Applying to MD/MBA programs

I often get asked about my experience as an MD/MBA student, especially from individuals who are considering applying for the program I’m in. There aren’t a lot of resources out there for aspiring MD/MBAs since this isn’t a common career path (though it’s growing). This is my attempt to add some clarity about this degree path.

My experience

I didn’t enter Harvard Medical School knowing, or even thinking, that I would apply to an MBA program. I was worried enough about Biochemistry! But after taking an incredible course in healthcare policy during my first year, I became very interested in the issue of rising healthcare costs. I realized this would be a defining issue for my generation of doctors. After taking an optional first year course on healthcare management, spending a summer working on my own research project on patient and provider views of low-value diagnostic tests, and talking to several students in the MD/MBA program, I decided to apply to Harvard Business School. I was thrilled to find out I was accepted to HBS in December of my second year of medical school!

During our third year of medical school those of us in the MD/MBA program took a course on medicine and management with great speakers, including alums of our program, in addition to our clinical rotations. Then, we were off to HBS for the RC (first) year. My fifth and final year has been a combination of 4th year medical school electives, residency interviews, a consulting internship, and a semester at HBS. All told, the joint degree added one year to my medical studies.

Below is my advice for aspiring MD/MBA students who haven’t yet completed either degree. While there are certainly folks that decide to do an MBA during or after residency, these aren’t scenarios that I will address, since I’m not personally familiar with them.

What should I look for in business schools as an aspiring MD/MBA?

The first thing I’d consider if you’re already in medical school, is the business school affiliated with your medical school. That’s usually the easiest option. Is there an official program or would you have to chart your own path?

If your medical school isn’t affiliated with a business school, then you’ll probably be casting a wider net with your applications. There are great business schools across the country, perhaps not too far from your medical school. Or maybe you’re excited by the possibility of living somewhere new for 2 years. Most importantly, figure out when it makes the most sense for you to take a break from your medical school studies to attend business school.

If you’re looking at multiple schools, then the major factor I’d consider is what resources has the school devoted to healthcare. At HBS, there is a lot going on in healthcare, from second year electives in digital health and healthcare strategy, to an annual conference, and a student healthcare club. As a first year at HBS I travelled with several classmates to Washington, DC for the day to meet with administrators at CMS and learn about CMMI, visit Kaiser, and Aledade, an ACO start-up. In Boston we’ve visited companies like Iora Health. These trips have proven to be invaluable opportunities to better understand organizations that are seeking to transform healthcare. I’ve also been able to pursue several research projects with business school faculty working on healthcare, as have my classmates.

How do I apply?

Typically students apply to business school once they are already in medical school. So, my main piece of advice to aspiring MD/MBAs is to work hard to get into medical school. Medical school is much, much harder to get into than business school. The requirements are quite strict, the MCAT is hard, and each year fewer than 50% of the applicant pool receives an acceptance to any medical school. The number of medical schools offering joint MD/MBA degrees is growing, so keep an eye on those programs and consider applying to them. Many of these schools offer programs that will save you time and money, allowing you to complete both degrees in fewer than 6 years. If you end up at a medical school with an MD/MBA program, make your interest known early and talk to students already in the program. Figure out what the application process and timeline are like.

What test should I take?

If possible (and if the schools you’re applying for do not have a preference) my strong advice for medical students applying to a business school is to take the GRE. The GRE is very straightforward (it’s like the SAT). You have plenty of tests to take in medical school that will matter a lot more than than taking the GRE or GMAT.

What should I say in my essay to get accepted?

As I wrote about here, you need to have a clear answer to the question of why? Why you? Why this particular school? Why now? How do you plan on combining your two degrees? What are you excited about? What type of job do you hope to have? What big problem in healthcare do you want to work on? There is no ‘right’ answer.

Who should I ask for letters of recommendation?

Ask people who know you well and speak (at least somewhat) to your interest in medicine and business. A letter from someone who knows you well is almost always better that someone higher up the totem pole who knows you less well.

What should I say on my interview day?

Be yourself! Compared to medical school interviews, my HBS interview felt very fast-paced. Know your elevator pitch. Come prepared with a few examples of companies or organizations doing work that you admire, regardless of whether or not they are in healthcare. Have an answer to the question: how will attending this business school advance your career goals?

Lastly, the MD/MBA landscape is one that is changing as more joint degree programs open up and medical schools revise their curricula. Keep an eye out for the most up to date information.

Good luck!