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Mayo-ASU dual degree program celebrates its 1st graduate

Emma Greguska

Kent Richter was only 13 when his 10-year-old sister died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Then, just a few short months later, his grandmother succumbed to glioblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord. The compounded loss was devastating to him and his family, but it sparked in Richter a desire to better understand as an adult what he could not prevent as an adolescent.

Later, while working toward a degree in neuroscience at Brigham Young University, Richter went on a service mission to Angola in Africa, where for two years he witnessed firsthand the importance of access to, and quality of, health care.

“That made me want to learn more about how I could help improve those things,” Richter said. “So when I found out that Mayo was partnering with ASU and that they offered a dual degree in that area, I knew I wanted to apply.”

In May, Richter became the first student to graduate from the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine (MCASOM) with both an MD and a master’s degree in the science of health care delivery, thanks to a collaboration between Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University that offers six dual degrees in subject areas ranging from biomedical diagnostics to mass communication.

headshot of ASU-Mayo joint degree grad

Kent Richter

“For every medical-practice expert on the Mayo side, there was a theoretical expert on the ASU side,” Richter said. “So it was very well-rounded.”

The dual degree collaboration between Mayo Clinic and ASU was born out of student demand in the early 2000s.

“Some of the medical students in Rochester were looking for opportunities for dual degrees to expand their knowledge base, and at the time, there was a strong interest in medicine and law,” said Alan Rawls, executive director of clinical partnerships at ASU.

As such, the first dual degree to be offered was the MD/juris doctor degree, with the latter offered through ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Soon to follow was the equally popular MD/master’s degree in mass communication, with the latter offered through ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When Mayo Clinic established a medical school in the Phoenix metro area in 2017, the dual degree focus areas were reexamined and four new ones were added to the roster.

The six dual degrees currently offered are:

  1. MD/master’s degree in the science of health care delivery, offered through MCASOM and ASU’s College of Health Solutions. This program is designed to educate students on the systems and processes used to optimize the delivery of health care for all, providing them with the knowledge and competencies to contribute to and lead a patient-centered, safe and cost-effective health care system.
  2. MD/master’s degree in the advanced study of health informatics, offered through MCASOM and ASU’s Department of Biomedical Informatics. This program is designed to educate students on the effective use of information technology, data science and knowledge representation to impact health and health care.
  3. MD/master’s degree in biomedical diagnostics, offered through MCASOM and the International School of Biomedical Diagnostics, a partnership between ASU, Dublin City University and other industry partners. This program is designed to educate students on how to better utilize diagnostics in clinical medicine and scientific research, as well as the latest innovations in preventive health care and individualized medicine — the process of identifying the treatments most likely to benefit an individual patient based on their genetic and physiological characteristics.
  4. MD/master’s degree in mass communication, offered through MCASOM and ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This program is designed to educate students on today’s rapidly evolving media landscape and health care’s place in it through real-world, practical experiences via professional immersion programs under the guidance of award-winning journalists and communicators.
  5. MD/master’s degree in business administration, offered through MCASOM and ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. This program is designed to educate students on how to become physician-leaders prepared to make impactful contributions to the health and well-being of individuals, as well as society as a whole, by learning to dissect complex business problems to inform pragmatic multidisciplinary solutions.
  6. MD/juris doctor, offered through MCASOM and ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. This program is designed to educate students on the types of leadership roles in a variety of health care institutions — as well as how health care policies are developed for governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations — and also prepare them for careers in medical and legal education.

“The content and vision of the entire curriculum for all of these degrees is really a seamless amalgamation of what both Mayo and ASU have to offer,” Rawls said. “It’s important to credit ASU deans Deborah Helitzer, Doug Sylvester and Amy Hillman for their support and committing faculty hours to working with Mayo Clinic to establish these programs. It’s a very productive relationship that we think is really working in students’ favor.”

And there’s good data to back that up: According to a 2020 American Association of Medical Colleges questionnaire of graduating medical students that looked at national trends for dual degree programs in the U.S. over the past five years, 2.3% of them had enrolled in a dual degree. Compared with that, the participation rate of MCASOM-Arizona campus students taking a dual graduate degree at ASU is 18% – significantly outpacing the national norms.

“These programs were established to augment what the students are learning in medical school and also to help expand their career aspirations,” said Vicki Hochstetler, operations manager for Mayo Clinic’s School of Health Sciences and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Mission accomplished, as far as Richter is concerned; he was recently hired at Geisinger Medical Center in Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, where he will begin his residency later this year. He is excited to move his wife and three daughters across the country to begin this next phase of his life, and to start making a difference in the field.

“I think it’s going to be perfect,” he said. “People talk about big changes they want to accomplish in medicine, but it’s hard to do that when you’re already a practicing physician and you’re engrained in a certain system. When you’re still learning, you’re not already committed ideologically to any one way of doing things. This program gave me the opportunity to expand my understanding of the actual delivery of health care; not just the practices involved with healing patients, but also the systems in which those practices take place. And all of that provides a lot of opportunity for innovative thinking.”

Speaking of innovation, Rawls shared that there are potentially two new dual degrees in the works: one focused on medical nutrition and one on health leadership and entrepreneurship.

But Hochstetler said there’s always room for more.

“These programs are an excellent opportunity for Mayo medical students to expand their knowledge, and we're grateful for our collaboration with ASU and the ability to bring these unique programs to our students,” she said.

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