The recent proliferation of dual degree programs – MD/MBA, MD/MPH, MD/PhD – begs a major question: Are they worth it? A study conducted by students at Harvard University looked for an answer to this question as it pertains to MD/MBA programs, which are slowly popping up in medical schools across the country. These dual business and medical degree programs are geared towards students hoping to integrate their study of medicine with managerial, financial and technical expertise.
Riya Goyal, a second year medical student at Hofstra North Shore Long Island Jewish School of Medicine and a researcher on the study, answers some of the questions about what she found, and about the pluses and minuses of MD/MBA programs.
The study says that between 2011 and 2012, American MD/MBA programs increased in number by 25%. Why this sudden increase?
Our study questions why these degrees are becoming more common and are proliferating. We are focusing on shedding light on the fact that these programs are growing and expanding. I think the reason is because there are rapid changes happening in healthcare and we have placed an increased value on management and leadership skills.
Why did you decide to conduct this study – in addition to this new explosion of programs?
The main goal of our research was initially to establish a comprehensive landscape snapshot of the MD/MBA dual degree programs in the United States. Currently, there is no database out there for current students or program directors looking to find more information. We wanted to establish what the structure looks like for admission requirements, how these programs are designed, potential outcomes, and the career paths of students who graduate from these programs. We actually realized that no two curricula are alike, but having different curricula doesn’t seem to impact the landscape.
Why should medically-interested individuals attend (or not attend) one of these dual degree programs?
That’s totally subjective and really depends on the student perspective. However, on a national scale, we see healthcare changing. With these changes, we see business skills as highly valued. Having a stronger understanding of how the business aspect of healthcare works could help lower costs. But, a dual degree program is not the only opportunity people have to obtain a business degree. There are executive programs after residency and even as a clinician. There is the possibility that having a business background will enhance clinical prowess by having that greater understanding.
Ultimately, you will acquire the skills from getting both degrees separately in a shorter amount of time with this degree. Many programs offer courses tailored to those interested in medicine who want to have business skills. The major benefits are that you spend less time in school, gain this skillset and have decreased costs. The scaling of curricula is done so that the degrees overlap, rather than looking at them as two different sectors.
Are physicians with an MBA more likely to pursue a career in medicine or in business?
We hope that the study will encourage more research into that area. A lot of people feel that they can use the MBA to enhance clinical knowledge and treat people in a different manner. It’s hard to tell from the research we have now. However, we do know from the study that these kinds of physicians will improve quality of care. They will know how tests are priced, what they cost and the way that these prices are negotiated. We will have physicians that have a more well-rounded understanding of delivering care.
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Soniya Shah is an on-staff contributing writer at MedTech Boston. She's a senior at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BS in technical writing. She has experience as a ghost writer and medical writer, and in developing software documentation.
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