U.S. medical students' rotations in epidemiology and public health at state and local health departments

Acad Med. 2002 Aug;77(8):799-809. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200208000-00009.


Elective rotations in health departments expose medical students to public health practice and career opportunities in applied epidemiology and preventive medicine. State and county epidemiologists and health officers can serve as excellent role models for medical students. In 2000-2001, the authors identified such electives by consulting medical schools' Web sites and by contacting state epidemiologists, teachers of preventive medicine, and medical school associate deans. The authors found that electives were offered in nine state and five local health departments; these are described in detail. Those electives usually focused on infectious diseases, involved students in outbreak investigations when possible, lasted four or more weeks, were open to other students and medical residents, and were overseen by a health department preceptor with a medical school faculty appointment and a commitment to train students. Some electives included more didactic components, encouraged the student to publish a manuscript, or were coordinated by a preventive medicine residency director. The authors observe that health departments can benefit from training enthusiastic medical students via such electives; these students bring fresh ideas to the departments. Medical school catalogs, Web sites, and word of mouth are important means for promoting these electives. Ideally, in the future every medical school will offer a state or local health department elective so that all medical students will become aware of epidemiology and public health career options. The electives reported in this article can help guide additional medical schools and health departments as they initiate such rotations.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Clerkship
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Epidemiology / education*
  • Humans
  • Preventive Medicine / education
  • Public Health / education*
  • United States