Medicine is widely regarded as a humanitarian profession with noble goals — but it’s also a field in which a lot of money is at stake.
“Whether we like to admit it or not, medicine is a business,” says Mel Rosenfeld, senior associate dean for medical education at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.
Future doctors who are curious about financial considerations in the health care system may choose to pair a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, degree with an allopathic M.D. or osteopathic D.O. medical degree.
Dr. Victoria Dinsell, associate dean of student affairs at the Grossman School of Medicine, says having an MBA can distinguish a doctor by demonstrating leadership skills that are helpful in any branch of medicine.
“Even if they end up being a leader in a research field or a clinical leader, they are going to need to have experience in how to manage large teams,” she says. “Whether they like it or not, being a (medical) leader has other components in addition to the clinical and research skills that we’re teaching, and so having an MBA and having that training will set them apart.”
Who Is a Good Fit for an M.D.-MBA?
An ideal student for this academic route is someone who wants to tackle multidisciplinary jobs that require a synthesis of clinical and managerial skills.
“Medical school to business school and then back to medical school is not exactly the easiest path in the world, and so students who are making this decision are doing it based on what their long-term career goals are, and not necessarily to make a gazillion dollars down on Wall Street,” Rosenfeld says.
June Kinney, associate director of the graduate program in health care management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says that although graduates of medical-MBA dual degree programs can head straight into the private sector to work as medical consultants or investors, the majority go on to complete a medical residency and become doctors within a particular medical specialty.
Dr. Daniel Briggi, a second-year medical resident at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, says he chose to complete four years of medical school and two years of business school because it aligned with his ambition to become a leader in health care and help health care organizations increase public access and decrease costs.
Briggi, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics, earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in Connecticut and his M.D. degree from the University of Miami’s Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.
“I saw the impact you can have as a physician, but I had a business interest (and) I had administrative interests that persisted in medical school,” Briggi says.
How Long It Takes to Earn a Medical Degree and an MBA
M.D.-MBA or D.O.-MBA programs can often be finished in five years if a student pursues both degrees at the same university. However, it can take six years when the degrees are done at different schools.
Briggi says that the six-year path was the correct one for him since it allowed more time for academic exploration at Yale, where he enrolled in a health law course at the law school and attended lectures at the public health school.
The M.D.-MBA Application Process and Coursework Timeline
People typically apply to dual degree programs that combine business and medical education after they are already enrolled in medical school, during their second or third year of study.
Students admitted to an MBA program usually begin taking B-school courses after they finish their third-year medical school curriculum, take a break from medical courses and then return to the med school curriculum after completing their MBA coursework. The exact course schedule may vary depending on where a student enrolls.
MBA applicants who are in medical school generally have to fulfill all of the same application requirements as their peers who aren’t pursuing a medical degree, and they sometimes have to submit an extra essay or participate in an extra interview.
What You Can Do With an M.D.-MBA
A joint academic program in medicine and management trains future physician leaders who can oversee complex health organizations and have a positive influence on the wellbeing of others, says Dr. Stan Finkelstein, founding director of the M.D.-MBA joint degree program at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
Aspiring medical researchers who want to use their scientific discoveries to create commercial products, such as medical devices or pharmaceuticals, often combine D.O. or M.D. degrees with MBAs, as do many future physicians who hope to lead medically focused government agencies, health technology firms or hospitals, Finkelstein says.
Potential doctor entrepreneurs also frequently enroll in these kinds of dual degree programs, he adds.
“In terms of what they actually wind up doing, it’s all over the place.”
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Update 09/15/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.