Goldman surveyed 55 M.D.-MBA graduates who completed their studies between 2003 and 2009. Meanwhile, Windsor Sherrill, associate professor of public health sciences at Clemson University, recently conducted a follow-up survey of 22 M.D.-MBA graduates she had interviewed a decade earlier. While both surveys have small samples, their findings about M.D.-MBA income levels are similar.
The findings were presented in April at the eighth annual conference of the Association of MD/MBA Programs.
Goldman's survey found that, on average, the starting salary for M.D.-MBA graduates was $292,500. Sherrill reported an average salary of $325,000 for the M.D.-MBA graduates she interviewed. Four respondents, each working in venture capital or another nonclinical job, are making more than $600,000 a year.
The vast majority of M.D.-MBA graduates, however, are involved with patient care. Their starting salaries, which are significantly higher than those commanded by most new M.D.s, reflect a different mix of responsibilities than physicians who do not have the MBA, Goldman said. Many M.D.-MBAs who practice medicine take on a leadership role, such as a department head, in their first job, while others pursue entrepreneurial opportunities while building their practices.
“I found a lot of people were doing their medical practice as well as other stuff on the side—something in business on the weekends or they opened up an urgent-care center,” he said. “People were very creative in terms of the things they did to augment their income in addition to just practicing medicine.”
But higher salaries are not the primary motivation for obtaining both degrees, according to Sherrill's work. The majority of her respondents rated making a difference in medicine as a higher priority.
That holds true for both Goldman and Michael Ward, M.D., who completed the M.D.-MBA degree at Emory University in 2006. A founder of the National Association of MD/MBA Students, Ward is one of the chief residents at the University of Cincinnati's emergency department, where he has worked on improving patient flow.
When he completes his residency this year, Ward will pursue a fellowship in healthcare operations research at the University of Cincinnati. The MBA is required for the fellowship, in which he will work with clinical researchers and healthcare administrators to identify ways to improve healthcare delivery.
Meanwhile, Goldman, who will pursue a primary-care residency, plans to create a group of comprehensive outpatient centers that allow patients to receive primary and subspecialty care, imaging and other services in a single location.
“What I'm hoping is that by integrating all those services,” Goldman says, care “will be a lot easier for the patient, but it will also be less expensive because of centralized administrative processes and the economy of scale of bringing all those doctors into one place.”
Although nearly 65 joint M.D.-MBA programs have opened at U.S. medical schools—most of them in the past decade—there is more room for growth, said Maria Chandler, president of the Association of MD/MBA Programs.
To view Modern Physician's exclusive ranking of business graduate schools for physician-executives, click here.
Chandler, associate professor in pediatrics and faculty adviser for the dual degree program at University of California at Irvine, said 48 universities were represented at the association's conference this spring, including three from countries outside the U.S.
“We are really pushing that, in some way or another, any medical student can have the opportunity to receive an MBA degree if they want it,” she said. At UC-Irvine “at least 15% of our entering class is interested in doing more for the healthcare industry in a different way.”
Goldman agrees with Chandler that more students will pursue the dual degree, but he doubts it will ever become mainstream.
“People who go to medical school often do it because they want nothing to do with business,” he said. “I think that may be part of the reason why medical care in the United States is the way it is, because you've got business people who love business and doctors who hate business, and they're not really talking.”
Lola Butcher is a freelancer healthcare writer in Springfield, Mo. Contact Butcher at [email protected].