Photography by Peter Ehrenkranz
by Valerie Gregg
ew doctors in training have the opportunity to see one case of polio these days, let alone 10 or 20. But last summer, Emory MD/MPH student Peter Ehrenkranz helped an Indian doctor examine at least that many p atients with suspected polio.
Paired with an Indian doctor, he traveled the Indian state of Bihar as part of a World Health Organization polio eradication team. They tracked down and reported polio cases, trained health workers to diagnose and report acute flaccid paralysis - the t elltale symptom of polio - and immunized hundreds of children against the disease. The experience confirmed Ehrenkranz' leanings toward a public health career.
"Doctors help people one at a time, but in public health, you can make a difference for thousands," says Ehrenkranz, one of four Emory medical students spending this year at the Rollins School of Public Health working toward an MPH. "You can have a lar ger impact. Having an MPH opens so many doors."
The MD/MPH program - a collaboration of the Rollins School of Public Health and the Emory University School of Medicine - attracts some of the best and brightest medical students and offers them unparalleled experiences. After three years of medical sc hool, students spend their fourth year at RSPH. They then return to the School of Medicine to complete rotations. So far, the program has graduated 10 students who worked in places around the world as part of their public health studies.
Dean James Curran feels so strongly about the importance of public health studies for medical students that the RSPH provides significant scholarship support for joint degree students in this program. MD/MPH program director John McGowan agrees. "It al lows the very best medical students to do what they really want to do," he says.
A Woodruff scholar in the School of Medicine, Ehrenkranz is someone who grabs opportunities when they come his way. So far he has found plenty at the RSPH.
"Taking a class from the mastermind of the smallpox eradication campaign [William Foege] is just unbelievable," he says. "So is hearing lectures from faculty members like Godfrey Oakley, who's responsible for having folic acid supplements added to food to prevent birth defects. These people have had an enormous impact."
Even as an undergraduate history major at Yale, Ehrenkranz was searching for ways to make an impact himself. The summer after his junior year, he took a trip to Zimbabwe to study the hospital system there. He met a CDC doctor who told him the legendary story of John Snow, also known as the first epidemiologist. During the late 1800s, Snow was treating patients during a cholera epidemic in London, and he realized all the victims got their water from the same pump in the middle of the city. He disabled t he pump, and the epidemic quickly waned.
Ehrenkranz was similarly impressed by the creativity of medical workers in Zimbabwe. "Snow made all these connections and solved the problem," he says. "Doctors in places like Zimbabwe have to think out of the box too."
He remembers one Zimbabwean doctor's dilemma of treating a little girl with diabetes who lived in a remote village without refrigeration for her insulin. He asked her parents how they kept other things cold.
"They told him: 'We put it in a clay pot and bury it in the ground.' So that's how he told them to store their daughter's insulin. That's when I realized that there are solutions to these problems. You don't have to just throw up your hands. You just t ackle the problems one by one -- otherwise you could easily get overwhelmed. There are some big problems out there, but there is a lot of hope too. The big picture -- that's what public health is all about."
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Web version by Jaime Henriquez.