I am frequently asked: “Why are you pursuing a dual MD/JD?” Neither profession is a family business, no one in my family is a doctor or a lawyer — but I’ve always dreamt big. I always wanted to get the most possible out of my education. Beginning in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but it was not until college that I learned of the dual MD/JD program. When I discovered it was possible to do both, combine a medical degree with law, I didn’t overthink it, I just did it. I didn’t want to turn 40 and realize that I wanted to go to law school. By then, it might be too late. So, I took both the MCAT and the LSAT. I was accepted at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston Law Center. As of now, I have two more years of school before residency, and it’s been an incredible ride thus far.
To start, there are similarities between the programs. In terms of educational rigor, the grind is real. Both programs require that most of my days and nights be spent studying, revisiting what I learned in class, preparing for the next day. Both also require some amount of community service, whether it be hosting health fairs (med school) or working in a clinic (law school). At the end of my education, both programs will require national board exams. For medicine, those exams are Step 1 and 2 (CK/CS). For law, there is the unified bar exam and the MPRE (Model Professional Responsibility Exam). The ultimate goal for both medical and law students is also the same: to get a job upon graduation. For med students, that means matching into a residency program. For law students, that can mean different things: working in a federal court, landing a job at a law firm, working independently, et cetera.
Pursuing multiple degrees guarantees delayed gratification, but the process itself has been cathartic. During the course of my graduate education, I’ve experienced my highest moments of accomplishment and my lowest moments of disappointment (by far).
I’ve struggled with school work, agonized over patient and client situations, and tried to balance the scales of my life without forgetting or taking for granted those who have supported me along the way. I’ve learned so much about myself. How I react to new and difficult situations. What issues in today’s world I am most passionate about. What relaxation means for me and what hard work feels like. How to build relationships. Over these years, I know that I’ve grown more than would have been possible had I not had the opportunity to pursue both paths.
Aspiring physicians often have interests in disciplines outside of medicine. Schools of law, graduate research, public health, and business are increasingly partnering with medical schools to offer joint degree programs. It takes commitment and dedication to pursue two degrees, but after earning both, graduates’ ability to serve the public at large is expansive.
For my own part, I believe my life’s purpose is to help as many people as I possibly can. I know that becoming a doctor is what I was meant to do, and seeing the results of my hard work is what drives me to keep going. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned that practice, in both the medical and legal fields, betters people’s lives on an individual level, and betters society on a systems level. With degrees in medicine and law, I know my opportunities to help people will be immense, whether it is practicing clinical medicine, health administration, pro bono legal consulting, medical malpractice law, health advocacy, or some combination therein. There is tremendous value in both degrees, especially in my city of Houston, which houses the world’s largest medical center and Texas’ largest legal market.
Ton La, Jr. is a MD/JD/LLM candidate at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston Law Center applying to internal medicine residency programs. He sits on the American Medical Student Association Board of Trustees as the Vice President for Membership and previously served as the Student Editor of The New Physician. He is a 2019–2020 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz