Tell people you have your MD and they'll likely be impressed. Tell them you also have an MBA-well, now you're just showing off.
For four recent Indiana University graduates, however, impressing others had nothing to do with their decision to pursue simultaneous medical and business degrees. It's all about making their way in the increasingly complicated field of health care, where being a good doctor is about more than having the highest grades in medical school.
The four students received their MDs and MBAs this winter and spring after five years of study at the IU School of Medicine and the IU Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis. The special program, which graduated its first student in 2004, shaves a year off the time it would normally take to receive both degrees separately.
It also gives medical students a head start in their field, where a little business savvy can go a long way in running a private practice, leading a hospital or working at a pharmaceutical company.
"I can speak business-speak now," said Emilie Powell, one of the four students who earned the dual degree from IU. The Fort Wayne native plans to go into emergency medicine after completing her residency at Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago.
Though she doesn't foresee a career as a health care administrator-the most common reason future doctors procure a management degree-Powell thought getting an MBA felt right.
"I've always had an interest in business management," she said, "and I basically decided that a physician who has an interest in business should capitalize on that."
Powell and her classmates-Benjamin Henkle, Timo Dyger and Steve Fountain-jumped at the chance to double up on their degrees, but most future doctors shy away from the extra workload.
It's not that they're lazy. Most just don't see the point, according to Henkle, a Greenwood native and resident at the IU Medical Center. "Getting an MBA is still pretty rare," he said. "Most physicians don't have much interest in business until they realize they need to."
More and more universities are seeing the need and offering it to students. According to the National Association of MD/MBA Students-a networking organization for medical and business students-the University of Texas, Boston University, the University of Illinois and Temple University are among the 51 institutions in the United States and Canada that allow medical students to pursue a business degree.
Some of the nation's most prestigious universities are following suit. Harvard University will enroll its first dual-degree students this fall. As with IU's program, students will spend five years taking classes at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School in pursuit of their MDs and MBAs.
Despite the increasing number of programs, the dean of students at the IU School of Medicine doesn't predict an MD/MBA boom locally or elsewhere.
"The training for medicine is so long that it's hard to imagine physicians in large numbers going out and doing this," Dean Herb Cushing said, adding that IU won't be disappointed if the program attracts only a handful of students each year. "I never imagined that lots and lots of students would do this."
The program is structured in blocks, so students are concentrating on just one discipline at a time. The first three years are dedicated entirely to medicine, and the fourth and fifth years are divided by semester between the two subjects.
"The way it's organized makes it very manageable," Powell said.
Choosing IU's program was a no-brainer for Dyger, a Columbia City native who now works as a medical resident at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
"I entered the program because I saw what would be a great opportunity to [get a business degree] in only one extra year of school," he said. "I just felt like I couldn't go wrong with it."
Dyger originally pursued his MBA because he wanted to own a physician group. Now he is more interested in the public policy arena of health care. Either way, he believes a business degree is an essential tool for any doctor wanting to excel in the modern health care system.
"An MBA is an extremely versatile degree, and I felt that it would open doors in many of the areas where medicine and business co-exist, such as managed care, pharmaceuticals, health insurance, hospital administration and public health," Dyger said.
In the end, greater education could lead to better relationships between doctors and administrators, and it could give physicians a more important role in future health care reforms, he noted.
"It makes a lot of sense for physicians to take a leadership role and have a better understanding of the basic business forces that dominate health care," he said.
But today's young doctors-even those armed with an MBA-still must earn credibility in their field before becoming tomorrow's leaders, noted Charisse Jimenez, graduate program manager for the Tampa, Fla.-based American College of Physician Executives.
"It's very difficult for physicians without management experience to begin managing other physicians," she said. "They've got to build that track record."