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What is Preventive Medicine?

What do Preventive Medicine physicians do?
How do I do a Preventive Medicine residency?
What is the curriculum of a Preventive Medicine residency?

What is Preventive Medicine?

Preventive Medicine is one of 24 medical specialties recognized by the American Board of Specialties (ABMS). Preventive Medicine encompasses multiple "population-based” and clinical approaches to health care. Preventive Medicine is defined by a set of core competencies that include:

  • Biostatistics/epidemiology

  • Management/administration

  • Clinical Preventive Medicine

  • Occupational health/environmental health

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What do Preventive Medicine physicians do?

Physicians who are board certified in Preventive Medicine hold a variety of positions from chief medical officers of private corporations, to directors of state/local health departments, to policy makers within governmental organizations, to program developers for multi-national NGOs, to many other positions (see the "Careers in Preventive Medicine” slide show). Career paths include managed care, public health, occupational medicine, aerospace medicine, clinical medicine, informatics, policy development, academic medicine, international medicine, and research. These positions are located in all levels of government, educational institutions, organized medical care programs in industry, as well as voluntary health agencies and professional health organizations.

Preventive Medicine physicians operate in a variety of settings, but common to these settings is an approach to health that looks at systemic and population-based interventions to improve the health of individuals.

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How do I complete a Preventive Medicine residency?

Preventive Medicine is either a two or three year residency program offered at over 75 institutions around the country (See the Residency Directory). The residency can be done in lieu of or in addition to a traditional clinical residency. It is a two year residency/fellowship if you do a traditional clinical residency (e.g. internal medicine, pediatrics, etc.) first. It is a three year residency if you choose to go straight from medical school into preventive medicine. Certain institutions also offer Preventive Medicine residencies in combination with a traditional clinical residency through a 4 or 5 year dual program.

To pursue a Preventive Medicine residency directly after medical school, you must do a transitional year or prelim (PGY1) year at an institution of your choice (which you apply to through the ERAS match during your fourth year of medical school) and then apply to Preventive Medicine residency programs during that prelim/transition year. A handful of Preventive Medicine programs offer PGY1 positions at their institution. Most Preventive Medicine residencies do not use the ERAS match. Rather, you apply directly to the program (see the programs website links in the Residency Directory below).

To pursue a Preventive Medicine residency/fellowship after a traditional clinical residency(e.g. internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, etc.), you simply apply in the year prior to when you would like to start the Preventive Medicine residency/fellowship, which will then take two years to complete.

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What is the curriculum of a Preventive Medicine residency?

The first year of a Preventive Medicine residency is an MPH (Masters in Public Health) year. The second year of the residency is called the "Practicum Year” and is often individualized to the participant’s career goals/area of concentration. Each program has a slightly different curriculum with various focus areas and opportunities.

There are certain standardized requirements that every resident must fulfill. These are called "Core Competencies.” In addition, there are three specialty areas within Preventive Medicine residencies:

  • Public Health/General Preventive Medicine

  • Occupational Medicine

  • Aerospace Medicine

Your Practicum Year is based on the specialty you choose. When you complete your Preventive Medicine residency, you take a board certification exam. Half of this exam tests core competencies that all Preventive Medicine physicians must know. The second half of the exam is based on your specialty area (either Public Health/General Preventive Medicine, Occupational Medicine or Aerospace Medicine).

To find out more about residencies and careers in Preventive Medicine, explore the links below. Become a member of the Medical Student Section (MSS) of the American College of Preventive Medicine to gain access to opportunities and collaborations within Preventive Medicine.

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Questions? Please email the ACPM Medical Student Section.

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