Why doctors should pursue another degree

Becoming a doctor is a long and arduous process. Between taking pre-med courses, taking the MCATWhy doctors should pursue another degree, applying to medical schools, matriculating, then taking test after test after test until you take the big one (USMLE Step 1) before which you did questions all day long for weeks from a good USMLE question bank program, after which you take rotation and shelf exam after rotation and shelf exam after rotation and shelf exam, so that you can finally finally graduate to become an MD.

What awaits you on the other side, newly minted Doctor? Internship, residency, and fellowship. Sure, they pay you, but it’s not very much and it is at least three more years, but up to seven.

What am I getting at?

Basically this: as you progress through your medical career, at any stage of it, you always have to keep in mind why you are doing all this work. Why are you sacrificing your own life to save other lives? People enter medicine for many reasons: to save lives, to perform surgeries, to earn money, to earn respect, to help those less fortunate, to help only those more fortunate, to help themselves, to help others. While all of these will be true at some stage of one’s career most likely, it is important to find the common thread. I believe we are all doing this not simply to perform procedures or to prescribe pills; it is not even to treat patients. Ultimately, we are all in this to help people. The real question is: which people and in what capacity.

The people within the medical system are now secondary to the system itself. In the United States, soon 1 in 5 dollars will be spent on healthcare. The essential doctor-patient relationship now has scores of ancillary industries built around it: insurance, hospitals, therapists, outpatient centers, transportation services, and the list goes on. To master the patient care settings, one does indeed need dedication and a strong medical education. However, to master the system, it seems more and more necessary for one to have other non-medical training.

What options exist for such training? At present, complementary degrees such as a JD, MBA, MPH, MHA (masters of healthcare administration), or even an MPP (masters of public policy) can help serve a physician interested in systemic change.

Let’s look at the JD as an example. To get into law school is easier than medical school. It is basically a numbers game with even the interviews being optional. If you have a high GPA (which you likely do since you are interested in or already attend medical school) as well as a good LSAT score, that’s it: you will be accepted to some law school in the U.S. The higher the numbers, the better the school. How do you succeed at this? Simple: do well in your classes, take them seriously, get good grades. And, take the LSAT just as seriously. Take an online LSAT prep course, do practice tests over and over again, read over the LSAT practice test solution guides very carefully. Learn from your mistakes such that you are better. Don’t wait until the last minute to practice for the LSAT.

Once admitted, is law school (or any of these secondary degrees) worth it? Tough call – is the MD even worth it? Ultimately it will be what you do with the second degree that matters. If you just want more letters after your name, then I suggest you consider strongly why you want letters after your name rather than ponder another degree. All education is ultimately a means to an end. The question now is: what end is meaningful to you?

“Scrub, MD” is a recent medical graduate and currently a resident physician who blogs at Scrub Notes.


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  • http://www.centerforpainrehab.com Mitchell

    Not sure if I agree with the need for a second degree, although I recognize the need for future physicians to potentially re-invent themselves to meet the challenges of this ever-changing medical climate. While having a JD and an MD might make you more attractive to any law firm that concentrates in malpractice law, is it really worth the time and expense to pursue this? With a quarter of medical school graduates having debt exceeding $200,000,
    most physicians need to be absolutely certain that whatever education they pursue is truly what they want, then go for it.

  • http://www.excellencenursing.com Danielle Hannigan RN

    I appreciate you taking the time to be heard and I validate almost all that you are saying. I do take accountability that at times in my career I felt situations that were around me or I had been put into were not ethical right or felt that they needed tremendous quality improvement. Being me I could not just turn a blind eye to what was damaging what we hold so sacred which is these patients and families put their lives in our hands everyday. As a medical community we need to collaborate and improve our systems to manage the patient across a lifespan inpatient and outpatient. I am not sure why we are so hesitate to allow other professionals into our world to help us maintain excellence. In every business there comes a time when a system needs to be restructured, change needs to happen and innovating idealist need to lead the way against the negative barriers our colleagues put up against and demand change. This change is not in order because someone is trying to take all the hard work you did in medical school away from you or blame the cranky nurse that would not listen to you as an intern. As a profession I always respected Physicians because of the time you dedicate to greatness and how adaptable you all become. In every group you will of course have the ones that go against the grain. As Physicians you are for the greater good of your patients and want to provide them with the very best care.
    It is hard to hear negative views from the patients and their families when as a community we all know that we work very hard to do our best by them. That very last statement is why we need change because that should be evidence enough for the FDA that our systems are failing us!

  • Smart Doc

    Its a mixed bag. MD-PhDs tend to be outstanding researchers and academics. I have lots of respect for them.

    MD-JDs on the other hand appear to be disreputable and unethical… at least all the ones I have ever met (n=4).

  • soloFP

    It amazes me how many docs pursue other side business ventures, such as restaurants, rental properties, and investment options that are risky. Many of them fail and just have to work that much harder. A second degree is a nice backup, but a physician should stay in practice instead of taking time away from patient care. Many practices have room for improvement and hidden sources of revenue that are not utilized.

  • Vox Rusticus

    The MD-JD route isn’t necessarily paved with anything other than asphalt. Some do dual career work, say pathology and also medicolegal consulting, or psychiatry and legal advising. The few I have met felt they weren’t competitive as medico-legal counsel until they also completed residencies and became board-certified physicians.

    As far as getting extra degrees, the only thing certain is the extra debt or expense you will accrue for that degree. About the most efficient combination of degrees I have seen were doctors that had professional engineering degrees as undergraduates and who had synthesized their interests with medicine in IT or device development.

  • Dave Leader

    I am 20 of 48 crdits into an MPH (Master of Public Health) to augment my DMD (Dirty Mouth Doctor). I enjoy the mental stimulation and interactions with my classmates who are about half my age. I feel a new kinship with my dental students. I understand much more about public health and education than I did before.

    I highly recommend this to any Health care provider.

  • Doc99

    Hasn’t anyone heard? There’s a Law School Bubble.

  • http://notwithstandingblog.wordpress.com The Notwithstanding Blog

    “I believe we are all doing this not simply to perform procedures or to prescribe pills; it is not even to treat patients. Ultimately, we are all in this to help people. The real question is: which people and in what capacity.”

    I understand the sentiment that motivates this theory of the role of the medical professional. That said, enough of life has already been pathologized by a medical profession that would rather “help” society to be as healthy as possible, instead of helping individuals to be as healthy as possible within the framework of the lives they choose for themselves.

    There’s nothing wrong with physicians treating individual patients. To say that more physicians need dual-degrees to better “treat” systemic issues is to propose a dubious solution to a questionable problem.

  • knasky

    Any thoughts on the MHA? Is it worth its cost? i.e. is there any increased earning potential with adding and MHA to an MD/DO?

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