Physician-Public Health Practitioners Needed

MHE Publication, MHE April 2022, Volume 32, Issue 4

A new kind of specialist is needed at academic medical centers to cope with public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic: physician-public health practitioners.

A new kind of specialist is needed at academic medical centers to cope with public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, argued the authors of an opinion piece in JAMA Health Forum in March.

These “physician-public health practitioners” would be trained in how to build partnerships with community organizations, translate scientific information and provide technical assistance to outsider organizations, wrote Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Ph.D., M.D., M.A.S., and Alicia Fernandez, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.

As Bibbins-Domingo and Fernandez note, many academic medical centers have ventured into population health with its focus on prevention and broader issues affecting people’s health status, including upstream, social determinants. In some cases, those population health efforts and programs have led to formal and informal partnerships with community organizations and departments of health.

“These movements in academic medical centers are laudable and, based on our experience, argue for more formal training and recognition of the academic physicians who are leading and partnering with others to advance population health,” they argued.

Bibbins-Domingo and Fernandez point to the 1910 Flexner report as putting U.S. medical school on the path toward research excellence and “enshrinement of the biomedical model of clinical care.” Another Flexner-like overhaul of American medical schools is not in the offing, but they say in light of the 21st century healthcare challenges — they mention obesity, the opioid epidemic and infectious diseases — it is time to invest in another kind of academic clinical leader.