Is a Dual Degree Right for You?

by: Selin Odman

Medical education has seen drastic changes throughout the years. From curriculum modifications and improved hands-on experiences to a changing MCAT exam, the medical community has been progressing. In terms of innovation, medical students have turned to expand their skills into other fields. It’s becoming more common for medical students to take on other degrees along with MDs, know as combined degrees.

So what constitutes a combined medical degree? The Princeton Review defines the second degree as being closely related to medicine. Pursuing a second degree while completing the first is understandably difficult, but the students obtain both degrees faster and cheaper in most cases. The system works in this manner: students study medicine for two years, study their second degree for two years, and then return to clinical rotations for their final two years.

Photo credit: DIBP Images / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: DIBP Images / Foter / CC BY

However, if your goals are to be a practicing doctor at a hospital, clinic or any other traditional setting, getting a combined degree will not be ideal for you. The Princeton Review explains that combined degrees are usually for students who are not interested in becoming traditional practicing doctors but want to work in the medical field. For example, research and academics combined with medicine leads to work in clinical studies. Other combined degrees open career opportunities in business, policy and administration in a medical setting. Harvard Medical School reports that 18 percent of its students pursue another degree along with their MD. This significant number demonstrates how the medical field is broadening its aspects.

The Association of American Medical Colleges recognizes five combined degree programs: the MS, MPH, MBA, JD and PhD. The Masters of Science (MS) is for students with a specific research interest. In about five to six years, students graduate with a masters in a health-science field and a medical degree. The Masters of Public Health (MPH) provides medical students with a knowledge of preventive medicine, disease control, biostatistics, epidemiology and skills in research, policy and consulting. A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) coupled with a medical degree is ideal for doctors with private practices and those who want to pursue a management position at a hospital. A Juris Doctor (JD) allows medical students to expand into government and policy, practice as a lawyer or work in forensics. Studying for a PhD makes medical students experts in medicine and a field of research. This degree combination takes seven to eight years, but rewards students with a job as a researcher or professor at a teaching hospital.

By simply looking at the wide variety of degrees available to students, it’s easy to discern that the medical field is no longer the typical patient-doctor formula. Where would we be today without these specific medical advancements in research and management? Research allows doctors to provide more effective, cheaper treatment to their patients. Having legal and public management skills allows healthcare providers to inform their patients and protect their legal rights.

First-year UGA student Amanda Cameron wants to include a combined MD/PhD degree in her future. As a Genetics and Mathematics double major, she’s getting an early start in combining fields. “I want to have the ability to have doctor-patient interactions while having the ability to pursue my own research,” she explains. When asked about what innovations and advances she sees from choosing a combined degree, she replies, “I’m fascinated by mitochondrial medicine, and I’d love to delve further into its links with more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I hope to contribute to the study of neuromuscular disease. There are a lot of unanswered questions with regard to chronic illnesses.”

Keep in mind that studying for two degrees means that you will need to apply for two separate degree programs that may require different applications or standardized tests. If you’re looking to pursue an MD/JD, for example, you are required to take the LSAT and the MCAT, two extremely different and difficult tests. It’s recommended to study early and take both of these tests before you start your first year of medical school. Pursuing two graduate-level degrees requires intense studying and dedication. Consequently, students with combined degrees will pioneer in the field of medicine, applying their skills into a wide variety of fields and careers.

If the medical field continues to expand, it is a possibility that we will see new careers mixing religion or history with medicine. This way, health-care providers can better the health and well-being of citizens through creative outlets.