To be an academic surgeon doing high impact research, do you need another degree? The answer is a clear and obvious “no.” Yet here I am…proofreading, formatting, and preparing to defend my PhD thesis during my lab years before I return to residency as a PGY4. Have you thought about pursuing another degree? If you’re reading this blog, we probably have some things in common. Like me, you probably love operating and taking care of patients. You probably find joy in discovery and appreciate a good challenge, and this has positioned a research career alongside your clinical career. I bet you liked school. Still, another degree?
Look to a few current and recent past presidents of AAS who have additional graduate degrees: Adil Haider, Caprice Greenberg, and Justin Dimick. I imagine, like me, they found themselves needing better research training early in their careers. As I was planning my academic years of residency, I knew I wanted to build my “research toolbox” with skills in statistics and epidemiology. I was thinking a few classes or seminars would do the job. Exploring options, I began to realize that my lab years, as a critical phase of early career development, were a unique protected opportunity to gain a comprehensive education in becoming a surgeon-scientist. I also began to realize this was going to take more than a couple epidemiology classes…a thorough education would also include coursework in grant writing, clinical trials, causal inference, and advanced statistical techniques. Fast forward to funding my research time and it became a very easy decision: it’s far more cost-effective to enroll in a degree program than pay by credit hours.
Fortunate to have received NIH funding including tuition support, I chose to enroll in the Graduate Training Programs in Clinical Investigation at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Had I chosen to take only a handful of classes per my original plan, I would have missed phenomenal courses on ethics, comparative effectiveness, systematic reviews and meta-analysis, health care economics, budgeting, and financial management…I took these classes and more, immersing myself in the lively academic community one finds in any graduate degree program. My scientific questions have become clearer, my studies more rigorous, and my conclusions more clinically meaningful, and perhaps most importantly, doing research has become more fun.
What if I didn’t have dedicated time to do a full degree program? What if my grant funding hadn’t covered tuition? There are other ways to fund additional education. Many universities provide tuition remission benefits. I also like to think I would have taken more advantage of massive open online courses, often offered for free, or other online programs. One such site offering online courses is Coursera, which offers an impressive breadth of course offerings from various universities and companies. I dabbled in courses on Stata and R programming and enjoyed the flexibility that comes with online coursework.
What about you? Have you pursued additional coursework since graduating medical school? Have you tried a free online course? How do you continue learning new methods and techniques for your research?