In just the past 30 years, a number of brand new career paths have opened up. Many of these are associated with a particular type of technology (such as mobile or cloud-based technologies) but others arise from the changing roles of traditional careers. One of these new career paths comes from changes in the U.S. healthcare system with the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Given the Act’s focus on new methods of patient- and patient records management, a number of dual programs have sprung up that focus on these shifts in healthcare administration.

Dual Degree Programs for a Changing Landscape

One new dual degree program is an MBA in healthcare. Often touted as an MBA for physicians, this program of study builds upon the medical knowledge of M.D. programs to produce leaders in healthcare management. Students learn not only how to treat individual patients but also how to treat healthcare systems as well. M.D.s have traditionally completed rigorous coursework in how to approach disease, but their degree programs have avoided how to approach more systemic problems in healthcare administration. With this gap comes opportunity for future dual-degree students.

Todd Kislak, writer for Becker’s Hospital Review, sees this rise in MBAs for physicians coinciding with a dearth of leadership skills among M.D.s. As he puts it, this lack “is a systemic weakness which needs to be addressed, because from the MBA’s viewpoint the lack of trained physician leaders creates a ‘leadership vacuum’ in many healthcare organizations that need to be filled.” Healthcare organizations, it seems, are struggling to find the leaders to guide them through the sweeping changes. Luckily, graduates of an MBA in healthcare program are there to fill this gap.

An MBA in Healthcare for the Gaps

The dearth of skills needed for 21st-century healthcare management cuts both ways, though. While many M.D.s lack the leadership skills to effectively manage healthcare institutions, many MBAs lack the medical background to understand and respond to physicians’ needs. As Kislak points out, one of these gaps in communication comes from a lack of shared experiences, especially with regard to workload.

“MD claims that their work involves a level of stress that the non-physician cannot fully understand or appreciate,” he writes, are often met with “an attitude of benign neglect” from traditional MBAs. However, professionals with an MBA in healthcare are more sensitive to these needs, especially when they have earned both degrees themselves. While MBAs in healthcare practice less than single-degree M.D.s, they understand the pressures of being an M.D. all too well. This empathy goes a long way when working together to improve patient care.

So, Is There a Trend?

While there is certainly an increase in the number of students pursuing an MBA in healthcare along in addition to an MD, the numbers are not quite high enough to indicate a trend. However, that is good news for dual-degreed MBAs/M.D.s: fewer applicants are qualified to bridge these gaps; thus, those with the credentials are in demand. This demand translates into better opportunities for dual-degreed MBAs/M.D.s.

Medical Economics, a publication concerned with financial matters in the healthcare industry, reported on a study of dual-degreed physicians over the past 30 years. Researchers found that “graduates with dual degrees had more positive attitudes and flexibility in their careers. The physicians reported spending less time practicing, and tended to move into leadership and business positions later in their career.” The MBA in healthcare provided these graduates with the necessary flexibility for new career paths.

A Good Time for an MBA in Healthcare

The changing landscape of healthcare has created the ideal conditions for this dual career path. These programs are well-established and have been training students for decades, but the ongoing overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system has inspired increased interested in this path. Medical Economics reports a growing number of schools that offer these programs: “Currently, more than 54 medical schools have a dual-degree program incorporating an MBA, with 500 graduates per year.” While more healthcare institutions are looking for graduates with an M.D. and an MBA in healthcare, the supply is still smaller than the demand.

The Future

Given the massive changes to the healthcare system and an emphasis on management of large-scale institutions, an MBA in healthcare may be a sound choice. Some choose to earn both degrees at once, while other physicians find pursuing the MBA in healthcare later in their careers to be the best course. Whatever the particular path, hospitals, HMOs, nonprofits and insurance companies are seeing the benefits of employing dual-degreed M.D.s/MBAs. The number of graduates is increasing, but the recent spike in demand will determine the future for these uniquely talented employees. It may be time to join the trend before it becomes a larger one.

Learn more about the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi online MBA in Healthcare Administration program.