Q&A with the director of Harvard’s MD/MBA program

Health Professions MBA admissions medical school admissions strategy


Dr. Stan Finkelstein is a founding director of Harvard’s MD/MBA program, which enrolled its first students in 2005. Harvard is not alone in doing this – today, more than a quarter of the country’s accredited medical schools offer the MD/MBA dual degree. For this blog, we sit down with Dr. Finkelstein to learn more about the MD/MBA mission, curriculum and admissions process.

Overview of MD/MBA programs

Q: You created the MD/MBA program here at Harvard. What was the impetus behind starting it?

A: This dual degree arose out of interest from both students and faculty. As medical students learned about the use of capitation to control physician compensation, they became concerned that they needed to know more about the business of healthcare, and lobbied for new health management courses. That interest grew over time, until the Deans of both the medical and business schools wanted to jointly create this dual degree program. The mission statement of the joint MD/MBA program is “To create and nurture a diverse community of the best people committed to leadership in alleviating human suffering caused by disease.”

Q: Many other institutions also offer the MD/MBA dual degree. What makes Harvard’s different?

A: When we designed our program, we wanted to make sure it the curriculum was well integrated across the business and medical schools. And, even though the dual-degree is a condensed 5-year program, we did not compromise any of the curricular requirements of either the business or medical school.

Q: What type of student is this dual degree program trying to attract?

A: We don’t have a particular student in mind, and admitted students come from all types of backgrounds, from basic science research to management consulting. What we expect from MD/MBA graduates is that they are committed to using the knowledge they gain from both of their graduate school experiences. Normally, this entails continuing medical training through the completion of a residency program, and making ongoing contributions to the medical field.

Q: What have recent MD/MBA graduates gone on to do?

A: We are a relatively young program, so few graduates are past their residency training. Just to give a few examples – our graduates include the now Vice Provost of a university health system, the medical director of an entrepreneurial healthcare delivery startup, a partner at Google Ventures, several who have entered healthcare consulting, and many who are still completing their clinical residencies.

Q: What are the pros & cons of doing the MBA as a joint degree, versus doing an MBA later on in your career?

A: There are many different pathways for people to develop a healthcare management skill set, and the dual MD/MBA is just one of them. The major advantage of doing an MBA early on is that there is a higher opportunity cost later on in your career to take off time to complete this degree. Some people realize early on that this is what they want to do, while others need more experiences before making such a commitment. Even after medical school, there are opportunities to pursue an MBA. For example, certain residencies have recently established management training programs in which they sponsor residents for their MBAs.

Q: What does the integrated curriculum of the MD/MBA program look like?

A: Here at Harvard, the integrated curriculum means students are working with both medical and business school faculty throughout their graduate experiences. This curriculum stands in contrast to many MD/MBA programs that have limited integration, where students complete requirements at both schools sequentially.

Year 1
  • Complete medical school year 1 curriculum
  • Take healthcare management elective (jointly offered)
  • Complete summer management internship
Year 2
  • Complete medical school year 2 curriculum
  • Apply to business school for MD/MBA dual degree
Year 3
  • Defer clinical clerkships to take medicine & management course (jointly offered)
  • Complete full clinical clerkships at hospitals
Year 4
  • Complete business school year 1 curriculum
Year 5
  • Apply to clinical residencies
  • Complete electives at both the medical school and business school

Nuts and bolts of MD/MBA admissions

Q: What are the general requirements for applying to this MD/MBA program?

A: Students must fulfill admissions requirements for each graduate school (e.g., GMAT and MCAT entrance exams, recommendations, personal essays, transcript, etc.) and apply to each school separately. In addition, to be accepted into the 5-year condensed dual degree program, students must have demonstrated academic performance in their first year of medical school.

Q: When do students apply for these programs?

A: Most MD/MBA students apply to the business school for the dual degree in the fall of their second year of medical school. Applying concurrently to both schools may be an option, though this is rare.

Q: How much business experience do I need before applying?

A: Admitted students have all sorts of backgrounds in business, ranging from years as a consultant to none at all. Regardless of an applicant’s experiences, the strongest applicants will have demonstrated leadership experience or potential in any field, be that basic science research or community service or something else entirely.

Closing thoughts

Q: What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing an MD/MBA?

A: Think carefully about what your career goals are, and only commit to this dual degree program if you are certain this is the right path for you as an individual. There are so many routes to get to the same end goal.  


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