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Medical Education
Medical Student Education

Career Information: General Preventive Medicine and Public Health

Specialty: General Preventive Medicine and Public Health

Completed by: George W. Rutherford, MD

Date completed/updated: August 2012

  1. What can students do in the 1st and 2nd years to explore and/or prepare for this career? Nothing in particular

  2. What common variations exist in the length/content of residency programs for this career?  
    The residency in general preventive medicine and public health is three years long: one clinical, one academic and one practical. There are at least three combined four-year internal medicine-preventive medicine programs, including UCSF’s combined program with Kaiser San Francisco. Many programs, however, run their preventive medicine residencies more like fellowships and want residents who have already completed primary residencies in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, etc.

  3. What common variations exist in this career after training?  
    There are multiple career pathways. The primary route is governmental service at the federal, state or local (in California, county) level in public health agencies. Residents also find employment in managed care organizations (e.g., the Kaiser Division of Research) and industry and some return to clinical care.

  4. What is a typical work day for someone in this field?
    Ten hours with minimum patient contact. Primarily conducting investigations, analyzing and interpreting data and providing administrative supervision of non-medical staff.

  5. What is the culture of this career?
    It varies widely depending on where it is practiced. If the primary focus in international (like working for the World Health Organization) there will be a lot of political overlay – probably more so than at the federal, state or local levels. Practitioners tend to be pretty sophisticated about epidemiology, can interpret and generate evidence effectively and have good supervisory skills.

  6. How compatible is this career with raising a family? How is this different for men and women?
    Very compatible unless large amounts of international travel are required (a fairly small slice of the field)

  7. What are the most important qualities or character traits for a person in this field?
    Being thoughtful and analytical and being able to apply clinical knowledge to complex public health situations

  8. How competitive are the residency programs in this field?
    Not very competitive.

  9. How competitive is the job market after residency?
    Somewhat competitive depending on type of job.

  10. What programs have been popular among UCSF applicants, or how should applicants go about considering programs?
    Top tier would be Harvard, Emory, Hopkins, UCSF, maybe Oregon Health Sciences (which is a combined family medicine program) and Dartmouth.

  11. What resources (eg, websites, books, professional groups) would you recommend for students interested in learning more about this field?
    Look at the American College of Preventive Medicine’s website for greater understanding of the breadth of opportunities in the field:

  12. How important is each the following for admission to a competitive program?


Very Important

Somewhat Important

Not Important


volunteer work










Honors in third year














EPI 140.07





Externship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention





MPH at Berkeley between third and fourth years