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UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Medical Program celebrates 50 years

In 2022, the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program (JMP) celebrates its first half century.

The Berkeley-born, one-of-a-kind, five-year program gives doctors-in-training a population-level view of the field and prioritizes the inclusion of all aspects of health—social, economic, cultural, mental, and physical—in patient-centered models of care, focused on health equity. It’s the only medical program in the country located within a school of public health.

Students in the program—16 join each year—earn both an MS in Health and Medical Sciences (from UC Berkeley) and an MD (from UCSF), with students’ first two and a half years spent here at Berkeley Public Health. While at Berkeley, students focus on a broad transdisciplinary exploration of the social determinants of health, health systems science, population health, and health equity, all taught through the lens of social justice.

The JMP’s vision is to advance health equity and social justice by educating a workforce of diverse, antiracist physicians who practice at the intersection of medicine, public health, and community health.

Clinical work fundamentals are also taught here, and students dive into the social and environmental structures that affect how clinical care—direct medical treatment of patients—is offered. After they’ve earned their MS, students complete their clinical medical training at UCSF.

Instilling a Passion for Social Justice

Notable alumni of the JMP—including Kim Rhoads, MD, MPH, MS ‘96, UCSF associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and director of the UCSF Office of Community Engagement, and Berkeley Public Health’s own dean, Michael C. Lu MS, MPH ‘92, MD ‘94—often develop a passion for social justice during their time in the JMP that carries forward to the careers they pursue after graduation.

As director of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau at the US Department of Health & Human Services from 2012-17, Lu worked to reduce maternal, infant, and child mortality across the country through promoting the life course approach to reduce ethnic and racial disparities in birth outcomes. For his work, Lu was awarded the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Hubert H. Humphrey Service to America Award.

At UCSF, Rhoads works to achieve equitable access to cancer care through building community-academic partnerships and offering diverse community input to researchers.

JMP Origins

The first class at the Joint Medical Program was launched in 1971. It was determined that health sciences and educational programs should be based on a broader definition of health than medical care alone, responsive to societal and student needs and flexible enough to change as these needs changed. The JMP was born out of this idea, focused particularly on health equity.

Through clinical fundamentals and broader focus on solutions-based classes, students’ health education emphasized a broadly trained physician with research experience and knowledge of the socio-economic, ethical and political aspects of healthcare.

A key feature of the JMP’s curriculum is problem-based learning (PBL), a collaborative learning method that lets students determine their own gaps in knowledge and form individual learning objectives. Students learn by discussing actual clinical cases from realistic scenarios, developing hypotheses and conclusions about each case, based on facts, collaborations, and group discussions.

“Fostering lifelong learning through curiosity and an inquiring mindset is a core pillar at the JMP,” says Jyothi Nagraj Marbin, MD, pediatrician and former Director of the Pediatrics Advancing Health Equity (PLUS) program at UCSF co-founder of the Health Equity & Racial Justice GME Pathway at UCSF, who became director of the JMP in 2021. “The foundational medical science curriculum is designed to promote independence in the student learning process while also developing the vital communication, teamwork, and clinical reasoning skills they will need as doctors.”

A Curriculum Based on Collaborative Learning

In students’ first research classes, a curriculum with a critical lens on the health care system was designed by Haas Distinguished Chair and Professor of Law at the UC Berkeley School of Law and professor at the JMP program Osagie Obasogie, with the goal for students to integrate antiracism into their understanding of healthcare and public health equity.

The program also offers students strong support systems to foster belonging and to encourage team-based learning. Maya Petersen, MD, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics at Berkeley Public Health and the co-director of the Center for Targeted Machine Learning and Causal Inference, knows the program inside and out as a JMP alumna (‘07).

“Before the JMP, I considered learning to be a fundamentally individual exercise, with my focus too often drawn to productivity, benchmarks, and efficiency,” Petersen says. “The JMP showed me the deep learning and great satisfaction of giving one’s full attention to trying to understand and support teams with widely different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives, and of working to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and that everyone rises together.”

The program has had a lasting legacy on Petersen’s work. “I have brought these lessons to everything I have done since, from teaching and mentoring the next generation of leaders to apply data science methods to public health challenges, to work towards ending the HIV epidemic in East Africa, to efforts to reduce disparate health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Petersen.

Alumna Ayanna Bennett, MD, chief health equity officer at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and a leader in the fight for health equity in healthcare delivery, graduated from the program in 2001 and the concept that public health is integral to improvements in health equity became the backbone of her work.

She knows that students who graduate from the JMP program are tomorrow’s health leaders.” The JMP is a physician leadership program, even though we’ve never really said so. The kind of people who went to JMP are not like everybody else, they came looking to be change agents. And we have been, even if only in our own clinical practices,” says Bennett.

For Marbin, healthcare and public health systems work best when it engages with its constituents to ask what would meet the community’s specific needs.

“Our healthcare system is failing our communities, and we have seen this so clearly in the past few years,” Marbin says. “Right now, our healthcare system is not patient-centered. We need to center the community and build systems around what patients need. We need physicians who are grounded in public and community health, and who approach medicine from a lens of antiracism and anti-oppression. Those are the types of physicians the JMP is training.”

“For 50 years, the JMP has been training a very different kind of doctor, doctors who are equipped with the knowledge, tools, and skills to not only care for individual patients, but also fight for health equity and social justice in the world,” says Dean Lu. “I am forever grateful for the education I got from the JMP, which fundamentally transformed me as a person and a physician, and allowed me to make a bigger difference in the world.”

To celebrate its 50th birthday, the JMP is gearing up for a slew of events in 2022 that will engage alumni, increase the public profile of the JMP, and create enduring relationships, including student and faculty panels.