Building a Career With A Master’s Degree in Education


Have you been considering enhancing your career with a Fellowship (Health Policy and Administration or Health and Aging Policy American Political Science Association ), MBA, MHA or Master’s Degree in Education but needed to know how to start? This segment should provide helpful hints from those who have taken those pathways.


At the AVAS Annual meeting during the session titled “RESIDENT TRAINING IN THE 80 HOUR WORK WEEK ERA”, Dr. Lygia Stewart, MD presented a talk on the “Objective Assessment of Surgical Ability”. Dr. Stewart and I conversed on this topic and at the conclusion it was not clear that we know with 100% certainty how to assess our teaching abilities nor assess the residents’ mastery in surgical skills and clinical diagnosis. During this conversation she and I discussed the merits or lack thereof of pursuing a Master’s degree in Education. I reached out to two colleagues I knew, who either have obtained or in the process of obtaining a Master’s Degree in Education to assess their process in earning that degree. I asked them the following questions:

  • How they came to the decision to obtain a Master’s in education?

  • What they felt was the advantage in earning that degree?

  • Could they provide a synopsis on the process they utilized to achieve that goal (and shortcuts or lessons learned)?

Hopefully this will provide enough information for you to decide if you want to pursue this goal further or not.

Bill Cloud, MD, FACS (Surgeon at Fauquier Health Warrenton, Virginia) offered the following advice about career enhancing degrees: You have asked about career enhancement by obtaining additional degrees such as MHA, MPH, MBA, or Masters in Education. The critical question here for the potential applicant is ‘what is the goal/objectives for the participant making this choice?’ There are basically 3 career scenarios where this question presents itself:

First, some programs encourage their surgical residents to go ahead and complete an advanced degree incorporated into their research year(s). For example, if the resident chooses to spend time in global health in Africa, they may incorporate these experiences into an MPH degree. This lends some formal credentials to their experience and is a resume-builder. Second, some programs encourage young faculty to develop a skill-set in an area that the Chairman sees as a potential "halo effect" for the program. This typically takes the form of an MHA in quality/outcomes research or Masters of Education degree to help track this individual for a role as program director to deal with the increasingly detailed requirements of the RRC with respect to documentation of educational initiatives. I don't have a firm grip on the % of programs that do this but it is definitely a minority. It would be an excellent and easy research topic for someone in the ASE or APDS to tackle. The central question here is how much financial support the department will provide the participant, as these programs are usually $25-$35K. In addition, the only Masters degrees that have a potential to "pay for themselves" are MBA's. The MPH, MHA, or Masters in Education are not as valued as there is no revenue stream associated with the degree.

Third, some individuals may want to change their career path and develop skill sets to prepare them for this change. This could be to seek physician leadership positions, go in the direction of nonclinical areas such as administration or education. To do this, you must have clear goals and objectives about exactly what you expect the degree to do for your career after you obtain it.

In my own case, although I have always been involved in student and resident education in community hospitals, affiliated with academic institutions, after a period of self-reflection, I realized that none of the faculty involved in academic medical centers where I trained or worked had any educational training. They unconsciously had decided that the apprenticeship model of Halsted was the tradition of surgical education and passed it on. There are many programs to choose from out there: some are straight educational theory, instructional methodology, and assessment; some include leadership, financial management, administrative management, and/or educational research. The instructional formats vary with combination of online self-study, online interactive classrooms, physical classes full time or weekends, and/or intermittent workshops. The value of my program was that I actually understand the steps involved in program development, curriculum development, educational assessment, leadership, and educational research and can apply them. The fact is that we are a small tribe within the mass of surgical education. My advice for those in the latter 2 categories (young faculty or mid-career changelings) is to go to the ASE website or contact their office. Usually the officers of the ASE have such degrees and can provide the participant with contacts for those programs.

Regarding obtaining a Master’s in Education, he had this to say:

There is no one site to compare programs that I am aware of. I started by attending a conference on medical education sponsored by Keck Medical School annually in (USC in LA). It is a large conference in terms of attendance and the keynote speakers are nationally known in medical education. USC was starting their own master’s degree called Master of Academic Medicine. The curriculum was 1 year of educational theory, instructional methodology, competency-based medical education, assessment; 1 year of leadership; and 1 year of educational research. There is a "Final Project" which is required and is basically a master's thesis and you are given options for format but can pretty much pick your topic. It is designed to be completed in 3 months but mine took a year. I picked the format of designing a curriculum with a mentor that can be actually implemented. I picked teaching intraoperative decision making to surgical residents and worked with USC's PhD in the Department of Surgery who is head of surgical education for their residency program. She was fantastic. The applicability of this masters curriculum to multiple roles is what attracted me: education, physician leadership, administration, research. It was online weekly for 3 hours with weekly small group assignments and the format was live interactive e-classroom. We had students from New Jersey to USC to Florida to Taiwan (about 15/class). There were 2 workshops at USC/year. It required about 6 hours/week in time. I would hasten to point out that it took me 3 1/2 years to complete because I could only take 1 course/semester most of the time due to my clinical work schedule. Other schools have on site programs (usually 12 months) but it means you have to drop all other activities to do it. Many courses are designed for weekends over 18-24 months sometimes intermixed with workshops. The bottom line is it is a large time commitment.

What I got out of it was an entirely new conceptual language which is applicable not just to residency education but continuous learning for CME/MOC, the skill set to be able to look at administrative and physician leadership opportunities, and to be able to evaluate and conduct educational research of all types (including workplace learning, intraoperative decision making, telementoring, etc). The knowledge of assessment has been invaluable in evaluating educational projects or work-related projects (such as surgical service line development).

I looked at other programs which are extremely well known (Univ of Southern Illinois, Harvard Macy Institute, the master of education degree at Northwestern) but there are not many that are applicable to the practical environment of clinical education. USC, USI, Harvard and Northwestern all are very practical.

Lessons learned are to really work backwards from what your individual goals are in obtaining an extra degree: what will you use it for? How will this program's curriculum help you achieve those goals?

Michael Amendola, MD FACS, explained his rationale and process for obtaining a Master’s in Education as follows:

How you came to the decision to get a Master’s in Education

After several years in academic medicine I met with my chairman who saw my interest in education and suggested that I inquire about an advance degree in education. After an internet search, I found a degree from John’s Hopkins University School of Education – Master’s in Medical Education for the Health Professionals. It is an online program that is focused toward practicing physicians and other health professionals.

What you see as the advantage in having that additional background.

Twofold. One to train me on how to create dedicated educational programs that have defines endpoints for my learners. The second is to understand and know how to navigate the current environment for federal/private funding as well as to advocate for institutional support of new and needed educational initiatives.

Your process for making that happen- up front effort in application process and then what is needed from that point (time, travel, due outs and costs). To apply for this degree takes a fair amount of leg work to obtain transcripts from my undergraduate and graduate institutions as well as letters of recommendations. That said once completed, starting the program has been relatively easy. In terms of time per week it is about an additional 10 to 15 hours depending if papers and/or projects are due. Most of this is done after hours and on weekends. The learning environment is very collaborative and has allowed me to create several projects that are ongoing educational programs for my current residents and medical students.

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