The COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented challenge for this generation of physicians and for the health care system, has re-awakened calls to strengthen the United States’ public health systems. This global event is also a “learnable moment” for medical education—an opportunity to decisively incorporate public health, including public health systems, through the continuum of medical education. Although medical educators have made progress in integrating public health content into medical curricula, “public health” is not a phrase that is consistently used in curricular standards, and public health colleagues are not identified as unique and essential partners to improve and protect health. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how a strong public health system is necessary to support the health of patients and populations, as well as the practice of medicine. Partnerships between medical and public health communities, through individual- and population-based interventions, can also more effectively combat more common threats to health, such as chronic diseases, health inequities, and substance abuse.
To achieve a more effective medicine–public health relationship in practice, curricula across the continuum of medical education must include explanations of public health systems, the responsibilities of physicians to their local and state governmental public health agencies, and opportunities for collaboration. Medical education should also prepare physicians to advocate for public health policies, programs, and funding in order to improve and protect the health of their patients and communities. Pandemic COVID-19 demonstrates with laser focus that all physicians are part of public health systems, and that public health content has a distinct and critical place across the continuum of medical education to prepare physicians to participate in, collaborate with, and advocate for public health systems.