Medical students trend toward earning dual degrees
An increasing number of students are choosing to pursue degrees in both the medical and business fields.
A lot of students aspire to be doctors or run businesses. Nico Grundmann refuses to choose.
The Stanford medical student's plan to become a pediatrician shifted while he was in Africa, where he set up health clinics and studied ways to deliver HIV treatments at a low cost.
He became inspired by the possibility of working overseas full time and decided one degree was not enough. Two years after he enrolled in Stanford University's School of Medicine, he also started working toward a master's in business administration.
Grundmann, 27, isn't the only overachiever out there. A growing number of medical students nationwide are putting in the extra time to earn dual degrees in public health, academic medicine and seemingly disparate fields such as law and business.
They are motivated by an interest in developing the interdisciplinary skills necessary to tackle complex issues like health care reform and global health care, educators say.
"Students learn other disciplines as they are learning medicine mostly so they can understand systems of health care, the root causes of health problems, how to be more effective in education and prevention, and how to manage health care," said Gabriel Garcia, associate dean of admissions at Stanford's medical school.
Nationwide, dual programs in medicine and academic research, medicine and law, and medicine and business have seen their combined enrollment increase 36 percent, from 3,921 in 2002 to 5,349 in 2011, according to data released this spring by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Most of the students, just over 5,000, are in combined medical degree and doctorate programs. The association says those figures are probably undercounted.
Grundmann, who majored in biology as an undergraduate at Stanford, said he hopes the lessons he'll take from his dual-degree work will help him someday provide not just medicine, but medical services to a developing region.
Grundmann said his medical courses are heavy on memorization. In contrast, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he's learned to analyze problems and understand team management, accounting and new economic models for health care delivery.
"I got to learn a whole set of skills that I could have probably learned on the job, but it would have been kind of relearning the wheel," he said.
Medical school takes four years, followed by at least three years in residency training. An additional degree requires serious commitment. Grundmann recently endured a 16-month stretch of back-to-back classes. He expects to finish his five-year dual program in June 2013 before going on to his residency.
Competition for the joint programs is fierce. This past year, 600 students applied for 10 slots in Stanford's program that combines a medical degree with a master's in public health, university officials said.
Garcia, of Stanford's admissions office, said that demand reflects an eagerness to tackle new problems from multiple angles.
"If you really want to solve an important issue, you have to think in many different disciplines at once," he said. "There's a realization that we have a responsibility as physicians, not just to the patients we see, but the health of whole communities."
Nationwide, medical schools are increasingly open to letting students pursue master's degrees at other institutions if their own university does not offer them, said Henry Sondheimer, senior director of medical education projects at the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Daniel Dohan, associate professor of health policy and social medicine at University of California, San Francisco, said students are aware that two degrees are not necessarily better than one in the job market. "For UCSF, students are not worried about finding employment -- that's never been a challenge," he said. "I think it's about thinking how they can have an impact."
Courtesy of Scripps Howard News Service