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New dual degree program combines mental health and medical sciences

Two-year masters degree includes clinical training

Next fall, the School of Medicine’s Division of Graduate Medical Sciences will offer a new dual degree program, one that combines the current  master of arts in medical science, in which most students are preparing for medical school through a combination of course work and research culminating in a thesis, and the master of arts in mental health and behavioral medicine, which includes clinical fieldwork and training for licensure as a mental health counselor.

Carl Franzblau, a MED associate dean, professor and chairman of the department of biochemistry, and director of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences, says the  new dual degree program will offer advantages on both sides. “The opportunity for students [enrolled in a behavioral counseling program] to get a good science background along with counseling experience makes a lot of sense,” says Franzblau. “Meanwhile, students enrolled in the master of medical sciences who plan on going to medical school get the background for being able to deal with individuals and actually deliver health care.”

Along with the extra benefits, of course, comes extra rigor. The current master’s programs are each a  two-year commitment. Students who want to earn both degrees will need to complete 85 credits of course work spread over two years, plus summer sessions, or three years of study without the summers. Courses will include subjects such as biochemistry, counseling theory and techniques, pharmacology, neuroscience, physiology, and psychological assessment. Students will also write a thesis in their first year and complete 700 hours of clinical mental-health training in year two.

Despite the substantial workload required for pursuing both degrees, faculty within the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences expect strong student interest in the new program.

“We are very excited about this program. [It] will fill a crucial need for training clinically savvy mental health providers who also have a substantial background in the basic sciences,” says Stephen Brady, a psychiatry professor and director of the mental health and behavioral medicine program.

About 20 percent of the approximately 180 students currently earning an MA in medical science already elect to take a mental-health specialization and write a mental-health related thesis. Mark Moss, a professor and chairman of the department of anatomy and neurobiology, says he expects that about 15 students will enroll in the dual-degree program when it starts in the fall.