Michigan State University recently announced that it would pilot a joint MD/MBA program beginning in the fall. Combining programs from MSU’s College of Human Medicine and Broad College of Business, the dual degree prepares physician leaders to navigate the changing, complex landscape of the global health care industry.

“The new joint degree program is symptomatic of physicians wanting more say in how health care is delivered. They want to be involved in visioning and leading the way forward to more efficient and effective health care organizations,” said Glenn Omura, associate dean of MBA and professional master’s programs at the Broad College of Business.

But many questions arise about this dual degree. Why pursue such a rigorous curriculum? Is it worth it in the long run?

Here are five things to know about the MD/MBA program and what it means for the health care leaders of tomorrow.

1. A combined MD/MBA positions physicians for more responsibility.

You wouldn’t want to appoint someone as the superintendent of a school if he or she has no experience teaching students or working at a school. Same goes for medical systems, yet MBAs traditionally outrank MDs when it comes to hospital administration staffing, according to The Atlantic. However, the MD/MBA degree combination “fast tracks” graduates up the career ladder in medical systems, particularly when it comes to hospital administration.

The core curriculum a medical student must master – rigorous in its own right – has been fixed since 1910. Meanwhile, business school has evolved a focus on helping students develop crucial (and transferrable) management skills like innovation, creative problem-solving, professional communication, collaboration, and people-management social skills. The B-school experience complements the deep subject matter expertise a degree in human medicine provides, creating a well-rounded problem solver prepared to understand and navigate the shifting world of modern health care.

2. Completing the dual degree takes less time than you’d expect.

Most students complete MD/MBA degrees, including their medical internships, in less than seven years. Michigan State’s MD/MBA is designed to be completed in six years, though students may finish in five by taking courses simultaneously with their internship.

3. Interest in a MD/MBA dual degree is skyrocketing.

To meet the growing demand from students, the number of joint MD/MBA programs at universities in the United States has grown from six to more than 70 in just 20 years. More than half of MD/MBA programs started after the year 2000, and most offer the degree in a five-year time frame, reducing the cost that business school would traditionally add.

4. Classes aren’t all in the classroom.

Of the two years dedicated to MSU’s MBA curriculum, only the first is taught in the classroom – the second is completely online. This gives students the opportunity to complete their degrees in five years by taking the online MBA courses at the same time as their medical internships.

5. Alternative career paths become a reality.

Given the current state of health care systems – both in the U.S. and around the world –opportunities to transition careers with an MD/MBA degree prove to be abundant. Many prescription drug companies require a medical product knowledge base for employees, as well as business skills to develop and market their products. Health care businesses of all kinds, ranging from medical device researchers to insurers and providers, look to consultants for third-party perspectives and insight on their research and business operations. Internally, these companies require doctors on staff, but consider those adept in business an asset to their operations.