When one degree is no longer good enough

Local universities meet student demand for more dual degrees options.

by Chelsea Nichols

As the landscape of healthcare continues to change, it’s not enough to be skilled in one discipline. That’s where a dual degree comes in handy. The dual degree is an attractive option for students looking to differentiate themselves from the competition or gain an additional skill or perspective.

Our region’s universities are providing this next wave of healthcare professionals with the needed skills to become the advanced leaders they strive to be through various dual degree offerings.

University of Kentucky
College of Pharmacy
PharmD/MBA, PharmD/MPH, PharmD/MPA and PharmD/MSPAS
The University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy boasts four dual degree programs with a fifth in exploration. The inception of the program stems from using elective credits to their fullest potential. Associate professor Frank Romanelli said there are degrees pharmacy students would like to earn while obtaining a PharmD, but difficult to achieve. By creating the dual degree program, students are able to use elective credits toward the other degree.

Kelly Smith, associate dean of academic and student affairs, said the American Association of College of Pharmacy encourages colleges to offer these programs. “Prospective students now indicate that colleges with a panel of dual degree options have a recruiting advantage,” she said. “We’re also seeing alumni and current practitioners indicate their interest in returning for graduate training. That’s another indicator of the value pharmacists perceive in having additional skills.”

Recent graduate Amanda Peters the PharmD/MPH track was a natural fit. She credited her MPH for not only supplementing her pharmacy education, but making her a better-rounded healthcare professional.

“Pharmacy schools cover large amounts of material, but there were some areas that the MPH degree more appropriately covered and expanded upon,” she said. “The MPH degree allowed me to gain better understanding on how governmental agencies function, how legislation influences society’s health and what tools are available to the public for health promotion and disease prevention.”

In June, Peters started a 12-month post graduate pharmacy practice residency at Indianapolis-based Indiana University Health.

The college has seen great strength with MBA pairing followed by the MPA and MPH options. The newest addition, master of science in physician assistant studies, had its first set of graduates in June 2012.

Career Paths Vary
Career paths for the students vary. PharmD/MBA students may join the healthcare industry. Global health programs are of interest to PharmD/MPH students. While many students will go on to complete residencies, professor Frank Romanelli said.

Romanelli continued that as long as the college and university can afford it—and the students show interest—the program will be supported. Additional tracks are being reviewed.

“We semi-regularly receive proposals for programs and on an ongoing basis. [We] evaluate these programs for good fits,” he said. For example, a master’s of health administration is currently under exploration.

Indiana Wesleyan University
School of Nursing
Marion-based Indiana Wesleyan University houses the youngest program in the group. Starting in November 2011, the program welcomed its premier cohort with the second following a few months later. The third group joins in August 2012. The MSN/MBA dual degree has intentions of producing professionals with a strong understanding of economics and ethics.

The idea of such a program came from the university advisory board, but a growing need gave it life. Hospitals looking to earn magnet status look to hire nurses with advanced degrees in nursing, Debbie Drake, associate professor said.

“Many nurse leaders had an MBA or wanted an MBA to develop their ‘business’ mindset, but need the ‘nursing’ degree to assist their hospital in gaining and maintaining magnet status,” she continued. “The MSN/MBA dual degree offers both the advanced nursing knowledge and financial knowledge.”

Where the program lacks in age, it makes up for in ambition. Drake said students’ projects focus on revising processes that will impact not only the patients, but the staff, community and the healthcare industry. Drake said that though no one can predict the future, leaders need cornerstones such as management, leadership and financial knowledge to succeed. Nurses are no exception.

“Our MSN/MBA students will be especially equipped to assist the agency and community to adapt efficiently and effectively to the changes as they have a strong grasp of budget, reimbursement and the systems in which today’s health is delivered,” she said.

The MBA program is undergoing curriculum revision with added changes appearing in classes in January 2013. The graduate nursing program is working on a new human resource class, which may be added in the summer of the same year.

Northern Kentucky University
Salmon P. Chase Law School and College of Informatics
When Northern Kentucky University introduced its College of Informatics, people asked “what is informatics?” Now that it offers a MHI, or masters in health informatics, people want to know what that is. At its core, health informatics is viewing information technology in the context of healthcare, department chair Ben Martz said.

The MHI program is set so that students can fulfill their elective requirements by taking any graduate course the university offers. Martz said law students were coming to the health informatics program asking if they could use their law classes as electives for the MHI program, which was approved. After some planning and approval, the joint JD/MHI program was born.

Health informatics is a specialty in the law field with a growing interest. Though it’s been around, program coordinator Pam Atkinson said, “It’s starting to gain traction.” It encompasses everything from electronic health records to meaningful use to HIPAA/HITECH Act and affects medical facilities, vendors, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and a host of other fields.

“Being in a blossoming field is exciting and a bit nerve-wracking at the same time,” student?? Chad Smith said. “[My friend and I] have discussed more than a few times about the struggles that come along with not having an explicit path to follow toward your career.”

Most JD/MHI candidates ultimately would like to practice law in healthcare, but it’s only one route of many that can result with having a background in health informatics. Atkinson said one student works as a project manager. Though the company needed someone with programming experience and he had none, he was still hired on the spot. Atkinson credited the hire because of the potential of the joint degree.

While people love to discuss health informatics degree because it’s shiny, new and still an innovative concept to some, the juries doctor is not to be ignored. Requiring more than double the credits needed to get its complimenting degree, the JD demands just as much attention, if not more. Students are able to work on both the front and back ends of IT and law. Essentially, they could explain not only how EHR works, but the legal issues behind it.

“When the meaningful use rule came out, it was over 860 pages full of legalese,” she said. WHO SAID? “It’s very important that each one of these processes and definitions is very explicit for a variety of reasons so it’s very important to have legal representation on all sides.”

The Highland Heights-based university continues to develop the joint degree program. The Chase Law School is in the creation stages of information classes on healthcare law available to all graduate to students. The College of Informatics is working on an information course that will include encryption and decryption.

University of Louisville
School of Medicine
MD/MA bioethics & medical humanities, MD/MBA, MD/MPH and MD/MSc in clinical investigation sciences
With four master dual degrees, the University of Louisville School of Medicine is able to look at healthcare from ethical, business, public health and research perspectives. Recognizing that medical professionals are in the business of helping others, the university created the dual degree programs to enhance that ability.

Similar to UK and NKU’s programs, UofL’s MD/MA in bioethics and medical humanities lets students choose electives from other schools and departments including law, sociology and women’s and gender studies. First semester M.D./MSc students must seek a mentor as they complete a 24-hour-course load. The MD/MBA prepares students to handle issues such as managing a practice or how to market products. MPH program director Bob Jacobs said the MPH track is of particular value because it views health as a population, not as individuals.

“Individual patient care is enhanced through the incorporation of preventative medical concepts in practice and lead to a better understanding of how concepts such as quality of healthcare and access to healthcare impact individual health,” he said. “The program offers students the opportunity to have an impact beyond individual patient care by working with other types of health providers in the community to improve population health.”

Though not enrolled as an MD/MPH student, Michael E. Egger, M.D. returned to school to earn a MPH because he sees it as complimenting his medical training. Not only has it improved his ability to produce and evaluate his research and surgery, but has allowed him to cross train.

“Multidisciplinary care is an important part of current medical practice in America and is being emphasized as a quality measure,” he said. “Multidisciplinary care across multiple specialties and provider levels is common practice.”

With multiple programs come multiple careers paths. The university web site suggested some will sit on hospital boards, others will teach and some will set out to understand how religion and spirituality and medicine affect one another and patients with the completion of the M.D. /MA. MBA students may work on the improvement of the healthcare system and MSc will continue to research. As for Eggers? He hopes hopes to practice surgical oncology within an academic setting.

School of Dentistry
In the School of Dentistry, UofL provides a DMD/MS in oral biology. The combined degree is available not only to students currently enrolled in the DMD degree program, but those who want to earn just the MS, students enrolled in the Dental Specialty Certificate/Residency programs and anyone who has earned a DMD, MD or an equivalent. Students may shape the program to meet their individual needs, but must be approved by the student’s research committee.

No word on what either school has planned down the road. However, the School of Dentistry recognized 48 educators for meeting the discerning requirements to join the graduate education faculty of the school in February 2012.


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