Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Master of Public Affairs and Master of Public Health dual-degree program trains students for work at the crossroads of public health and policy

Connor Nikolay, Margarita Northrop (MPA, MPH ’17), and Casey Hanson Connor Nikolay, Margarita Northrop (MPA, MPH ’17), and Casey Hanson

The La Follette School’s Master of Public Affairs and Master of Public Health (MPA-MPH) dual-degree program prepares students to lead as health policy professionals.

For Connor Nikolay, a Master of International Public Affairs – Master of Public Health (MIPA-MPH) student, pursuing a dual-degree in public affairs and public health was an obvious decision to make. “I applied to both programs at the same time, as I knew how much health can be influenced by policy,” said Nikolay, a 2019 University of Minnesota graduate. “I saw the interconnectedness of the two degrees and thought I could better achieve my goal of improving health equity by obtaining both degrees.”

Nikolay, who wants to work for an international governmental organization or international non-profit focused on policy promoting health and equity, says that his classes have greatly supported his goals. “The most impactful class I have taken as a grad student is Public Health 974: Contemporary Challenges in International Development Policy,” he said. “It really made me think about the challenges facing international development policy and how just throwing money at a problem rarely fixes it.”

La Follette School MPA and MIPA students develop a firm foundation through core courses focused on data analytics, policy making, policy analysis, and public management, applying those skills in a client-focused capstone project in their final semester. This complements the substantive knowledge in public health provided through the MPH program and offered through the School of Medicine and Public Health. The dual-degree program generally takes two and a half to three years to complete.

MPA-MPH student Casey Hanson, who previously earned a Master in Social Work and worked in that field, recognizes how health and policy are intertwined. “The health and well-being of individuals and communities needs to be considered when developing, implementing, and evaluating policies and programs, or there may be unintended barriers, inequities, and other consequences for those individuals and their communities.”

An alumna of the MPA-MPH dual-degree program, Margarita Northrop (MPA, MPH ’17) works across both public health and public policy as the coordinator for Healthy Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). “Public health is deeply rooted in policy. Policy decisions related to systems of service provision as well as infrastructure, economic policy, etc. have significant impact on the health outcomes for populations, communities and individuals,” said Northrop. There is a clear link between policy and health, making this an in-demand degree.

In her role at DHS, Northrop serves as the coordinator for the State Health Assessment and State Health Improvement Planning, with responsibilities that include community outreach, communications and storytelling, data analysis, and policy development. “We work across the Division of Public Health and the entire public health system to provide support and capacity-building for public health policy,” she explains.

When asked to give current students advice, Northrop says “You made the right choice. A dual- degree in public affairs and public health will position you well in terms of skills that are valued and sought-after. Focus on learning how to be a supportive and humble leader, how to question and challenge (in a respectful way of course!), and how to assess information critically.”

The MPA-MPH dual-degree requires that students apply and be admitted to the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Master of Public Health Program respectively. Students can apply to both programs at the same time prior to matriculating at UW-Madison, or they can apply to one program while enrolled in the other. To maximize time spent in both programs, it is recommended that matriculated students be admitted to both programs in their first year on campus. Learn more about the dual-degree program and its application deadlines, here.

- Written by Will Keenan