dual degree

Getting A Dual Degree In Medicine: What You Need To Know

Writing this from the point of view of a physician, I support any decision to give yourself a dual degree. In medicine dual degree options and programs range from MD/MBA like I have, to an MD with an MPH, MHA, MS, or JD (public health, hospital administration, masters, and Juris doctor, respectively). There’s no right answer for which to pursue as it all depends on your career goals and interests.

Obtaining a Dual Degree

There are established dual degree programs already in place in many schools. Some of the setups I’ve seen for MD/MBA include doing both within 4 years, which means you also need to be accepted into both at the same time. The business curriculum is often given during the summers, with a few courses sprinkled in throughout the final two years of medical school as well.

Criteria to be accepted is the same as applying separately. Often, you’ll have to take a standardized graduate-level test such as the GMAT (for MBA) or the GRE, and then submit standard application materials.

Other programs aren’t really programs. You have to plan ahead of time and either take time off during medical school, or decide that you want two separate degrees and complete your business or law degree or masters degree either before or after medical school.

There’s no advantage to either except that with the combined program you may save some time and money. My personal experience was to take a year off of medical school to complete my MBA. I thought the year off was a great relief from medicine and allowed me to fully focus on the management curriculum. Plus, we got the opportunity to study abroad and travel, something I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Know Your Why

As with anything you should have some idea of what you want out of your career before you pursue a dual degree. What do you hope to do with your business background? Do you want to work in administration? Open your own business? Pursue interests outside of clinical medicine?

Again, there is no right or wrong answer. It could be you just want the extra knowledge and don’t really know what career trajectory you’ll take, and that’s ok too. But definitely start to think about how you see your future shaping up to be. Everyone you meet along the way will ask you these questions, so having some ideas in your back pocket can really help you. Plus, in the business world, knowing your story can help with networking, which can then open doors to opportunities you never knew existed.

But Now What Can You Do With a Dual Degree?

You’ve worked hard, spent an extra year (or more) to obtain that dual degree status and now you’re done! Congrats! You’re in a position that relatively few professionals have.

As a physician, I’d first suggest that you complete a residency. There are people who skip training to work for various medical industries e.g., pharmaceuticals or consulting, which is fine if that’s your career goal; but, if you’re like me and really want to make use of both your degrees, then you should complete your training. Doing so will give you credibility with other physicians in the future, and your work experience, in general, will lend you credibility with your management teams.

I chose anesthesia as my field of medicine for various reasons, all of which suited, and do still suit me just fine. However, at the time I made this choice, I was at a loss of how anesthesia would fit in with my plans to be an administrator. I assumed then that I’d have to do pain management and open my own practice in order to use my degree. When I began residency, however, I realized how valuable the degree is just for everyday work life.

In other words, you don’t need to be in a specific field to use your management degree. As I mentioned in my MD/MBA post, management concepts are an integral part of medicine. Your skills will come in handy no matter what you choose to do.

After Your Training

As you finish residency, you need to decide what kind of trajectory your career will take as this will dictate your job hunt, or can take you in another direction.

As I mentioned earlier, depending on what you want to do, you may want more practical experience or exposure. When I initially spoke to my chairman about doing something in management, he pointed me towards Capitol Hill. His advice: get involved at the national level, in health policy, as thats where a lot of the future issues in medicine will come from. Examples as shown:

Health Policy Fellowships

ASA Landsdale Public Policy Fellowship

Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship Program

Academy Health, Health Policy fellowship

Families USA Villers Fellowship

While there’s a definite need for physicians to get involved at that level, the time commitment does not allow for maintenance of clinical work. Essentially, you’re taking a year off from working as a physician.

For me personally, health policy did not align with my interests; I wanted more experience in management and administration. A quick online search and I found a handful of perioperative management fellowships across the country. A few new ones have formed since then, list as follows:

Perioperative Management Fellowships

Duke University: Perioperative Medicine Fellowship
Massachusetts General Hospital: Perioperative Administration Fellowship
Montefiore: Perioperative Management Course and Fellowship
Stanford University: Fellowship in Management of Perioperative Services
Tulane University: Perioperative Management
University of California, Irvine: Fellowship in Management of Perioperative Services
University of California, San Diego: Fellowship in Perioperative Management
The University of Washington, Perioperative Quality and Patient Safety

If public policy or management isn’t for you, then there are other options as well:


Drexel: Injury and Public Health Fellowship

Duke Masters in Global Health

Stanford Global Health Fellowship

These lists are by no means the only options out there. I just wanted to provide some examples and point out there there are options out there that aren’t often talked about, nor do many people know about them. The point here is that there are a lot of ways to use your dual degree; even without another degree, you can take part in these opportunities if you’re interested.

Benefits of a Dual Degree

The biggest benefit is the career options available to you once you’ve graduated. The management and leadership skills that you bring with you into your training are also advantageous. I’ve had doors open for me that I don’t think would have if I didn’t have my background. Even though it’s two different subjects and two different fields, medicine and business are intertwined. Medicine can’t survive without business know-how. Having the knowledge can give you a leg up no matter where you go or what field you’re in. You can even leverage this to pursue careers outside of medicine, should you want to.

The biggest problem with earning another degree is that it 1. Takes time and 2. Takes money. Many students don’t want to burden themselves further with that kind of commitment.

How to Proceed Without a Dual Degree

Dual degree or not, getting involved early on in is important. As a resident, try to join various committees e.g., QA/QI so that you gain some practical experience. Attend conferences that emphasize management and business concepts. As an example, there is an annual Practice Management conference given by the American Society of Anesthesiologists. I attended for the first time as a senior resident and ended up meeting the chair of the department where I now work (read more about that particular story here).

When asked to do studies or produce academic papers, try to use business as the focus. Come to work each day with a promise to pay attention to what’s going on behind the scenes in your hospital. Ask to speak with your chairman about their leadership responsibilities and see if he/she has any recommendations about how you can get involved or who you can speak with regarding business and management.

There are tons of resources and ways to give yourself knowledge and experience without attending a joint degree program, or pursuing two separate degrees. It takes some effort and self-motivation but it is possible.

I would also say that by asking these questions, which no one else asks, you’ll also stand out and differentiate yourself from those around you.

Take the Path Less Chosen

I think as physicians we are taught a single path, one that’s well beaten, i.e., residency, fellowship, clinical work, research. Yet, every day new opportunities arise for us to take the path less traveled and to make a difference. With health policy, you have a chance to affect how millions of people receive treatment; with management, you are able to make decisions for a whole department or hospital versus a few patients. Global health involves you on an even grander scale, taking your skills to areas of the world where basic healthcare is an issue.

Given that, if you’re reading this, you have another degree, are interested in another, or have interests outside of medicine, then I applaud you for thinking outside the box. We need more physicians who do this; and know that pursuing these pathways by no means narrows your future. Rather, it expands it and opens doors that otherwise would not be available to you.

Pinnable image courtesy of unsplash

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