Dual Degree Medical School Programs: Should I Pursue One?

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Getting an MD or DO degree can be a launching pad for a variety of career options that are not just limited to seeing patients, but can also encompass conducting translational research, making powerful policy decisions, or establishing businesses. Medical school attracts a diversity of people who want to make an impact on society and drive change. As a result, dual degree programs are an appealing option if you want to combine your medical education with another graduate degree. They can allow you to achieve your career aspirations, create new opportunities, or develop a unique clinical perspective.  

Types of Dual Degree Medical Programs

As these degrees are less common than the conventional MD, many may be asking what dual degree programs are out there? Dual degree program options include:

1 | MD/PhD – combines MD with PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), generally in a field of biomedical sciences

2 | MD/MPH – combines MD with Master of Public Health

3 | MD/MBA – combines MD with Master of Business Administration

4 | MD/MS – combines MD with Master of Science

5 | MD/MPP – combines MD with Master of Public Policy

6 | MD/JD – combines MD with Juris Doctor (law degree)

Most of these dual degree programs are also offered with a DO degree by a select group of osteopathic medical schools.  

3 Keys to Deciding on Dual Degree Medical Programs

Getting two degrees is a huge undertaking and requires careful consideration of your interests and ambitions. How do you know if you should get a dual degree? Here are the 3 keys points to consider before making the decision.

1 | Visualize Your Ideal Career

Try to think about experiences that you have enjoyed thus far and want to consistently have in life. For example, did you truly enjoy bench work in a laboratory or your internship with the state public health department? Do you have a desire to start your own business or are your very politically active? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may want to pursue one of these interests in parallel to your medical practice. In this case, a dual degree may be for you. If you are unsure about your interests after finishing undergrad, taking a gap year and exploring these interests is a great option.

2 | Do Your Research

A dual-degree program is a significant commitment of time and effort. Therefore being informed is critical to determining whether it is a good fit for you. A simple Internet search is good for learning about the requirements of these programs, but I have found that most websites are not sufficient for understanding what being in such a dual degree program is like. For this reason I recommend reaching out to someone who has completed the program you are interested in. Ask them about the pros and cons of the program, why they pursued the dual-degree program, and what their career goals are. All of this information is usually more helpful than a Google search. If you do not have such a contact, consider the Medical School Insiders general advising service as a resource to provide you information on this topic. Our advisers have a diverse array of experiences. We will find the right person to discuss these issues with you and help you make an informed decision.

3 | Be Critical

When I say be critical, I mean determine whether you really need the second degree to meet your career goals. A medical degree already opens numerous doors of opportunity and a second degree is not always necessary. For example, you do not necessarily need to get an MD/PhD to perform effective research. You do not need an MD/MBA to set up your own clinical practice. Be sure to take a step back and think deeply about what the second degree will add to your medical training.  

Concluding Thoughts

Determining whether a dual degree program is a good fit for you should include consideration of all aspects of your life – work, health, social, financial. I chose to pursue a dual degree not only because I truly wanted both degrees, but also because I felt comfortable with the potential effects on my financial and personal life. One key point to know is that you do not have to apply to these programs at the same time that you apply to medical school. Many dual degree programs have internal admissions for students who are already part of the medical school. Therefore you may have the flexibility to pursue such an opportunity later as well. Getting two degrees requires a lot of energy, work, and effort; however, it can certainly enhance your educational experience and career if it is something which truly aligns with your interests and career goals. Be sure to consider these points when making your decision!
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