The University of Virginia will offer a new dual-degree option, the J.D.-M.D., starting this fall.
The program, a partnership between the School of Law and the School of Medicine, joins the J.D.-M.P.H program to become the second joint degree the schools offer. Students accepted into the program can complete law and medical degrees in six years, instead of the seven years normally required if the degrees were pursued separately. The University is one of only about 20 schools in the country to offer the degree.
Richard Bonnie, the Law School’s adviser to the program, said the J.D.-M.D. should appeal to aspiring “health leaders” – medical doctors who seek to be policymakers or leaders of health care organizations.
“I think most such people want to be, for at least some part of their career, practicing physicians,” Bonnie said. “That group of people, I’m predicting, will use the process of legal education and the skills they get from having their law degree to help them become successful policymakers and leaders of health care.”
Bonnie added that the program will also interest students who ultimately seek careers in academia at the intersections of health law, policy and ethics.
The first student accepted into the program, Austin Sim, said he plans to specialize in radiation-oncology. Though he doesn’t yet know how he will apply his legal degree, he said two possibilities are policy work in Washington or hospital administration.
Sim said he first became interested in pursuing a dual degree when he applied to medical schools in the summer of 2010. The media, as well as his admissions interviews, all seemed to be focused on health care sustainability, including the Affordable Care Act, he said.
“I realized how problematic health care in the U.S. is at this point,” Sim said. “Physicians can only do so much within the confines of the current system. I wanted to see if I could affect changes at the macro level.”
In 2011, Sim approached the School of Medicine about offering the dual degree. “I figured, why not go for it,” he said.
The schools entered into a formal agreement in June.
“The School of Medicine is very pleased to partner with the School of Law in this new program,” said Meg Keeley, the assistant dean of student affairs at the Medical School and adviser to the program. “This enhancement of our curricular opportunities comes at a time when the health care landscape is changing dramatically. Physicians with this specialized training will be critical to shaping aspects of both law and medicine.”
Sim, whose parents are practicing physicians, will join the first-year law class in August. And, yes, he confirmed: “The vast majority” of his friends are amazed he’d take on two challenging courses of study at once. But, he pointed out, the program allows for concentrated study – three years of exclusive medical study, then two years of exclusive legal study – before a final year of combined study.
“I’ll just be subject to the pressures and time constraints of any other [first-year law student],” Sim said.