The way Brian Wilhelmi sees it, the M.D.-J.D. dual degree program finds its best fit with a self-motivated, entrepreneurial student - one who seeks to be in the vanguard of both learning and practice.
Brian should know. In fall 2005, Brian became the first Mayo Medical School student to enroll in the joint medical-legal degree program designed by Mayo Medical School and the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law in Tempe, Ariz. And he decidedly is the self-motivated, entrepreneurial sort.
A native of Badger, Minn. - population 470 near the Minnesota-Canada border - Brian credits his experience on the 2001 NCAA Division II National Champion University of North Dakota (UND) football team for helping shape key values that suit him to the dual degree program. He is driven, determined, committed to making time to help others. A biology major in college, Brian now pursues his professional education the way he played ball: full on, giving his all.
In college, Brian helped Marcus, a child dying of cancer realize the dream of a lifetime through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A serious football fan, Marcus was a regular on the sidelines with the UND team, and participated in the trophy ceremonies during the 2001 National Championship season. The following year, Brian led a team fundraising effort to establish a charity in Marcus' honor dedicated to giving children with serious illnesses winter holiday gifts.
"I credit Marcus for teaching me about life, as there are times when two degrees seem like too much and that the demands are too intense, or my goals become too self-serving," Brian says. "At those times, I need only remember the courage of patients - people like Markus - for perspective, and to remember the need to provide them with a better health care system for the future."
For Brian, the M.D./J.D. program is a direct route to infusing patient-physician relationship priorities into the legal system to improve patient care. "Combined, the two degrees enable you to reach from the bedside to the government bodies and corporate boardrooms that shape our ability to provide medical care," he explains.
Two Degrees in Six Years
Though pursuing a law degree adds two years to the four-year climb for a medical degree, that's one entire year shorter than taking the two degrees sequentially. Brian is taking the dual-degree plunge in stages: two years of medical school, two years of law school and two years of medical school. He is a member of the 2007 graduating class for his law degree, and the 2009 class for his medical degree.
When he started law school, Brian expected to be strictly interested in health care policy, envisioning careers in corporate health law, serving as a chief executive officer of a hospital, or general counsel to a government regulatory agency such as the Food and Drug Administration. But the more law classes he took, the more possibilities opened to him. Among other areas that interest him are intellectual property concerning emerging health care technologies, and the regulation necessary to foster a modern high-technology medical practice.
Law as a Form of Patient Care
With so many options made possible by the complementary practices of law and medicine, Brian never doubts his decision to challenge himself with the dual-degree program. "Basically, I see getting a dual degree as another way of taking care of patients - by helping shape laws that shape the healthcare system to be responsive to them, and by securing the continued innovation of medical technology they need," he says. He notes that a good physician can serve the needs of his or her patients - but that "developing an excellent, patient-centered health care system and bringing new medical advances to market can serve the needs of the many."
At MMS, Brian served as a student representative in various capacities for several national and regional medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the Minnesota Medical Association. These experiences deepened his understanding of national issues and political processes that affect health care and medicine.
MMS's responsiveness to helping him realize his dreams is another inspiration to complete the program. Says Brian: "I did the research. There are no other M.D./J.D. programs like Mayo's. Beyond the flexibility and substantive depth and breadth of expertise, the financial support and institutional backing at Mayo have opened a door that would otherwise have remained closed for me."