MD/MBA: Reasons Why I Got a Dual Degree

I decided to pursue a dual degree, an MD/MBA, when I was still in high school (MD is Doctor of Medicine, MBA is Master of Business Administration). I was interested in medicine but hated the idea of being yet another Indian doctor. How unoriginal. So when my dad introduced me to someone who had done this dual degree, it was my “aha!” moment. As far as I knew, this was something different that could set me apart, and no one else I knew was doing it. Perfect!

While my initial reasons for pursuing this career path were pretty superficial, it didn’t take me long to realize how valuable a second degree would be.

Reasons to Obtain an MD/MBA

I like to say that doctors are the dumbest group of smart people out there. We are the only professionals who have given up control of our careers to people who know nothing about what we do: administrators. This decision was made many years ago by physicians so that they could focus on their craft.

Now, we are paying the price. Literally.

We dance to the tune managers play for us, not quite understanding why certain things are done, or certain policies exist.   On more than one occasion, I have heard others, or even myself, ask: “why do I have to fill out this form”, “there has to be a better way,” or “I know a better way!”

Hospitals are, at its most basic form, a business. Yet we are never taught about even the most basic business components, let alone how to run one. We have no exposure to accounting and financial topics; we passively gain teamwork and team-building experience during residency, but there are also business leadership concepts and communication strategies that we do not learn.

Healthcare is dynamic and constantly changing. Changes are occurring with the Affordable Care Act and whatever congress is trying to accomplish now. They will directly affect how hospitals are managed, how insurance is handled, and ultimately how we get paid.

There is clearly a gap between physicians and managers, not just in communication but in understanding, and it needs to be bridged. Doing so requires physician leadership that can be present at the table, engage in administrative discussions, assist in formulating business decisions and be a voice for clinicians.

Why an MD/MBA vs. Other Options?

Sadly, much of the pushback I got as a student was from other students. I was regarded as a sell-out for wanting another degree because this meant I wasn’t serious about medicine. In addition to that accusation, I was questioned for not getting an MPH (Masters in Public Health) or MHA (Masters in Healthcare Administration), as those degrees were seen as more in-line with a medical career.

My response: I wanted a broad understanding of business and finance. In my mind, while those degrees are certainly helpful, they would not help me achieve my goal. I wanted to understand all business, not just healthcare. I wanted all related business topics on my plate, not just public health issues. I wanted to understand all consumers, not just hospital and clinic patient populations. I wanted to understand money-making from the perspective of any business, not just medicine.

For me, personally, an MD/MBA means I can work in any hospital, clinic, or government or private sector healthcare organization, and I wanted those options.

Benefits of a Dual Degree

A 2011 study by Dr. Amanda Goodall examined the top 100 hospitals, as determined by US News and World Report, and compared their CEO’s. Those with physician-based leadership scored 25% higher in hospital quality measurements. While no direct causal relationship is identified here, there is support for the idea that leadership without clinical expertise can lead to inferior management abilities in the hospital setting.

Plus, a physician leader has instant credibility with clinicians and managers, making it easier to bridge that gap between both parties.  Managers are more likely to trust someone with some business acumen, and physicians are more likely to trust someone who understands their daily clinical issues. Having a physician participate in administrative discussions also helps protect other physicians and related clinical interests.

On a more personal note, an MD/MBA can be a leverage point to advance career goals and move up the managerial chain much faster than would otherwise be possible.  If moving up the chain isn’t part of your goal, then just having the knowledge, period, can help you develop a better understanding of why certain decisions are made and, at the very least, help you converse intelligently with administrators in a way that is effective and productive.

In today’s climate, where hiring mid-level providers is seen as more cost-effective and MDs are too expensive, obtaining an MD/MBA dual degree and giving yourself another skill set will make you irreplaceable and even desirable.

How to Obtain a Dual Degree

This is just a quick note on how a joint or dual degree program works. Many are dual degree programs, meaning you apply for both at the same time, gain acceptance, and then the set up varies. You either take a break from the school of medicine to enter business school or you complete business coursework side by side OR business school commences during the summer months.

The way I did it was to defer my last year of medical school. So, after the first three years of I took a break to join the business program. Apparently business programs prefer students who’ve completed the first 3 years of medical school. Why? Because that entire third year of patient care is work experience. You can then bring those experiences to the business program, and you’ll get a lot more out of it.

Once a year of business is completed, you return to medical school to finish your fourth year. My school had a 1-year business degree program, so this was seamless. However, before they became a one-year program, they had students do a full year, then finish business coursework or projects in the second half of their fourth year of medical school. As it stands, not all business classes are required for medical students.

Yet another option is to complete medical school and then get your MBA later. Some university medical centers will pay for a second degree, assuming you take on a leadership position when it’s done. There are also executive MBA programs available around the country.

Admission Requirements

You’ll need to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), complete your applications, and personal statements, submit your grades and GPA for undergrad and medical school, and go through an interview process. Then of course, you have your work experience during your 3rd year of medical school to help you out.

The Cost

Unfortunately, this is another year of graduate school, and so there will be a cost associated with it (unless your job can pay for you).

Tuition and financial aid help are available, plus scholarships you can apply for. If you’re considering a dual degree, contact your financial aid office to see what is possible for you or if there is something available for dual degree students. Your MBA program may also have aid in place to help students avoid having to pay full tuition. So, don’t let the additional cost discourage you from pursuing this avenue.

The Curriculum

There is a standard business curriculum that everyone has to take, and then there are electives you take. You may choose a specialization within your MBA program. For instance, you can have a concentration in management or finance…whatever interests you. I recommend that you pay attention early on to what you like so that you can sign up for the appropriate courses.


While a dual degree, or a career in leadership, is not for everyone, I believe physicians owe it to themselves to take back control of their careers. Even without a degree, you can be proactive about paying attention to the business aspects of your jobs, asking questions, obtaining information, and empowering yourself with business knowledge so you don’t get left behind.

Be a boss. (You already are one)

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