JD and …: Dual Degrees, Part 1

Welcome to the wonderful world of dual degrees!

Dual degrees are an interesting animal. You’re a lawyer and then some.  The title JD/MPH, JD/MBA, JD/MA perplexes people, perhaps unnecessarily so.  You spend an extra semester or year in school after all your friends have graduated.  So why do it?

This next set of blogs is dedicated to unpacking what it means to be a dual degree student. First we’ll hear from a BU JD/MPH student on doing a formal dual degree at BU. Then, I’ll contribute a few thoughts about doing an ad hoc JD/MA at a different university. Lastly, I’ll share some responses to commonly asked questions from other JD/xxx students at BU.  Hope you enjoy this dual degree adventure!

This first post is from a guest blogger, Michael Cannella.  He’s a 3L at BU and is concurrently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health.

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Law Doctor, Attorney at Medicine

Guest blogger: Michael Cannella (BU School of Law; BU School of Public Health)


When I tell people that I am in school and they ask, “For what?” the answer often leaves them with a quizzical look on their face.  “JD/MPH? I thought you were in law school??”   I did not choose to pursue a dual-degree just to confuse people with an acronym that sounds like the brand of Robitussin reserved only for the deathly ill.  I chose this path because each discipline (law and public health) gives me a set of tools to pursue a career in policy advocacy.  Understanding what conduct or policy ideas fall within the limits of the law is a useful enough skill in itself, but as any 1L student learns, what is legal is not always what is best.

A Masters in Public Health (MPH) gives me the tools to evaluate the merits of both current healthcare policies and proposed reforms. The MPH degree also bends the learning curve with respect to understanding potential client needs in the healthcare sector.   Within the MPH, I am concentrating on Policy and Management, which means that a substantial portion of my course load focuses on the budgetary and organizational challenges that face healthcare providers and agencies.   These are the day to day issues that clients will attempt to navigate and the more an attorney knows about how they operate and how they think, the better the legal advice will be.

Choosing the right dual-degree program for your interests can be challenging.  For example, there are more JD/MPH programs than you might be aware of (at least 20 different programs nationwide). But I found that the one offered through BU suited me the best.

First, I found that a lot of dual degree programs are ad hoc – BU allows students to pursue both degrees, but the student is required to shoulder the majority of administrative issues, like sorting out schedules, timelines, credit transfers, etc. [See forthcoming blog about Nanako’s Tufts-BU dual degree program.] The JD/MPH housed within BU’s School of Law and School of Public Health is an “official” program and BU provides guidance on how and when to register for courses at each school.

Second, ad hoc dual-degree programs that are offered in coordination between two different universities may not save you time and money – you need to make sure to read the fine print.  There is also the challenge of dealing with two universities with different rules and deadlines.  The BU JD/MPH program is great in this regard because you can have up to two MPH classes a year count as non-GPA law school credits and the School of Public Health will recognize up to 16 law school credits from courses that relate to public health.  At a minimum, this credit hour flexibility can save at least a year of school and considerable tuition dollars.  Lastly, BU’s JD/MPH program is remarkable in that several professors at the School of Public Health also hold JD/MPH degrees and teach courses at the Law School. The faculty’s familiarity with both disciplines has been an invaluable resource as I have navigated the program.

There are of course tradeoffs to pursuing a dual-degree. Once 1L year is over, the diversity of class schedules among friends makes it slightly more difficult to hang out.  Taking courses at a different school adds a whole new layer of complexity.   While there is a great deal of integration in terms of credit hours, there is a logistical burden of traveling to and from different campuses.  Anyone who has ridden on the BU Bus from the Charles River campus to the Medical School campus can attest to how the journey is like a game of Russian roulette with the city traffic.

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