It's Time for Professional Medical Masters Programs

FEBRUARY 22, 2016
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA
Practice Management, Medical Education, Digital HealthProfessional Science Masters Programs are designed to fill the need for scientists who are trained to work in a commercial context. They have rapidly proliferated and most graduates seem to be finding jobs. As the programs mature, they are getting better at providing not just biotechnology knowledge, but bioentrepreneurship education as well. An example is the Master’s Program in Biomedical Sciences and Biotechnology at the University of Colorado.

Maybe it's time for medical schools to do the same thing, offering an abbreviated medical school curriculum combined with medical entrepreneurship education as part of a two- or three-year Masters of Medical Entrepreneurship degree. Tracks could include digital health, population health and patient education and management. Do you really need an MD to create something like this?

For example, I recently received a copy of Biotechnology Fundamentals, by Firdos Khan (CRC Press), which is a textbook designed for students in Professional Science Masters programs as well as other graduate programs and is designed to offer an overview of biotechnologies in contemporary use as well as some coverage of the biotechnology industry, the drug development and discovery process, and biomedical entrepreneurship. While the science discussions were comprehensive, I felt the entrepreneurship sections were a bit sketchy and high level and would not serve as a practical roadmap for most for getting drugs to market. That said, it did cover areas that would interest those getting more "into the weeds," including job opportunities and career guidance in the biopharma industry.

As I've noted before
, however, there are significant barriers to the creation, growth, and development of these programs:

1. They engage participants in endeavors that get short shrift on campuses: teaching and innovation. Generating clinical and grant revenue takes priority. Few campuses reward faculty or students for developing or commercializing an idea or paying them extra to teach the courses.

2. Money is tight and little is available to support these programs. They run on a shoestring, are expected to be self-funded, and require uncompensated time from faculty being paid by other disciplines.

3. Biomedical entrepreneurship rests on a four-legged stool that includes education, networks, experience. and money. The last three are difficult to create, scale, and sustain.

4. Bioentrepreneurship educators have no home. It is not yet a recognized academic domain, there are limited places to publish peer reviewed research and manuscripts, and promotion and tenure committees attribute little or no value to the enterprise.

5. By its very nature, bioentrepreneurship education is an interdisciplinary, multi-campus effort with all of the bureaucratic and systems issues that engenders. There is frequently a lack of alignment of academic entities driving growth and short-term money issues trump long-term investments in entrepreneurship education innovation.

Job titles that have not yet been created will populate Sickcare 2.0. Many will have to do with data science, digital health technologies, media and entertainment and other industries that will change the interface of how we deliver care to patients. Long, expensive graduate degrees that weigh students down with back breaking debt, like MD or MBA degrees, are not the answer. Many students, particularly those that come from disadvantaged or poor backgrounds, neither want nor need those degrees but want to contribute and work in high-wage, high-value jobs. 

Times have changed, market demand from students has increased, innovation has attracted increasing attention and the global war for talent continues to rage. With more and more medical students having limited clinical half-lives, and more even skipping residency training, and with an increasing demand for people to fill new jobs, perhaps it's time to offer some other alternative career pathway directly to the boardroom instead of the bedside. It is a lot faster and cheaper than an MD/MBA and it fills a need.



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