Education to the Nth Degree

I was sitting in the Fellows and Junior Faculty Lounge at the ASCO 2013 Annual Meeting, talking to Simon—a young medical oncology fellow with interests in global health, who is committed to developing the next generation of oncologic agents to bring to market in an economically feasible way. . . . Within moments, our conversation turned to the concept of pursuing additional degrees, like an MPH or an MBA. Not long after, while on the bus to the Presidential reception, I met up with a friend and member of ASCO staff who did an MBA and noted how the experience allowed him insights he may not have achieved otherwise. . . . From students, to fellows, to junior faculty, the concept of pursuing higher education with an additional degree beyond an MD seems to be an increasingly popular thought. I think I’ve had a dozen such conversations in just the past week. And as someone with a bit of personal experience in this regard, I can tell you that I remain incredibly enthusiastic when asked about the value of such pursuits.

I know that many look at the long string of letters after my name and shake their heads at my addiction to education. . . . I’ve been told that an MD is a “terminal degree,” that one doesn’t need anything further than that. “You can learn the rest ‘on the job,” I was told. While that may be true, I know that each of my degrees added a new dimension to my knowledge base and skill set, and each has been synergistic with my overall career goals. My MSc gave me a background in translational science; the MPH gave me the skills to manage large databases, do cost-effectiveness research, and strengthen my statistical skills; the MA in bioethics and medical humanities gave me a more in-depth framework to analyze complex issues; and now the MBA I am currently pursuing provides me the leadership skills to manage both financial and human capital to maximal effect, and to do so with a more global perspective. All of these traits are, in my view, critical to leadership in academic medicine, and while there may be those who excel in this realm without the formal education of multiple degrees, I cannot help but think about the subtle nuances and skills that I have learned that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and how these have given me a unique advantage. . . .

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that argues that real-life experience trumps advanced degrees, but I would argue that the two are not mutually exclusive. I have had the good fortune to have both formal training and real-life experience, simultaneously in most cases! Without a doubt, I have thoroughly enjoyed the education I have received and have benefitted tremendously from it—whether it be a formal degree, a leadership training program (such as ELAM or ASCO’s LDP), or simply mentorship relationships that have allowed me to stand on the shoulders of giants. All of this training made me a better physician, researcher, educator, and leader. So my advice to those contemplating an additional degree—go for it! It will enrich your life in ways you can only imagine. For those who do not have the time or resources to pursue a formal degree, enroll in a class or program that may be of interest to you and may hone skills that will be useful for your career. If no such programs exist, find a mentor who can teach you everything they know. This is your opportunity to suck the marrow out of life, and how better to do that than to expand your horizons?


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