Many Washington University medical students seek dual degrees

Medical Scientist Training Program ranks as most popular

(Image: Michael Worful)

Nearly one-third of the 135 students graduating this month from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will receive more than one degree. Those 44 students also will have earned advanced degrees in fields such as public health, biology and business.

The drive for dual degrees reflects burgeoning motivation among physicians-to-be, particularly those attending the nation’s top-tier medical schools.

“Medical students in general are recognizing the importance of having multiple expertise in the competitive, changing health-care field,” said Michael M. Awad, MD, PhD, the School of Medicine’s associate dean for medical student education and an associate professor of surgery. “This has been a longtime priority for many of our students.”

Almost one-third of the school’s 2016 medical school graduates obtained double degrees. Last year’s numbers represent a slight increase compared with five and 10 years ago, when just over 20 percent earned more than one advanced degree.

Nationally, the Association of American Medical Colleges shows a gradual increase in dual-degree programs. In 2005-06, about 7 percent of the 15,927 graduating medical students had earned dual degrees, compared with 10 percent of the 18,943 graduates in 2015-16.

Typically, the School of Medicine’s dual-degree programs span five years and offer “a unique synergy” with other departments, said Awad, also the director of the Institute for Surgical Education.

The university’s Medical Scientist Training Program, established in 1969, is the oldest and most popular dual-degree program among medical students. Through May 2016, it had graduated a total of 610 physician-scientists.

In 2015, the medical school began offering two additional dual-degree programs: a medical degree combined with a master in population health sciences or with a master in public health.

The MD/MPHS aims to improve community health through hands-on experience and an understanding of the social, economic, environmental and cultural determinants of health; the MD/MPH is a combined program with the Brown School of Social Work that focuses on public policy, behavior, epidemiology, biostatistics and research.

The university also offers the following dual degrees:

  • MD/MA (master of arts) — A flexible program allowing students to participate in cutting-edge biomedical or clinical research.
  • MD/MSCI (master of science in clinical investigation) — A mentored program geared toward students pursuing careers in academic clinical research.

An MD/MBA (master of business administration) likely is next on the university’s list for a new dual-degree program.

“More students have inquired about it in recent years,” Awad said. “We have several medical students who we’ve worked with in creating an MD-MBA program at other universities.

“We also help students customize dual-degree programs,” Awad said. “It is definitely a feather in one’s cap.”

The breakdown of dual degrees among this year’s graduates is:

  • 28 MD/PhD
  • 7 MD/MSCI
  • 4 MD/MPHS
  • 3 MD/MA
  • 1 MD/MPH
  • 1 MD/MBA

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked seventh in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

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