What is an MD/MBA Program and Who is it For?

Five years in medical school will undoubtedly teach you a lot, from how the brain works to how to properly fill out a patient insurance form. But will you be ready to lead a hospital or even your own doctor’s office?

How will you handle tough fiscal decisions? Will you be able to identify the next cutting-edge biotech investment and leap before anyone else does? There are far more paths in the healthcare field than the classic clinical career, and as health technology continues to develop at a rapid pace and the healthcare system becomes ever more complicated (to put it lightly), there is greater and greater demand for health practitioners with business and management skills. 

This demand has given rise to a growing number of MD/MBA programs. Not that long ago, you could count the number of MD/MBA dual programs on one hand; now, roughly half of medical schools offer a joint business degree. 

Who is the MD/MBA for?

Let’s be clear right off the bat: this is not the path to a health-focused business career. There are plenty of great ways to launch a career in the business side of health, and none of them include spending five years in medical school. The only people who should consider this degree program are those that truly want the MD. Whether that means you want to practice medicine throughout your career, or simply as a first step in a career that leads you down other, less conventional paths, you should have a strong and urgent desire to become a doctor—there’s no other good reason to pursue an MD.

As for the MBA side of the degree, this is where you can get creative. You might pursue this half of the degree because you have a great idea that’s going to shake up the medical field, and you need an entrepreneurial toolkit to make it happen. Or perhaps you have a business-focused position in mind at a major health organization, and this degree will help you get there, or you may simply want the greater opportunity and flexibility that the MBA will add to your career path. Whatever the case, an MBA is a strong addition to any career, and there are definite benefits to pursuing the degree alongside your MD.

What’s the career path?

According to a University of Pennsylvania survey of its MD/MBA graduates going all the way back to the ‘80s, the most common career step after completing the program is to enter residency, continuing down the path to clinical practice. However, the more years that pass after graduation, the more likely these graduates are to be working in non-clinical positions (compared to their peers without an MBA). It is also worth noting that the rate at which dual degree graduates enter residency has dropped in the last three decades (by about 10%).

In a nutshell, dual degree graduates are much more likely than your typical MD to take their clinical experience and apply it in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, administration, entrepreneurship or VC. The time MD/MBAs spend in clinical practice is also decreasing, likely with the rising recognition of this career path and the growing need for medical professionals with business skills in healthcare-related fields. Either way, it’s good news for up and coming MD/MBA seekers, signaling exactly the kind of career flexibility and acceleration that they’re after.

The cherry on top: learning to think in two ways

Beyond the obvious advantage of earning two prestigious degrees to fast-track your career, MD/MBA graduates emphasize one particular advantage of the program: the way it teaches you to think differently. By pursuing these two very different disciplines simultaneously, each with a very distinct way of assessing and solving problems, you expand not just your knowledge but your ability to problem-solve, your perspective, and your mental flexibility. Students point to the balance between the individual nature of medical training and the team-oriented skills learned in business school, as well as the contrast between highly specific medical knowledge and generalist leadership training. It’s a pretty valuable combo if you plan on leading a health care business, but also a highly enriching mental exercise.

While these programs have rapidly risen in both popularity and availability in the last several years, there are a few that stand out. There’s nothing that will boost your resume (and your career) like a degree from a top-ranked program, but a dual degree from two programs that are EACH ranked in the top of their fields—that’s a recipe for success. Below are three MD/MBA degrees that boast top-5 ranked programs (according to U.S. News and World Report). 

UPenn: Wharton (#1) & Perelman (#3)

The University of Pennsylvania holds the distinct honor of being the first to establish an MD/MBA dual degree program, way back in 1971. That means that while the dual degree may be a trend on the rise, it’s not news at Penn. Penn MD/MBAs are a very select group—less than a dozen Perelman students attend Wharton each year, putting you in the 1% of your Wharton peers if you gain entry. 

Not only was Penn among the first, they boast the strongest combined rankings for each program (alongside Harvard), and they’ve got established interdisciplinary extracurriculars to give your degree a real kick. Join HealthX, a group of med students that works alongside MBA and Engineering students to develop and launch entrepreneurial solutions to health care issues, or apply for the Geisinger Medical Student Business Student Fellowship to get a jump on practicing both of your chosen disciplines.

Harvard: Harvard Business School (#3) & Harvard Medical School (#1)

Second-to-none, Harvard takes a top spot in the rankings game alongside Penn. True to HBS’s core values, Harvard emphasizes leadership—while you are encouraged to take up residency after completing the dual degree to round out your medical training, you are expected to push the envelope far beyond clinical practice. Whether that means leading health organizations, driving innovation in technology, or shaping public policy, HBS and HMS are preparing their graduates to control entire organizations. Taking a cue from the emphasis on post-program leadership, you should make a serious attempt to show Harvard that you are ALREADY a leader when you apply. 

Stanford, Graduate School of Business (#2) & Stanford Medical School (#3)

While Stanford offers many of the same benefits of top-ranked, world-class, name-brand education you’ll find at the other programs mentioned here, it has one advantage these other schools don’t: proximity to Silicon Valley. That advantageous location and intimate connections with a technology hub might be a major draw for students whose interests lie in biotechnology, entrepreneurship, or VC. If your ultimate goal in pursuing an MD/MBA is to get into this game, you want to be playing for Stanford’s team.

Room for Improvement

These programs, and the students that pursue them, are without a doubt impressive. But as a relatively new discipline—even Harvard’s dual degree dates to 2005—there is certainly still a lot of room for experimentation and improvement. One of the primary concerns graduates and those in the industry have about these programs is the lack of integration. Not only do you apply separately to the business and medical schools, but in almost every instance you are likely to be pursuing these degrees in a fairly segregated manner. The typical track is to complete the first three years of medical school without any foray into the business discipline (at Penn you aren’t even able to apply to Wharton until your third year at Perelman), then take a year of business courses, and complete your last year of medical and business courses in your fifth year (often in different semesters). 

This segregation of disciplines means that you lose out on some of the obvious benefits of combining these very different degree programs and ways of thinking. If integration is especially important to you, consider Duke’s MD/MBA program, one of the best-integrated programs out there. Students begin taking core business courses in their third year of the medical program, and will participate in a rotational clinical leadership program modeled on MBA rotational programs, giving you plenty of breadth and hands-on experience. 

Medical education is one of the most stagnant, least changing fields of education—it has followed the same outline for decades upon decades. However, as the dual degree grows and develops to meet market demand, we expect the larger medical education ecosystem to evolve, along with the healthcare field itself. Whatever those changes might be, we can expect that they will be led by the very same go-getters coming out of MD/MBA programs. 

MD/MBA Programs List 

University B-School RankMed School Rank
University of Pennsylvania 13
Stanford 23
University of Chicago 316
Columbia University66
Yale 913
Duke 1013
University of Michigan 1016
Dartmouth 1245
NYU 129
UVA 1227
Cornell 159


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