Beyond the DO and MD: 4 Dual Degree Options for Medical School

Learner Series:

Beyond the DO and MD: Dual Degree Options for Medical School

Table of Contents

Choices: 4 Dual Degree Options For Medical School

An increasingly popular option for medical school students is to pursue a combined degree. In this post we’ll identify some of those degrees, some of the benefits of pursuing them, and what obtaining the dual degree will mean for you. You should know that all dual degrees come with additional time in school. Expect to spend at least an extra year working on them, with some dual degrees like the JD and PhD taking significantly longer.

The Opportunity Cost of Medical School

When I started seriously considering medical school, one of my biggest concerns was something called the “opportunity cost.” An opportunity cost is what benefits you give up when you pursue something a different option. I’ll give you an example. Medical school is four years long and then that is followed by residency which is another four. You add in the two to four years it takes to do med school pre-reqs and we’re talking a TWELVE year commitment. This commitment amounts to a hefty opportunity cost. Think of all the other stuff you could be doing with those twelve years. Traveling the world, starting a business, building a career, saving money, raising a family. 

If you hear one common thing about Medical School it’s that Medical school is hard. During those years in school, it’s exceptionally difficult to try and pursue another degree. After having nearly completed four years of it, I’d argue that if you’re passing your classes and getting a full night’s sleep you’re doing great!

So, if you’re interested in public health, law, business, research, etc when does that leave time for the extra degree? It doesn’t. Unless… you pursue a dual degree.

Did You Know: According to Kaptest, a typical 1st year medical student will study 30 – 40 hours per week! That doesn’t include the many hours you’ll spend in classes, labs, groups, clubs, and so on. 

Consider: What is the opportunity cost associated with all this time spent in class and studying? There’s a reason why the profession is so well respected!

The Pre-Reqs

There are many great dual degree options for medical school. So the problem won’t be finding a good fit. The problems will be deciding 1) are you willing to delay graduation, 2) do you really want to pursue it, and 3) what pre-reqs it requires. Keep in mind that the Pre-Reqs can vary from school to school.

With that being said, expect to spend at least a little extra time as an undergrad completing extra classes. Speaking from personal experience you can expect around 12 credits of extra classes. I wanted to do Rowan’s dual DO / MBA degree. In order to be accepted I did NOT have to take the GRE, but I did need to take many business classes that pre-meds did not traditionally take. For me it was a great experience. I got a strong exposure to accounting, finance, economic theory, marketing, management, and so on. 

Bottom Line: Expect to spend more time in classes as an undergrad. But this time will serve you well to complete a graduate-level degree in your chosen field!

The Dual MD/MPH or DO/MPH Degree

An MPH, or Masters in Public Health provides an incredibly valuable training experience for students interested in becoming involved in public health. An MPH opens many doors and you can go in many directions with it. Some of the options you can pursue with an MPH include, epidemiology, political science / politics, community-health, health care administration, clinical lab work, teaching, and the list goes on and on. In terms of dual degree options for medical school, this is a great choice.

There are going to be a lot of similarities between MPH curriculums from school to school. Of course the class names may vary and you may have some flexibility in class choice. However, as a dual degree medical student expect your class selection to be a tad more limited because you are limited in the time you have to complete the MPH. Expect to complete the entire MPH in a single year. Most MPH degrees take TWO years of focused study, so you will be completing an accelerated degree. In addition, you will usually be taking a year off between your second and third, or third and fourth years. To read more about the structure and curriculum take a look at the Rutgers Dual-Degree MD/MPH webpage. 

The Dual MD/MBA or DO/MBA Degree

The MBA aka Masters in Business Administration is a great way to train to be both a healthcare and business leader. You’ll understand the factors that go into the business of healthcare. You may be saying to yourself “I just want to practice medicine, I’m not interested in that business stuff”. Well, that business stuff is inescapable! Reimbursement, medication and treatment denials, RVUs, hospital admin, contract negotiations, the list goes on and on… You didn’t really think you’d one day make a doctor’s salary and not be drawn into the business of medicine?

However, as far as dual degree options go for medical school, this is a great one. It’s an especially attractive choice for someone who wants a versatile degree and is interested in becoming a healthcare leader. You’ll always have options with an MBA. Maybe you want to start your own practice, or become a leader in a hospital, or advise a healthcare panel, or leave medicine entirely and become a healthcare investor. You can do it with an MBA + your medical school training. 

Expect the entire process to take an additional year, and you’ll need a number of pre-reqs completed to be eligible. Some programs waive taking the GRE for admitted medical students, many don’t. Definitely look for programs associated with your medical school. For instance being a medical student at RowanSOM  and completing the RowanSOM dual DO/MBA. For a sense of what you need to do, check out Rowan’s DO/MBA Degree.

The Dual MD/JD or DO/JD Degree

I’m sure there are probably some really good jokes about people who chose to become both doctors and lawyers. Probably along the lines of using leeches to treat people and being one too! However, the truth of the matter is, people interested in a dual degree in law and medicine have a tendency to be incredibly passionate individuals, driven to make a difference in the world. They straddle two complicated domains; medicine and law and weave together their expert knowledge to help patients, clients, and organizations.

However, with such a calling comes a pretty serious time commitment. Expect to spend 2 – 3 years completing just the JD portion. For an example of the timing, here is Penn Med’s JD/MD breakdown. Most (read all) programs will also require an LSAT. So you’ll need to plan on taking that (many students take it either after the MCAT or during the 1st summer of medical school, when you usually have a break. It’s also expensive. Law school and medical school are not cheap. Expect to walk out with some serious debt. 

If you do pick this path, you’ll be amongst some of the rarest of dual degree holders!

The Dual MD/PhD or DO/PhD Degree

Every physician is a scientist, but the dual degree PhD Physicians are really on the cutting edge of medical science. This is a very sought after and competitive path and often requires that you take the GRE. That being said, you’ll become a physician-scientist and be well equipped to research and design new therapies for patients far into the future. For a special few students, this dual degree option for medical school will satisfy both their clinical needs and their motivation to be scientists. I’ve spoken to dual DO/PhDs working on exciting treatments and tests for diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Which is truly incredible. 

The trade-off here is time. Expect to spend at least seven years in a program like this. However, it could be longer. As one DO/PhD put it, “It takes as long as it takes.” Many students report it gets kind of sad seeing your former classmates move on, graduate, and start residency while you’re working on your research. Two upsides are  A) You’re a PhD and B) Many programs waive Medical School tuition and even pay you a stipend while working on your PhD. 

Advice for Dual Degrees

02. DON'T

Write Off The Dual Degree too Quickly!

I know you're eager to get to that MD or DO. However, a dual degree can really help you fulfill a dynamic need in the healthcare biosphere. Think of all the good you can do with the expertise of a doctor and a lawyer!

04. DO

Expect to Pay More in Tuiton

That extra year in school is going to cost you! However, most dual degrees are accelerated. So compared to doing each program separately you may save money on tuition.

06. DON'T

Get Cold Feet

I've seen this happen before. A medical student plans on a dual degree, gets right to when they'd take the year off to pursue it, and then gets cold feet and instead just finishes medical school, abandoning their plans. Unless you have a really objectively compelling reason not to, STICK TO YOUR PLAN! You'll thank yourself later.

01. DO

Ask About Dual Degrees!

If you're talking to an adcom or visiting during an open house make sure to ask about these! It's a great way to show that you've been researching and are interested in the medical school. Also ask them about their dual degree options of medical school. You'll definitely stand out!

03. DO

Find Dual Degree Mentors

You want to find people who have pursued similar paths to your plans. They can really give you great real-world advice on how to make the most of your efforts. This is another great way Project BreakThru can you! Click below to find a mentor!

05. DON'T

Forget There's an OPPORTUNITY COST For Staying in School Longer!

Extra time in school means one (or more) years of lost income. Add the cost of school tuition to the cost of lost wages at the end of your career and you're looking at potentially 300k or more in losses. HOWEVER, the dual degree can lead to higher salaries, or other intangible gains. So the math isn't as clear cut as it seems. Just always be aware of the opportunity cost for obtaining that extra degree!

Next Steps

Do you need help deciding on the pros and cons of a dual degree? This is a great topic for you to discuss with our Medical School Mentors or your Personal BreakThru Mentor. 

Premium Membership

Unlock more content, more resources, and more mentoring by becoming a Premium BreakThru Member Today!

Personal Mentor

Want individual guidance? Apply today for six weeks of personal mentoring from a BreakThru Mentor!

The Path to Medical School Can Feel Long And Unclear

But never forget that we’re here to help. Do you have a question about something you just read in our BreakThru Learner Series?

Use the BreakThru Feed to Ask and Inspire others with your questions. Our Medical Student Mentors are always here to help you, for free, anytime.

Where Mentoring Happens

Related Articles

What is Medical School?

If you’ve made it to this page, you’re probably a high school or a college student looking to learn more about what medical school ACTUALLY is. What do you learn? When do you get to be in the hospitals? When do you start working with patients? Look no further as we delve into what medical school is!