Considering Medical School? Here's How an MHS Degree Can Help
Is medical school in your future? Consider earning the MHS degree at the Bloomberg School to help boost your GPA and improve MCAT test prep.
Many students with an end goal of medical school apply for the MHS in programs such as Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Environmental Health and Engineering, International Health and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.
Even looking beyond medical school, the degrees can help anyone thinking about pursuing further graduate work or research careers in a variety of industries or in the public health sector.
Take a look at the paths of students Leah and Nick who have chosen to shore up their foundation for the rigor of medical school with a master’s degree from the Bloomberg School.
- DEGREE: MHS, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- HOMETOWN: Wilkes Barre, PA
- How do you feel this degree is directly helping you prepare for med school?
My coursework is directly preparing me for medical school. I’m taking graduate level molecular biology, nucleic acid chemistry and genetics. That’s what I’m going to encounter in the next four years, so I think that connection’s pretty clear.
On the public health side, it’s helped me learn the types of community-based interventions that I might see as a clinician. It's also helped expose me to populations that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to learn much about on an academic basis.
For example, I’m in a class called Health and Homelessness and part of the class is a 12-hour practicum working with the homeless in Baltimore. That's a unique preparation for when you get to med school and you’re maybe rotating in an emergency room where patients might be experiencing homelessness. This type of preparation on an academic level and on a practical level in terms of actually working with the population is something that not everyone gets and something that will prepare me to be a better clinician.
- When did you decide you wanted to go to med school?
I was born with a congenital heart defect and had three open heart surgeries before the age of two. This background meant medicine was always a part of my life, but I had not seriously considered it as a career. Toward my senior year of high school, I started thinking about going into medicine. It’s funny, I’ve never really considered myself a super science-y person, and I think that can be a misconception.
In undergrad, I got involved in many different activities to expose me to the medical profession. I performed undergraduate research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the hospital at the University of Penn. I worked with the Adult Congenital Heart Center there, doing clinical research with both pediatric and adult populations.
My first two open heart surgeries were at CHOP. Eighteen years later, I was performing research on the same cardiothoracic surgery floor. That provides a unique perspective as someone who has been a patient and a researcher and, now, a future doctor.
- What are your plans to apply for med school?
I already applied last June and went through the interview process during my first and second term at Hopkins. This is not usually the way people do it, but that’s the way that aligned best with my interests and goals.
I haven’t decided officially where, but I am going to medical school next fall (2018). I want to do something in pediatric or adolescent medicine. I know I have a lot of time to figure it out. I’m just happy to be going.
- Given your unique path, what is your advice to students interested in this program or interested in med school?
A lot of students in my position would be either done with their science requirements and looking at a research position, or maybe didn’t do their science requirements and are looking at a traditional post-bac. [My path] kind of falls in the middle.
It’s important to keep an open mind when you’re looking at programs. Just because you don’t need a traditional post-bac doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do a traditional gap year. Most of my friends who are pre-med and not going to directly to med school are doing a research position. I would have liked to do that as well, but I’d already had four years of undergraduate research and there wasn’t much more that I felt I could accomplish.
I would definitely recommend this program, especially if you’re interested in public health.
- The route that you took, as you said, was atypical, but it worked out for you.
It’s important to emphasize the fact that there isn’t an orthodox path to med school. It’s a common misconception to think “I have to go straight to med school out of undergrad” or “I have to do one year of research and then go to med school.” I have so many friends in med school who took a roundabout way to get there. I think that’s so much more normal than people think.
I knew that I wasn’t going to have a traditional route and it can be kind of scary when it seems like everyone is doing the same cookie-cutter pattern. But that’s what’s so awesome about this program. A lot of people are pre-med or already in med school and doing their own thing because they’re interested in public health or because they wanted to be here for some specific reason. That's really cool and that it’s a big strength of the program.
- What interested you about the MHS degree?
[In undergrad] I volunteered at West Philadelphia High School and it opened my eyes to a lot of inequalities such as educational, health and socioeconomic disparities. There were so many determinants of health that I wasn’t getting in my biology or biochemistry or core science coursework, and that’s when I started to consider how public health might fit into my plans.
I was looking for something that I could do in one year that would help strengthen my basic sciences. I also wanted a program that would help me analyze problems from a macro perspective. I wanted to understand social determinants of health and how those factors might influence what you see when a patient walks into your office.
This program is unique. There aren’t any other one year programs that can emphasize both basic science and public health. That intersection was so important to me as a person, as a student and as someone who’s interested in medical school.
- What have you liked best so far?
I have loved my coursework and my experience has been great. This term I’m taking Nucleic Acid Chemistry which is very basic science and I enjoy that.
I’m also in a course called Children in Crisis: An Asset-based Approach to Working With Vulnerable Youth. On Mondays, I go from studying the chemical structure of DNA to studying how children in Baltimore and beyond are put in dangerous situations, and how we can use asset-based approaches to work with them, rather than the traditional problem-oriented approach. That’s a typical day that encapsulates what I like about this program—its integration of basic science and public health—and that’s unique.
- How did you find this program?
I had a mentor who suggested that research is not right for everyone and she suggested looking into master's programs. I also had another mentor who works at Hopkins in the med school and he talked about what a great place Hopkins is.
I was toying with the idea of applying for the MPH program, but I didn’t want to do a two-year program and it required some significant experience that I didn’t have. So I kept looking around the website and eventually found the one year Master of Health Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program and everything started falling into place.
- How do you like living in Baltimore?
Living in Baltimore has been a very new experience for me. This is the first time I’ve moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone, and the first time I’ve moved to a city where my parents weren’t within easy driving distance. I think that’s been a great learning experience. I’ve really enjoyed exploring the Inner Harbor and walking to Fells and Canton.
I’ve had the opportunity to hopefully make a positive contribution to the community of Baltimore which is something very important to me wherever I live. I volunteer at Dunbar High School through THREAD.
- What’s something that you, a year ago or two years ago, might have needed to hear?
This is cliché but I wish that I had had more faith in the fact that things will work out and that things happen for a reason. Everything will eventually fall into place. You can get trapped in a mentality of “this is how it must be.”
I hope that other people can rally around that because it can be so unbearably stressful as a pre-med not knowing if you’ll end up somewhere at all, let alone if you’ll end up somewhere where you will be happy. I’m really lucky now to have options where I know that I will thrive. Two years ago, I was freaking out.
- DEGREE: MHS, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
- HOMETOWN: Potomac, MD
- Why are you getting an MHS?
I knew that I was set on pursuing medical school but I also understood how competitive medical school acceptance is. I actually found out about the MHS program through some friends that came through a couple of years before and said they loved the program. They are in med school and they said it did exactly what they wanted it to do for them. I looked into the degree programs at Bloomberg and, considering my timeline and goals, the MHS degree was clearly the best fit.
- What were you hoping to get out of it, specifically?
I was hoping to do an intense year of coursework. The people that completed it told me that it was almost at the same level—if not a little harder—than what they were doing in med school. I wanted to get that exposure. My main focus was to get a stronger academic resume to make me more competitive to get into med school. I also wanted to explore my interests in public health policy and economics. I knew my coursework would give me a more well-rounded perspective on health care at the population level and I would be able to explain to others how the basic sciences fit into that picture.
- Why did you want to go to med school?
My dad is a pediatric surgeon at Hopkins. Growing up, I remember him telling me I would be a great doctor, but I always denied that. I wanted to do my own thing.
I actually did civil engineering for two years, thinking I wanted to build skyscrapers and bridges. [But] then I lost a little bit of passion for that and I chose the next thing I was most interested in which was neuroscience and I did a pre-med track. Honestly, it was probably the best decision of my life. I know that, from that point, everything I was doing was trying to focus on getting into med school and becoming a doctor. I actually worked in a lab for two years because I wanted to keep studying neuroscience.
- In neuroscience, did you have a specific research focus?
My work at the lab was focused on the behavioral neurophysiology of the hippocampal formation—essentially the recording of neurons in awake, behaving animals performing various tasks that relate behavior to neural activity. Much of the work we did were experiments trying to figure out the brain mechanisms behind spatial navigation, getting from point A to point B. I got really passionate about that because there are a ton of different neurons in the brain responsible for these different facets of how we get through space. If I do get to med school, I would hope to continue some research in neuroscience, whether it be clinical or the basic sciences.
- Was there anything that surprised you about the Bloomberg School or about the MHS program?
I think I anticipated it to be similar to my undergrad experience in that the people I was interacting with on a daily basis were so intelligent and creative and had such diverse backgrounds. A few weeks into my time here, I realized that there was no better place for me. Hopkins attracts people from all over the world.
- What’s your advice for students interested in getting an MHS or going to med school?
For people who think med school is the next step, but also want to do a one year or two year program, I say you won’t find cooler classes than at Bloomberg. You’ll have great professors, you’ll meet great people, and it will push you out of your comfort zone in terms of what you want to take on and the opportunities you’ll have. If med school is your next choice, there’s really no better place than Bloomberg to get that training and to have exposure to all of the different people, professors, and the awesome hospital right across the street.
Starting the program, I made a goal to meet someone new everyday. That has led to some amazing late-night study sessions, nights out and, most importantly, friendships that I hope to continue after graduation.
- What’s your next step?
My next step is a job search because I’m going to have a gap year or two in between this program and med school. I'm excited about the potential of living in a new city.
I’m planning on applying to med school this summer, but right now I’m looking into health care consulting jobs. I think working in that industry will give me the best opportunity to apply the research and problem solving skillset my degree has provided me with towards addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing health care organizations in this country.
- You’re from this area, but how do you like living in Baltimore? What are your favorite things to do?
I love Baltimore. Honestly, the more I’m here the more I find new things and appreciate it more. I grew up playing baseball so a night game at Camden yards is up there. A long run along the waterfront from my house in Upper Fells to the top of Fed Hill will always be one of my favorite things to do.
And I can't forget about the great food scene here in the city. I’m kind of the go-to “restaurant picker” of my friend group. My number one favorite restaurant in Baltimore is Alma Cocina Latina, which is in Canton. Everything about that place is awesome.
I’m really happy here. Hopkins and Baltimore will always be a home for me. The School of Public Health is really is the best place I could be, and I’m reminded of that every single day.