerable groups.

I also want to say that I am someone who is pursing an Epi master's degree prior to matriculating into medical school- you do not need to like hospitals or surgery in order to practice medicine! I personally would like to work as an internist specialized in preventive medicine, which I feel will allow me to work in resource-poor healthcare settings to get healthcare to truly impoverished populations. I have very little desire to go into a specialty like surgery, and would rather not work in a hospital my entire life. If you like medicine, there's a LOT MORE you can do to help vulnerable populations as a physician- you can actually work with the populations directly in improving their health, and you can research the population's health inequities on a broader scale with an epidemiology background. This is just my personal path of course, but it is definitely possible if you do enjoy medicine!
 
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mlr2834

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Sorry I'm longwinded, but bear with me, I'm currently working at a prestigious internship in Public Health, while there my research mentor suggested to me that Social Epidemiology might not be the best end goal for me and what I want to do.

I like working with people, talking to people, administering treatment and health to them and capturing their stories. I would enjoy medicine, however, I chose a direct path to Public Health because I'm iffy about working in hospitals and would hate surgery and beyond that I felt that Public Health is the best way to address to problems and issues that concern me, the inequal health outcomes of vulnerable populations based on their skin color, gender, and sexuality and societal structure.

My mentor, an epidemiologist by training, told me that 90% of the time an Epidemiologist simply crunches numbers and they're not really in the community, creating initiatives the way most people believe they are. She suggested Medical Anthropology for me, saying that a Ph.D in that field is scarce and would prove beneficial for getting exactly the work I want to do. However, I've been googling and researching about the field and came up with very few details about employment, support, and feasibility.

I personally assumed that social epidemiology programs like that of Columbia would be a perfect niche for me and a perfect mix of both marketable hard quant skills and engaging social sciences. But supposedly I have a fundamental misunderstanding of what epi work is about. I had the end goal of a PhD in Social, Behavioral Sciences or Global Health after the epi master's, but according to my mentor something else may be a better fit.

In reaction to this discussion, I did research into programs that marry my interests in social determinants, global health, and research methods and learned about dedicated 4-Year Global Medicine programs like UIC's, programs that ontop of making you into a clinician teach you core epi skills and global health related social sciences that would make you adept as a public health worker as well. I never knew about these programs until now and my second bachelor's degree is a premed degree so I would qualify, it marries a lot of the things I'm interested in and has the strong reputation that a M.D. carries. Beyond that, in my experience M.D.'s are prevalent throughout Public Health either holding leadership positions or doing the same job with higher salaries. For me the largest issue a dedicated Global Medicine program would provide is the expense.

So my question is, should I stick with Social Epidemiology with the hope of working on the ground helping people through interventions and research with NGOs or is Medical Anthropology or Global Medicine better route to what I want to do?

To me, social epi sounds like it would be a good fit for you and I also agree that it seems like you have an understanding of the field. You could probably achieve your large goal of helping people through interventions/research with any of the three degrees you describe, but given what you said, social epi seems right. I would check out institutions/researchers where there are CBPR (community based participatory research) grants, those would probably be the types of projects you'd want to work on. Another thing you might want to look at is what degrees do the researchers doing the type of work you want to do hold? Are they anthropologists? Are they epidemiologists? Are they clinicians? Are they MD-PhDs? that might also help you find some clarity

Epi education has changed quite a bit, and depending on how old your mentor is that might be a factor of why they said what they did. I got into the same PhD programs my advisor did (she received her PhD in the 1990s) and in talking with her we realized that the curricula are a bit different now and more departments are embracing social epi as a subfield in a way that didn't exist before.
 
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syzar

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Your professor isn’t entire off. It does involve a lot of number crunching. You especially have to do that in the early stage of your career to establish your credibility. A lot of social epidemiologists also engage in qualitative work when they use mixed-methods approach, but generally epidemiology values numbers over qualitative data.

Columbia certainly isn’t the place for social epidemiology. They really do not focus on that here. The only social epidemiologist they have is Lisa Bates. Harvard would be a much better option for you. UC Berkeley also. I have heard good things from friend at Uni of Michigan and UNC too.

Have you thought about behavioral public health programs? It might fit your interests better.
 
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Eso233

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@syzar The ultimate goal is Global Health or Social Behavioral, a previous research mentor of mine had a PhD in Social Behavioral Health and I loved what she got to do as a career and working with her really pushed me towards public health. She worked intimately with vulnerable populations the vocalize their struggles and create academic context and then created research that guided health policy and interventions. I honestly want to do what shes doing, I told her this and she suggested I get a strong epidemiology background first and foremost because even she struggles to get a formal job despite being very well lettered. That's where the idea for pursuing social epi comes from, and I have no issues with a lot of number-crunching course work I just want to ultimately be doing a "qualitative" job at the end. Where I am hands on with the people I work with designing interventions, even if I have to spend a few hours of my day simply crunching numbers.
 

lunchbox16

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I have a M.Sc. in epidemiology. From my experience, I do not think that epidemiology is the field for you. Firstly, epidemiologists often prefer to use national data sets. This means that you will not be collecting the data yourself but will only be analyzing it and writing publications. You may chose to collect your own data; however, finding a job is both very difficult and dependent on publications so it is faster and more cost efficent to analyze available data. Secondly, even if you chose to collect your own data, as a PI it will most likely be research assistants who are collecting the data (and usually through instruments such as the Vancouver Index or AUDIT so you are not really interacting so much with the participant, just asking them the questions on the survey). Finally, you must truly love statistics to go into epidemiology. During my M.Sc. 2 of the 3 courses I took where on statistics and my oral defence consisted almost entirely on questions about the distributions of my variables, why I used logistic regression, what bootstrapping is etc. etc.

Have you ever considered going into social work and becoming a therapist? or clinical psychology?
 
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