Average MD Phd Salary

Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina

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How Much Do MD Phds Make

If you find yourself struggling between pursuing an MD PhD vs MD degree, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between medical doctors and physician-scientists to help you determine how to choose the pathway that is best suited for you.

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MD PhD vs MD: Education

While those with MD PhD and MD degrees are both medical doctors, MD PhD graduates also possess a PhD and are therefore known as physician-scientists or medical scientists. Obtaining this extra degree requires a different program structure and length compared to MD programs. MD PhD programs are generally 7-8 years in length and require attendance at both medical and graduate school. MD programs, on the other hand, will be completed in four years, half the time it will take MD PhD students. While both programs are classroom-based during the first two years, MD PhD students will move on to graduate school to complete their PhD thesis for between 3-4 years. They will then return to medical school for a year or two completing clinical rotations. Both MD PhD and MD graduates will complete their residency training for between 3-7 years before being licensed to practice medicine.

MD PhD vs MD: Application and Tuition

Whether you’re interested in an MD PhD or an MD program, the application process is similar. You’ll apply to most programs through AMCAS where you’ll complete all sections of the application including the AMCAS work and activities section and you’ll upload your coursework, letters of evaluation, and medical school personal statement. Make sure to find out if the schools of your choice require you to take CASPer test. If so, start practicing using CASPer sample questions as soon as you can. In addition to the standard application components, MD PhD applicants will have to complete two additional essays that describe both their reasons for pursuing an MD PhD degree and their research experience. Review our medical school application timelines blog to ensure you’re aware of the application process and corresponding deadlines.

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The average yearly medical school tuition and fees for students enrolled in MD programs is approximately $37,000 in state and $62,000 at private or out of state friendly medical schools. Students enrolled in MD-PhD programs, however, have the benefit of a largely reduced or even free tuition as many programs offer tuition waivers and provide stipends to cover the cost of living expenses. In fact, forty-nine MD PhD programs currently receive funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) through the highly competitive Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP).

MD PhD vs MD: Competition

It’s no secret that both MD PhD and MD programs are extremely competitive, with acceptance rates on average between 1-4%. There are far fewer MD PhD programs available compared with MD programs and the large benefit of reduced or waived tuition makes for even higher competition, especially in MSTPs vs MD programs. It’s a good idea to use our medical school chance predictor to see how your grades and test scores compare with the average scores of accepted individuals into either program. Last year, MD PhD matriculants had an average MCAT score of 516 and an average GPA of 3.80 compared with the 511.5 MCAT score and 3.73 GPA of MD matriculants. So, we can see that in order to be a competitive MD PhD applicant, you’ll have to possess a higher GPA and MCAT score than if you were to apply as an MD applicant. Of course, the level of competition varies between schools, and there are certainly MD programs that receive a high volume of applicants competing for few spots making some MD programs more competitive than MD-PhD programs, it’s entirely dependant on the school, program, and application cycle.

MD PhD vs MD: Career Outlook and Salary

Although it may seem obvious that students who graduate from MD programs become medical doctors and most practice medicine at hospitals, clinics, medical centers, and private practices, some students are unsure of what a career looks like as a physician-scientist. Many MD PhD graduates choose to complete their residency training in internal medicine, pathology, pediatrics, and neurology, however, many other specialties are also represented, from surgery to radiology to emergency medicine. Internal medicine is also a common specialty choice for MD graduates as well as pediatrics, emergency medicine, and family medicine. According to a study conducted by the AAMC, nearly 80% of all MD PhD graduates enjoy careers as faculty members at medical schools or work for the National Institute of Health (NIH), other research institutions, industry, and federal agencies with many devoting a large portion of their time to research. Also, out of roughly 7000 MD-PhD alumni that took part in this study, 82% said that they would partake in MD-PhD training again, even if they had the chance to go back in time and change their mind.

Physician-scientists not only possess in-depth knowledge in the medical field, they also have knowledge of population health and disease and will be trained to conduct independent research and analysis. With this dual degree, physician-scientists are highly valued for their ability to treat patients while also contributing to detecting health threats, developing new treatments, therapies or even cures. Physician-scientists working in academia can teach and provide clinical service, while also conducting their own, or joint, research. The annual salary for physician-scientists is usually between $60,000-$115,000, depending on the type and place of employment.

Physicians manage and support the health and well-being of those in their care. Through physical examinations, diagnostic testing, treatment, and communication, they can manage and significantly improve the health of their patients. Depending on the type of physician, they may perform surgeries and treat either general or specific illness and disease. Annual salaries generally correspond to level of training and specialization and usually range from $180,000-$280,000

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MD PhD vs MD: Which is best for you?

For some, from the moment they put on safety glasses in science class or that time they resuscitate their childhood teddy bear, they knew what they were going to be when they grew up. Not everyone has an immediate passion or the typical “aha” moment later on in life. Sometimes, a student’s drive to medicine or research develops later on in life, through experiences, education or even while overcoming hardships, and this is perfectly normal. So, what if you have a passion for both science and medicine? How can you choose whether to pursue an MD degree or a joint MD PhD degree? It’s important to choose only once you’ve considered a variety of factors and are 100% sure in your decision, because the reality is, neither option will be easy and you’ll have to be willing to invest the time, money, and effort to be successful.

Find out what drives you.

Start by thinking about what you’re interested in and what motivates you to help you determine where your true passions lie. If you know that you are really interested in medicine and in helping others but only have a slight interest in research, then it’s probably a good idea to pursue medicine on its own. At nearly twice the length of an MD program, the MD PhD program is no walk in the park. Students should only pursue this joint degree if they have a serious passion for both medicine and research. In addition to feeling passionate about treating patients, if you find yourself interested in the mechanisms behind disease, are curious about the unknowns and can’t picture a career that doesn’t involve research, it’s a good sign that the joint program will be suitable for you.

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Determining whether or not you are interested in becoming a medical doctor or a physician-scientist is the first and most important decision you’ll have to make when deciding between the two pathways. If you’re motivated by your passions, you’re likely to enjoy your career because it’s actually what you want to do. By putting in the time and effort to be the best version of yourself, you’ll have a fulfilling rewarding career.

Let your experiences guide you.

So, how can you know for sure which path is the best for you? Gain experience in the field well in advance of filling out your applications. This will be closest you’ll get to test drive your potential career choice. If you’re struggling to decide between an MD and MD PhD program, be sure to gain both clinical and research experience. This will be a great way for you to get hands-on experience in both fields to see which areas really spark your interest and which areas you’re not as keen on. Learn how to ask to shadow a doctor, sign up for volunteering experiences that place you in the medical or research field, and partake in scientific experiments where you’ll be testing hypotheses to gain research experience. Not only will these experiences be essential when filling out your medical school applications, the key is that through a variety of different experiences, you’ll be able to hone in on your interests.

Consider the affordability of each program.

According to the AAMC, approximately 76% of medical school students graduate with debt. For the students that borrow money, the median debt is approximately $200,000 at public medical schools. Of course, with an average physician salary of $300,000, this debt can be repaid, but it can be a rocky start for students as they begin entering their careers. A major benefit of MD PhD programs is the fact that most programs partially cover or completely waive tuition for enrolled students, and many also provide a stipend that can be used to cover the costs of living expenses. Due to this, some students can finish their training debt-free, and potentially even with a decent amount of savings. Now, this isn’t to say that you should simply pick a program based on the cost but it’s an important factor to consider if you want to pursue either option. What’s important is that you pick your path depending on which best aligns with your interests, motivations, and short and long term career goals.

You’re a prospective med student, and you’ve started your preliminary research on how to choose a medical school that will cultivate your interests and teach you the skills needed to be a leader in healthcare. Perhaps you greatly enjoy biomedical research and would like to combine your two passions: practicing medicine and conducting scientific research.

You may have noticed that many medical schools not only offer the traditional Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree but dual degrees as well. One of the most common of these dual degree programs is the MD PhD.

So, what is the MD versus the MD PhD, and how do you choose your best path? This blog will comprehensively review the similarities and differences between the MD and MD PhD degrees, including the application process and the education you can expect to receive for each program.

This blog will also cover important topics such as career outlook and salary. Finally, we will provide tips for choosing between the MD and MD PhD pathways, so that you can make the best decision for your unique career goals.

What is an MD?‍

An MD is simply a Doctor of Medicine or physician who obtained their MD degree at an allopathic medical school accredited by the LCME (Liaison Committee of Medical Education). Allopathic medicine focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. When people think of physicians, they generally think of MDs.

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To become an MD, you must:

Earn a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university and complete all required prerequisite courses for medical school. Your pre-med major doesn’t need to be in the sciences, but you need to complete science prerequisite coursework, including labs. Every school has specific requirements regarding which prerequisites to take, so check with the schools to ensure that you fulfill all undergrad requirements. If you need help with selecting and scheduling your prerequisite coursework, connect with a pre-health advisor.
Take the MCAT and earn a competitive score. The MCAT is one of the most important selection factors for medical schools, and it is a strong indicator of your academic performance. Matriculated students often exceed the school’s minimum required MCAT score, so you should aim to fall within or exceed the school’s median MCAT score. In addition to the MCAT, some medical schools require the CASPer test.
Graduate from an accredited allopathic medical school. Most MD programs are four years, with a few exceptions. For example, some schools have accelerated MD degrees that you can complete in just three years.
Complete a residency. Residency programs typically last from three to eight years. Residents perform extensive duties in a clinical setting, such as interpreting charts and lab work, taking patient histories, attending conferences, and conducting physical exams. Residency applicants are matched to programs depending on their personal preferences via the National Resident Matching Program.
Obtain licensure. MDs must obtain a license to practice medicine by passing the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination). Each state has different requirements to become licensed. For example, some states limit the number of times you can take the USMLE, while other states have no such restrictions on exam attempts.
Continue your education. Generally, physicians must complete state-required continuing education before renewing licensure every couple of years.
What is an MD PhD?
An MD PhD is also a Doctor of Medicine who additionally holds a PhD in scientific research. MD PhDs are known as physician-scientists or medical scientists. There are over 100 MD PhD programs affiliated with medical schools, and approximately 40 programs are partially supported by training grants known as MSTPs (Medical Science Training Programs).

Physician-scientists focus on both scientific research/discovery and treating patients in clinical settings. They have the unique skill set to research healthcare topics, including biomedical sciences, biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology, immunology, genetics, physiology, pharmacology, and neuroscience.

In short, MD PhDs blend scientific research with clinical medicine.

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To become an MD PhD, you must:

Complete all of the requirements for medical school to obtain your traditional MD degree.
In addition to attending medical school for your MD, you must also attend graduate school for your PhD. Because you are completing both programs dually, the duration of your education is seven to eight years (four years for the MD; three to four years for the PhD).
Complete medical training and conduct mentored, integrated, and mechanism-based research throughout the PhD program and for your thesis.
MD PhD programs actively seek applicants who exhibit the core competencies of entering medical students and have an aptitude for biomedical research. Applicants must have strong critical thinking and analytical skills to conduct and interpret research. Lastly, and most importantly, prospective candidates should have substantial research experience.

MD vs MD PhD: Application Process and Education

The application process for the MD and MD PhD programs is very similar. For most allopathic medical schools, you will use the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service). There are exceptions; for example, Texas medical schools use the TMDSAS (Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service). As always, follow every school’s individual requirements to use the appropriate application service portals.

In the AMCAS, you will have to select which degree you’re applying to and enter all required information. For the MD program, there are nine sections:

Sections 1-3 are where you will input background information, such as your name, biographical information, identifiers, and the schools you’ve attended.
Section 4 is where you will enter your school transcripts and undergraduate coursework.
Section 5 is the work and activities section where you will enter relevant extracurricular activities, work experience, and appropriate hobbies.
Section 6 is where you will upload your letters of evaluation.
Section 7 is where you will enter the school’s information, such as the program to which you’re applying and whether you’re applying for an early decision.
Section 8 is the personal statement.
Section 9 is where you will enter your test scores, such as the MCAT.
To apply to the MD PhD program, you will have to complete all nine sections of the AMCAS. Additionally, you will have to complete two additional essays that describe your reasons for pursuing the MD PhD degree and your research experience.

Here is a general idea of what the MD PhD education looks like, year by year, according to the AAMC:

MD vs MD PhD: Career Outlook and Salary‍
Both MDs and MD PhDs enjoy lucrative, rewarding careers in medicine. Typically, MDs become physicians who practice medicine in hospitals, private practices, clinics, and other medical centers. MD PhDs become physician-scientists, and according to the AAMC, nearly 80% of them follow career paths consistent with their training, which include working in medical schools as faculty members or in other research institutions, such as the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and other federal agencies.

Physician-scientists are highly valued for both their medical training to treat patients and their extensive knowledge of public health, disease, treatment, and hot topics in healthcare. They can work in academia and teach, or they can combine clinical service with independent research. According to the AAMC, over 80% of graduates said that they would choose the MD PhD program again if given the chance. This should give you an idea of how passionate physician-scientists are about biomedical research.

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How Much Does an MD Phd Make

For MDs, depending on their specialty and setting, the average annual salary is around $220k. For MD PhDs, depending on the type of role and place of employment, the average annual salary is about $100k.

Which is Better? Tips for Choosing Between the Two‍
So, now that you know a bit more about the MD and MD PhD degrees, which is better? To make the best decision for your goals, keep the following tips in mind:

Examine your passions honestly.
Are you excited to work with patients, but research doesn’t motivate you as much? Then you should stick with the traditional MD degree. Students who pursue the MD PhD do so because of their equal passion for clinical medicine and research. Keep in mind that the MD PhD has additional years of school, so it is not a decision that should be made lightly. ‍

Use your experiences and extracurricular activities to guide you.‍
Think back to your medical shadowing or clinical experience. Compare your insights to your research experience. Which experience was the most rewarding to you? Which did you enjoy the most? Can you see yourself conducting research your entire career? It would be helpful to use your experiences and extracurricular activities as a measure of your interests.

In short, students who don’t absolutely love research should consider pursuing an MD degree, while those who do love research should look into the MD PhD dual degree.

  1. How do I know which MD PhD program is right for me?
    Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself which program is the best fit for your particular interests and career goals. However, take a look at the US News & World Report’s list of signs that an MD PhD program is a great fit:

There is ample funding.
The location is desirable for your requirements.
There is a good balance between clinics and research.
The school has a history of strong publications/research.
The program’s academic breadth is multi-disciplinary, ensuring that students will have a good selection of topics to research.
Clinical training is introduced early in the program.
There are numerous mentors available to oversee research projects.
Current MD PhD students are satisfied with their program.
The program’s alumni perform high-level research and publishing, which is a strong indicator of future success.
The program’s mission and culture align with your academic and career goals.

  1. Can I apply to the MD program and the MD PhD program at one school in the same cycle?‍
    In the AMCAS, you must indicate the program to which you are applying, and it cannot be both for one school in the same application cycle. However, if you indicate that you are applying to the MD PhD program, most schools will first consider you for the dual degree program, and if you are not accepted, they will consider you for the MD program. Please reach out to your selection of schools to learn more about their application procedures regarding dual degrees and final decisions.‍
  2. What topics in healthcare do MD PhDs research?
    According to the AAMC, MD PhDs can research various topics in the following disciplines:

Biochemistry and Macromolecular Biophysics
Cell and Developmental Biology
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Microbiology and Infectious Disease
Pathology and Mechanisms of Disease
Bioengineering and Biomedical Imaging
Chemical and Physical Sciences
Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
Public Health, Epidemiology, and Preventative Medicine
Social and Behavioral Sciences
There may be variations among different programs, so verify with the school before you apply. ‍

  1. Is financial assistance available for MD programs?
    Generally, yes. The cost of attendance is an important consideration when applying to medical schools. There is federal assistance through FAFSA, in addition to scholarships, grants, and loans. To learn more about financial planning, please reach out to the Student Financial Services office for every school you apply to discuss your options.
  2. Is financial assistance available for MD PhD programs?
    One of the most significant perks of MD PhD programs is that most either partially cover or completely waive tuition for students. Stipends are also very common to cover the costs of living expenses for students. Because of this, many MD PhDs graduate with little to no debt. Although this shouldn’t be the only deciding factor for pursuing the MD PhD degree (remember to keep your goals in mind), it is a benefit that may spare you from, on average, $200k in debt.
  3. What counts as a substantial research experience?
    Substantial research experience involves some effort and commitment on your part. Before applying to the MD PhD program, be sure to have multiple summer research projects. You are also encouraged to have one or more years of pursuing research after completing your bachelor’s degree. This may mean that you have to take a gap year to bolster your application with research experience, but don’t worry.

Many students take a gap year for this very reason, to gain relevant experiences and strengthen their application. You should also strive to have publications, and it’s important to list them in your application materials. You must also have experience in accurately testing a hypothesis. It is also important to note that gaining more research experience will strengthen your skills in this field, but you will work with supervisors and mentors who can become potential letter writers for strong letters of recommendation.

  1. Where can I find more information about the MD PhD degree?‍
    For more information about the MD PhD degree, please visit AAMC’s MD PhD authority site.

As you can see, both the MD and MD PhD programs will lead to lucrative careers in medicine. Whether you pursue the MD degree or the MD PhD dual degree depends on your interests, motivations, passions, academic goals, and career aspirations. When you’re applying to either program, be sure to follow the medical school’s specific application guidelines and procedures.

Use the correct application service and select the program to which you’re applying. If you’re applying to the MD PhD program, be sure to complete all nine sections of the AMCAS in addition to the two essays that describe your reasons for pursuing the MD PhD program and your research experience.

Make sure your research experience is substantial. It’s important to have a competitive edge over other MD PhD candidates who undoubtedly will have their own strong research experiences and publications. No matter which path you choose, we wish you the best of luck in your efforts.

Somewhere in your training process you will probably encounter someone with an MD/PhD degree or someone who is in training for one.

Everyone knows that, for the most part, MDs are physicians who take care of patients, whereas PhDs are scientists who traditionally tend to spend their time running a lab with classroom responsibilities on the side. So what does an MD/PhD do?

Often times, MD/PhD careers are obfuscated by the long training process, different residency tracks and confusing job descriptions. The answer is actually simple and there is no secretive, mystifying career path for MD/PhD trainees and graduates. If MDs see patients as physicians and PhDs conduct research as scientists, MD/PhDs are combination “physician-scientists.”

Why would I ever want to practice medicine and run my own lab?
Besides being indecisive, MD/PhDs are interested in translational research, which is a process that brings bench top research to bedside therapeutics. The ability to treat patients and perform research gives you a unique skillset where you are able to draw on clinical experiences to design your research hypotheses, and apply those research hypotheses and your experimental findings directly to the patient population you treat.

Besides being a “cool” thing to do, there is plenty of reason why this is important. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the rate that new therapies are being developed is actually declining despite increased investment in research and development, both in academics and in industry. There are plenty of explanations offered, but a compelling one is that most physicians see patients but don’t have the research expertise to push therapies forward, while most scientists have the research expertise but don’t have the clinical expertise to implement them. Thus, MD/PhDs have a unique role in bridging this gap between science and medicine.


How do I become an MD/PhD?
There are two routes. The less common route is to go to school to get an MD and then get a PhD at a later time, or vice versa. Nowadays, it is more common to enroll in an MD/PhD program. MD/PhD programs exist to provide streamlined training for students to achieve both degrees in a reasonable amount of time (7-8 years). Most programs provide a scholarship that pays tuition and fees for both medical school and graduate school on top of an annual stipend that can range from school to school.

How do I get into an MD/PhD program?
The admissions process is very similar to that of medical school. First, you indicate you are applying to MD/PhD Programs instead of MD programs when you submit your AMCAS application. For MD/PhD admissions, you have to write a few extra supplemental essays describing your career goals in addition to the traditional MD essays. At each school you apply to, you will then be reviewed either by the MD/PhD program admissions committees or separately by both the MD admissions committee and PhD admissions committee.

You will be invited to interview, where you will meet with faculty from the MD, PhD and MD/PhD programs (typically, they will also wine and dine you which is more typical of PhD admissions but rare in MD admissions). Qualified students who demonstrate a commitment both to medicine as well as research and demonstrate the willingness to do both are accepted to matriculate in the coming fall. Although there is no “cookie-cutter” MD/PhD applicant, successful applicants meet many of the same criteria that successful medical school applicants do, but in lieu of (or in addition to) extensive clinical experiences, they will have more research experience.

What is the training like?
For the most part, an MD/PhD training is medical school and graduate school integrated into seven or eight years. Typically, students will do two years of their MD training and their USMLE Step I before taking three to four years (or more) to complete their PhD. Upon completion of the PhD, students will return to medical school to complete their last two years and earn their medical degree.

The unique feature of an MD/PhD program’s training is that although students are technically only enrolled in one-degree program at once, they are also fulfilling degree requirements of the other program simultaneously. This means that during medical school, students are taking graduate school coursework and during graduate school, students are staying connected to the medical school through shadowing and other clinical opportunities.

After training, MD/PhDs take a variety of routes. Most go on to residency programs to become licensed physicians with research tracks to allow them to become physician-scientists. There are MD/PhD specific residency routes that also contain research years to provide MD/PhD students with research experience to run their own lab in the future. Some MD/PhD trainees will go on to only do a residency without research, while some will go on to do a post-doctoral fellowship without clinical training. Others will begin working in industry immediately after graduation.

It may be clear then that although MD/PhD programs are intent on training physician-scientists, not everyone goes on to do this. The majority do, but career goals evolve over time and certainly MD/PhD trainees and graduates go on to do many more things besides becoming physician-scientists.

Do I really need an MD/PhD to be a physician-scientist?
No. You can do research and see patients with just an MD, and many people do this. However, consider that as an MD, applying for research funding and academic positions will be much harder when your competition is PhDs who have several more years of experience doing exclusively research. In an environment in which research funding is becoming increasingly competitive, MD/PhDs have a unique advantage over both their MD and PhD counterparts. That being said, plenty of MDs are successful physician-scientists who achieve as much if not more than their MD/PhD counterparts.

Are MD/PhDs paid more?
Salary is always the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Research doesn’t pay as well as seeing patients does, so MD/PhDs who spend their time doing research naturally compromise some of the salary they would make as a physician. At the end of the day, MD/PhDs are fairly compensated but do not make the salary that an equal who spent 100% of their time seeing patients would make.

The biggest advantage financially to doing an MD/PhD is to graduate without debt. Moreover, there are certainly ways to leverage MD/PhD degrees towards career paths that are better compensated financially, but these options are unique and differ on a person-to-person basis. One should not go into an MD/PhD program for a lucrative career path. Hopefully it rewards by other means!

What else can I do with an MD/PhD?
While becoming a physician-scientist to see patients and do basic or translational research is the traditional route most people will take, there are plenty of other options. Many MD/PhD graduates go on to work for large research institutions like the NIH and don’t see patients at all. Others go on to work in industry, where they become leaders in drug development and draw from both their clinical and research training.

Some graduates may become involved in startups and form their own company. A small fraction of MD/PhD program graduates will also go on to private practice. There is no preferred career pathway, although graduates are certainly encouraged to take advantage of both degrees, and not just one of them. At the end of the day, an MD/PhD will open more doors, but in the meanwhile it is important to think about whatever your career goals may be and whether they warrant several additional years of training.

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How Much Do MD Phds Make

To know this cost is not trivial. Imagine a typical non-profit university as a bucket that is filled up through a variety of revenue streams from tuition, to research grants, to donations and endowment income, auxiliary enterprises (ie, hospitals, clinics & athletics programs), and federal and sometimes state support. All of this revenue then pays for all that a university achieves throughout the year, which includes but is not limited to educating graduate students. Instructional spending is also reported, but that actually allocated to graduate students is far less clear.

A while back, using a simple aggregate method and some unusual but reasonable assumptions arguing that, in fact, research dollars pay for all the master’s and doctoral graduates, I calculated that the typical graduate degree costs a university $80,000 to award. Another way to estimate this cost is to fractionate university expenses reported to the federal government that are related to education, accounting for the weight of graduate enrollment and award rates. More on that project in a later post.

As one gets into this mindset it is easy to begin thinking that not all advanced degrees are equivalent, that some must be much more expensive to produce than others. You can imagine a much lower cost to award a 1 year master’s degree to a tuition-paying student than that for a stipend-munching multi-year doctorate.

Here are some (back of the envelope) calculations I’ve derived for what it costs a university to produce what is likely to be one of the more expensive degrees to produce, the dual MD-PhD degree, which is a signature for a clinical scientist.

The typical MD-PhD dual degree recipient spends 8 years in university residence, 4 spent in medical training and 4 more in research training. In exchange for that time, the institution agrees to waive all costs of training and research, while providing the student a living stipend.

The cost of education differs for each period mostly because the academic physicians who train students during their medical education are paid more than PhD faculty who train students during their research period. For the cost of medical education, I took the average of the cost of instruction + cost of student services + cost of academic support per enrolled student at about 18 institutions that are solely medical schools–throwing out the three highs ($178,000 per student per year!!) and three lows ($10,000 per student per year!!). For the cost of PhD education, I took a value near the median cost of graduate education per enrolled student, just as above, but used spending at high research universities as a benchmarks.

All MD-PhD students receive a stipend each year of the full 8 year period, and all have their tuition waived (which is a lost opportunity cost for the university…those seats could be filled otherwise by paying customers). The research actually conducted by any doctoral student also costs money (a bit more than $2000/month for a good round average, born of personal experience and a few chats in the hallway). Finally, I’m using private university tuition costs in order to inflate the numbers, thereby justifying a very catchy blog article title. But don’t be confused, the cost of public university MD-PhD’s are not likely to vary too far from the overall number for a private school…they are no great bargain either.

  • 8 years stipend @ $30,000/yr = $240,000
  • 4 years of waived medical school tuition @$50,000/yr = $200,000
  • 4 years of waived graduate school tuition @$35,000/yr = $140,000
  • 4 years of cost of medical education @$50,000/yr = $200,000
  • 4 years of cost of PhD education @$30,000/yr = $120,000
  • 4 years of cost of PhD research effort @$27,000/yr = $108,000

That all sums up to about $1,008,000 for one degree holder, or let’s just round it to a million dollars for a simple-to-remember number. And the US is currently producing just under 600 MD-PhD graduates each year, or over half a billion dollars for less than 10% of all biomedical doctoral degrees awarded. That’s a healthy slice of pie.

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