Since making the decision to enroll in a dual degree program, I have often received the question “Why an MD/MBA?” While the answer to this question varies widely amongst those choosing to pursue the secondary degree, the MBA dual degree path has become an increasingly popular choice for medical trainees. Over 65 medical schools currently offer the joint program, growing from just six programs in 1993.

If you’re considering enrolling in an MBA program, during or after medical school, here are a few key points to consider.

Why an MD/MBA?

Over the past decade, the practice of medicine has faced several political uncertainties, significant technological advancements, and unforeseen digital disruptions. The future of medicine will continue to grow in complexity requiring new skills outside the traditional medical curriculum. Given the rapid change of the healthcare industry, many physicians and prominent journals have recognized the gaps in traditional medical education that build fundamental business and leadership skills. Common themes for students enrolling in the dual degree have been the desire to better understand hospital administration and quality improvement, plans for entrepreneurship, interests in running research labs, goals to work in device development, and more.

Personally, business school has provided an exceptional number of new skills which are applicable to the practice of medicine. The core business school curriculum has provided training in leadership, team dynamics, performance management, operational efficiency, basic statistics, resource allocation, and negotiations. Many of these skills have direct applications to the medical field through both patient care and hospital operations.

As noted in the Spring 2018 IR Quarterly, the MBA provides an education in teamwork, access to fresh perspectives, and an understanding of the language of business. Medical school is an individualized education, focused on personal performance in board exams and on rotations. In contrast, business school performance is strongly team based, requiring input from each member in order to achieve success.

Aside from the applications of the acquired business skills and knowledge obtained through the MBA, there are distinct advantages to obtaining the degree through a joint program. In comparison to a typical MBA, the program is shorter, adding only one year of time and tuition to a traditional MD degree, compared to the full-time 2-year MBA program or fully employed 3-year program. Additionally, many business schools now offer healthcare specific curriculums for MD dual degree students, including courses such as “Healthcare Entrepreneurship” and “Current Topics in US Healthcare Policy.”

As previously stated, the decision to pursue an MD/MBA is an extremely individualized choice, influenced by personal goals, future specialty, and desired scope of practice. As one of sixteen students currently enrolled in the joint program at UC Irvine, each of us will describe a unique reason for our choice to extend our education an additional year to complete the degree. If you’re considering this educational path, the most important thing is that you’re able to answer the above question for yourself: “Why the MD/MBA?”

Why Not?

Despite the advantages listed above, there are significant trade-offs to pursuing a joint degree.

To begin, the MBA adds at least one year to obtaining your MD degree. Given the length of current medical training (including residency and medical school), an additional year can play a significant factor. Along with the additional year are the additional financial costs, including: tuition, living expense, educational supplies, etc.

However, there are several non-financial costs: the loss of medical knowledge, scheduling conflicts, and emotional costs. Despite only a year away from medicine, the focus on new subjects does push medicine to the back burner, and many previous students have struggled with the transition back to medicine at the beginning of fourth year. In addition, in order to combine two years of MBA curriculum into the five-year joint program, most schools typically utilize a portion of time in the fourth “medical” year for MBA coursework. This potentially limits time available for away rotations or other desired elective rotations. Finally, there is some emotional cost in watching your fellow classmates complete medical school and graduate without you.

Another particular concern for the degree is the stigma associated with pursuing a business education. Many students worry that they will be perceived as being less interested in clinical training, and more likely to leave clinical medicine for business or entrepreneurial endeavors. However, the majority of students in these programs fully anticipate careers involving clinical practice.

Finally, there is the question, is an MBA really necessary to obtain the skills required in business? Many physicians practice in the realms of healthcare without obtaining the degree, learning similar skills through other sources such as on the job training. In addition, regardless of obtaining the degree, there are many business related skills that an MBA will not provide to students.

Overall

“Healing is an art, medicine is a profession, healthcare is a business.” – unknown

As future physicians we must be prepared to be leaders in our field, shaping the future of medicine for ourselves and for our patients. Overall, the addition of the MBA provides many useful skills required for the successful practice of medicine and work in the healthcare industry. It establishes the foundations for understanding the language of business, and exposes students to new perspectives on the practice of medicine. However, there are many significant tradeoffs to the degree that should be considered.

Programs Available & Options to Pursue an MBA after Medical School

For future or current medical students interested in a joint MD/MBA degree, a list of available programs can be found on the Association of MD/MBA programs website.

For residents or attending physicians interested in obtaining an MBA after medical school (while continuing clinical practice), available program options include: Fully-Employed MBA Programs (traditional or online), Executive MBA Programs, and Healthcare Executive MBA Programs.

Written by Lauren Shreve, UC Irvine MD/MBA Class of 2019

Categories: Residents & Fellows