Last Updated on August 30, 2022 by Alvina Ibe
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About Benefits of Mdphd
For potential medical students with a passion for science and research, an MD-Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) dual degree program may hold some appeal. Because it’s a path that differs from the traditional medical school trajectory, here are a few things that students weighing this less-traveled road should keep in mind.
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Medicine can be a career that is both challenging and highly rewarding, but figuring out a medical school’s prerequisites and navigating the application process can be a challenge unto itself. The AMA premed glossary guide has the answers to frequently asked questions about medical school, the application process, the MCAT and more.
There are fewer MD-PhD programs, and they accept fewer students than traditional MD programs. According to a recent survey conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)—”The National MD-PhD Program Outcomes Study”—in 2016 there were 1,936 MD-PhD program applicants, 649 matriculants and 602 graduates.
Looking over the past few years of medical school matriculation data, roughly 20,000 new students matriculate each year. Considering that there are significantly fewer spots, MD-PhD program applicants are likely going to need to apply to more programs.
Now in the first year of his PhD research—after completing two years of medical school—at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Drayton Harvey applied to 30 MD-PhD programs.
“It’s not just hard to get in, it’s hard to survive and thrive during the process to fulfill the requirements of both becoming a medical doctor and a PhD,” said Harvey, an AMA member. “If you don’t have the passion, it could be very daunting.”
Learn the pros and cons of pursuing a dual degree.
Cost of attendance
Most MD-PhD programs grant entrants tuition-free training. In addition, most students in those tracks earn a stipend, which according to the AAMC report, can be as high as $38,000 annually. Harvey believes that the potential savings on education shouldn’t be your top motivation for entering an MD-PhD program.
“[The lack of tuition] is a very attractive aspect, especially with the cost of medical education being what it is,” Harvey said. “But it is an incredibly competitive process to get in and during that process it is really easy for interviewers to pick up on that you are doing this for the wrong reasons.”
Which undergrad majors are best for med school?
The average MD-PhD program length, according to the AAMC report, is eight years. So, in attending an MD-PhD program, you’re doubling your time in medical school. When factoring in residency training and, for those who have aims on fellowship, an MD-PhD student’s training can extend well beyond a decade.
“The best advice I got was once you are accepted into a program and you show up on day one, you have started your career,” Harvey said. “You are at your job working every single day. You are not waiting to get to a career point. That is helpful for students, instead of focusing on how long-term the training process is, you can center yourself on the fact that [getting in] is an amazing accomplishment. You are in your career. It’s called professional school for a reason.”
Learn how research experience can strengthen your medical school application.
Of MD-PhD program alumni, according to the AAMC report, the vast majority either work as faculty members at U.S. medical schools or work for the for the National Institutes of Health, research institutes, industry and federal agencies–in the COVID-19 pandemic the value of these rules has been reinforced.
As far as specialty, a survey conducted by the AAMC of more than 4,600 MD-PhD physicians found that the most popular specialties among that group were:
It is worth noting that the list above excludes “other,” a specialty designation selected by 7.1% of respondents.
What makes for the best premed school? 4 key considerations
Within specialties, MD-PhD degrees were most common among physicians in:
Medical genetics—with 18.4% of physicians who entered programs in that specialty holding an MD-PhD.
Pathology: Anatomic and clinical—14.3%.
Have peace of mind and get everything you need to start medical school off strong.
M.D.-Ph.D. programs provide training in both medicine and research. They are specifically designed for those who want to become research physicians, also known as physician-investigators or physician-scientists. Graduates of M.D.-Ph.D. programs often go on to become faculty members at medical schools, universities, and research institutes.
Regardless of where they eventually work, M.D.-Ph.D. candidates are trained for careers in which they will spend most of their time doing research, in addition to caring for patients. The M.D.-Ph.D. dual career is busy, challenging, and rewarding, and it offers opportunities to do good for many people by advancing knowledge, developing new treatments for diseases, and pushing back the boundaries of the unknown.
- Why get a Ph.D. with an M.D.?
M.D.-Ph.D. training organizes the experimental and clinical thinking of the physician-scientist. This synergy enables a physician-scientist to recognize new ways that clinical care or the understanding of disease mechanisms will benefit from research and to mount the appropriate effort. Likewise, the synergy achieved in dual-degree training enables the physician-scientist to see how the results of research discoveries and insights can be converted into clinically significant outcomes.
A practical benefit is that most M.D.-Ph.D. programs pay candidates a stipend and tuition scholarships during the training years. The financial support for those willing to undertake M.D.-Ph.D. training recognizes the additional time that a student must spend in training for this career. The extent of this support varies among programs. For example, some programs support only U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
This Q&A is an edited extract from the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Web site Considering a Career in Medical Research and is reproduced here with permission. Portions of both documents were previously published on Science Careers as “An FAQ for M.D.-Ph.D. Applicants.”
- What research areas can I pursue?
Most M.D.-Ph.D. candidates earn their Ph.D. in biomedical laboratory disciplines such as cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, immunology, pharmacology, physiology, neuroscience, or biomedical engineering. The names of departments and graduate programs vary from school to school. At some schools, M.D.-Ph.D. trainees can also do their graduate work outside of the laboratory disciplines in fields such as computational biology, economics, epidemiology, health care policy, anthropology, sociology, or the history of medicine. Differences as to which graduate degree programs are offered and the quality of these programs are important elements to consider in applying for M.D.-Ph.D. training.
- What is the curriculum like in M.D.-Ph.D. programs?
Although curricula vary, the educational courses and topics presented to medical school students are similar among M.D.-Ph.D. programs, because students must pass Step I and Step II of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. In contrast, graduate school activities are more varied, because graduate curricula and research opportunities differ by faculty expertise within a program. Thus, research experiences obtained during graduate school training are one of the differences among M.D.-Ph.D. programs.
Different programs have adopted a variety of approaches to integrate medical and graduate curricula for M.D.-Ph.D. training. The overall goal is to reduce total training time. The typical track is often termed the “2-3-2” or “2-4-2” track, reflecting the number of years that a student participates in each of the three sections of M.D.-Ph.D. training. In most programs, trainees master basic science courses, followed by an intense period of Ph.D. research and completion of the thesis. Clinical training is often the final component of the program — a feature dictated by the need to be prepared for clinical residencies.
There are many variations on this general approach. For example, some programs offer significant integration between graduate school and medical school courses in years 1 and 2. The degree of clinical involvement during the basic science phase of training also varies among programs, as does the integration of clinical experiences during Ph.D. training. The structure and flexibility of training curricula is another factor that applicants should consider when choosing a program.
- How long will it take to complete the M.D.-Ph.D.?
Most M.D.-Ph.D. students complete the requirements for the dual degrees within 7 or 8 years. Some students complete the program in 6 years, while others may take longer than 8 years. The variation is due to the amount of time required to complete Ph.D. requirements, because one cannot predict the progress of research or the amount of time needed to develop into an independent investigator, the primary goal of Ph.D. training.
Note that the average time to complete a biomedical Ph.D. in the United States is about 6 years. Thus, if pursued independently, obtaining a dual degree would take about 10 years. By integrating the didactic components of training, dual-degree students complete the program in 7 or 8 years on average.
- How long will it take to complete training after I graduate?
The career of each M.D.-Ph.D. graduate is uniquely based upon research and clinical interests, but in general, graduates spend 3 to 7 years in specialty and subspecialty clinical and research training — that is, residency and fellowship.
In the past, M.D.-Ph.D. graduates traditionally entered residency programs in medicine, pediatrics, or pathology. However, the clinical specialty choices of current graduates are more diverse, with many graduates pursuing residency training in neurology, psychiatry, radiology, radiation oncology, and even surgery and surgical specialties.
After completing their specialty clinical training (e.g., in medicine or pediatrics), most physician-scientists pursue subspecialty clinical training (e.g., cardiology or hematology-oncology) and postdoctoral research that typically combines protected research time with intensive clinical training.
- What is a research residency?
There are a growing number of so-called research residency programs that have been specially developed to foster the career development of physician-scientists. These are highly structured programs in which research is fully integrated into the clinical training. These programs differ in their overall structure, but all offer the following:
Shortened residency (specialty) training; in general, the integrated programs allow trainees to shorten their residency by 1 year, depending on the field of specialty;
Integrated research and clinical training; programs usually offer mentoring for trainees to choose a lab early in their training process, so they can embark on their research right away when they start full-time in the lab;
Guaranteed subspecialty fellowship position in the trainee’s desired field; this is not offered at all institutions; and
Special financial support; a few combined programs also offer support toward both salary and research.
The American Physician Scientists Association maintains a list of these residency opportunities
- What are my career prospects?
According to a recent study from the National Association of M.D.-Ph.D. Programs, about 75% of U.S. M.D.-Ph.D. graduates are in academic medicine or pharmaceutical company positions that make use of their interests in both patient care and research.
An M.D.-Ph.D. physician-scientist is typically a faculty member at an academic medical center who spends 70% to 80% of his or her time conducting research, though this can vary with specialty. Their research may be lab-based, translational, or clinical. The remaining time is often divided between clinical service, teaching, and administrative activities.
Thus, most M.D.-Ph.D. graduates pursue a career in which most of their time is spent on research. This research typically is conducted at academic medical centers, research institutions like NIH, or in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry. With career advancement, many M.D.-Ph.D. graduates ascend to significant leadership roles in academic medical centers, industry, government, and private organizations, reflecting their broad experience in health care and research.
AAMC: Careers in Medical Research
U.S. Medical School M.D.-Ph.D. Programs
Medical Scientist Training Program Overview (NIGMS)
American Physician Scientists Association
- What financial support is available?
More than 40 universities around the country offer M.D.-Ph.D. students a tuition scholarship and stipend from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Most M.D.-Ph.D. programs, whether supported by MSTP funds or not, support trainees with a stipend and tuition scholarship during medical school and graduate school training. However, there are variations on the amount or length of time that students are supported. For example, some programs limit the total numbers of years that the stipend and tuition are provided. Programs may also provide some support for travel to scientific conferences or for research expenses.
Although most M.D.-Ph.D. programs offer substantial support for their students, there are additional resources available for supporting M.D.-Ph.D. trainees. Most take the form of competitive applications submitted by the trainee and their research mentor. These include fellowships from private sources and from a number of NIH institutions as F30/31 National Research Service Awards predoctoral fellowships. See also AAMC’s list of funding opportunities for M.D.-Ph.D. trainees.
- What factors should I consider when applying to and selecting an M.D.-Ph.D. program?
Although the overall goals of M.D.-Ph.D. training programs are the same, the training approach and environment vary substantially among programs. Some of these differences, such as geographic region or size of the school, will help guide you in your selection of programs. Other factors — such as the attitude of faculty and students, or the physical proximity of laboratories and hospitals — can only be appreciated by visiting an institution.
Because M.D.-Ph.D. programs take 7 to 8 years to complete, it is highly advisable to apply to and interview at multiple institutions. Although there is no magic number, it is not uncommon for students to apply to 10 or more programs.
Choosing a program is a highly individualized process. Suggestions for consideration include:
the graduate training disciplines offered and range of faculty interests;
the medical school curriculum, including the clinical components and how they are integrated with graduate training;
perceived competitiveness of an institution;
personal interactions among students and faculty;
program leadership and administration;
success of previous trainees; and
- What if I decide to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. after starting medical school?
The majority of M.D.-Ph.D. programs will consider applications from internal M.D. students; many will also consider applications from Ph.D. candidates early in training. For an overview, see AAMC’s Summary of M.D.-Ph.D. Programs and Policies. However, at most institutions, the number of slots for such students is limited, and these applications may be considered with the full pool of applicants for that year. In most cases, it is advisable to apply for M.D.-Ph.D. training as soon as you’re convinced that this is the proper path to pursue.
On the other hand, for most schools participating in the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), the M.D. application is completed as part of the M.D.-Ph.D. application. Thus, many schools allow students to indicate whether they wish to be considered for M.D.-only admission if the M.D.-Ph.D. application is not successful. Schools differ greatly in how admissions committees function. In some cases, the M.D.-Ph.D. committee is entirely separate and makes decisions independent of the medical school admissions committee. Thus, a student interested in pursuing an M.D. at a particular institution, regardless of their M.D.-Ph.D. status, is advised to make their wishes clear by following up as the process proceeds.
- What are the prerequisites for applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs?
Prerequisites for applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs, which include the coursework required for medical school admissions, can be accessed at the schools’ Web sites or through the Medical School Admission Requirements. Successful medical school and M.D.-Ph.D. applicants pursue undergraduate majors in many fields, not just the sciences.
Although only U.S. citizens and permanent resident applicants are supported by the predoctoral MSTP federal grants, a number of institutions will consider foreign M.D.-Ph.D. applicants. For an overview, see AAMC’s Summary of M.D.-Ph.D. Programs and Policies.
Applicants are expected to demonstrate academic excellence in their undergraduate coursework. The median GPA for students entering M.D.-Ph.D. programs in 2008 was 3.7. However, this number varies among institutions, so the range of accepted GPAs is quite broad. Admissions committees consider the undergraduate institution and the difficulty of coursework undertaken in evaluating the GPA. The median combined MCAT score for 2008 entering M.D.-Ph.D. candidates was 34. Again, there is a significant range in scores among institutions.
In general, GPA and MCAT scores must be competitive with those of successful medical school applicants at a given institution. In addition to the MCAT, some institutions and graduate programs require GRE scores for M.D.-Ph.D. applicants.
- What will M.D.-Ph.D. admissions committees be looking for in my application?
By far the most important factor in selecting M.D.-Ph.D. applicants is evidence of a passion for research. This translates to one or more substantial and significant research experiences in which a student has worked on his or her own project with input into how the work is accomplished. Successful applicants are those who understand and appear capable of meeting the demands and responsibilities of an M.D.-Ph.D. program. Applicants can demonstrate this in different ways, including an honors research thesis, recurring summer experiences, or a full-time research experience after graduation. A significant number of M.D.-Ph.D. applicants have spent one or more years doing postgraduate research to confirm their desire for a career in research.
Similarly, M.D.-Ph.D. applicants are generally expected to have some experience in the clinical realm such as volunteer work, shadowing, or specific training (e.g., EMT). Such experience conveys to the admissions committees knowledge of what it means to provide health care and a true interest in the clinical environment. Other beneficial and well-regarded experiences include leadership activities, teaching, and humanitarian and other community service activities. Such experiences demonstrate a motivation toward helping people and being a leader in a given field.
- How do I apply?
Nearly all M.D.-Ph.D. programs participate in the AMCAS application process. Students designate themselves as Combined M.D.-Ph.D. Training Applicants and complete two additional essays in the AMCAS form: one related to why they are interested in M.D.-Ph.D. training, and the other highlighting their significant research experiences.
Many schools require individual secondary applications, and all schools require letters of recommendation. Applicants are encouraged to make sure that one or more of these letters comes from a research mentor who can speak to the applicant’s abilities and commitment to research. Details about the specific number of required letters, secondary applications, submission of transcripts, and fees will be found on the school’s Web site.
- What is the interview process like?
Programs vary widely in how interviews are conducted. Applicants are advised to check program Web sites for details.
M.D.-Ph.D. admissions committees typically consist of a mix of physician-scientists and basic scientists. Although the degree of involvement varies substantially, the M.D. admissions committee, which typically is comprised of clinical and medical teaching faculty, may also play a major role in the M.D.-Ph.D. admissions process. Thus, candidates will be expected to discuss their research interests as well as convey their clinical experiences.
- What is the notification process?
As program admissions committees come to decisions, applicants are notified of their status. Applicants are asked to acknowledge acceptances within a defined period of time and are allowed to hold more than one acceptance consistent with AMCAS policies.
Most programs will also place a number of applicants on waitlist status, in anticipation of changes in their roster that occur as students make final decisions and commit to one institution.
Accepted applicants are encouraged to take advantage of “revisit” opportunities and to be punctual in notifying schools of decisions to withdraw.
AAMC Recommendations for Medical School and M.D.-Ph.D. Applicants provides guidance, but communication between accepted students and institutions is also required.
Posted in: Advice
American Association of Medical Colleges
M.D.-Ph.D. training organizes the experimental and clinical thinking of the physician-scientist. This synergy enables a physician-scientist to recognize new ways that clinical care or the understanding of disease mechanisms will benefit from research and to mount the appropriate effort.
The average length of time before graduation is 7.5 years; generally students will take 6 years or 8 years depending on the nature of their graduate research. Students generally complete and defend their PhD thesis before completing their clinical rotations in the last 1 – 2 years.
Can I do one degree before the other?
As above, nearly all students will complete their PhD requirements 1 – 2 years before their MD requirements. An important advantage of combined degree training is the breadth that the first 1 – 2 years of medical school provides for graduate research. Students must pass part I of the National Board Medical Licensing Examination before commencing full-time laboratory research. Occasionally circumstances will arise when an individual student’s training is best served by deviating from this “traditional” plan; these situations require approval and monitoring by the graduate advisor and the MSTP Directors.
How will I be supported during my training?
Stanford MSTP students are fully supported through the entire program, tuition, health insurance and stipend, by a combination of funds from a National Institute of Health training grant, individual graduate programs, and School of Medicine funds.
Are there laboratory rotations?
One of the ways in which we try to make the total time of training less than the sum normally taken to complete MD and PhD degrees is by encouraging MSTP students to choose a potential thesis advisor without a yearlong set of rotations through different laboratories. During the first year of the program, students meet with departmental chairs and research faculty and participate in research seminars and group meetings, so that the summer following the first year can be spent working full-time in a laboratory whose goals, approaches, and personnel are already familiar. In most cases, MSTP students choose this laboratory as the place to carry out their thesis research.
How Many Years is MD Phd
MSTP students fulfill the same curricular requirements as “straight MD” and “straight PhD” students. Some PhD Programs may permit substitution of previous graduate course work (or MD courses) for their PhD requirements; this is individual to the program and the student.
Are MSTP students required to complete the MD Scholarly Concentration (SC) program?
The MSTP is a combined effort between the MD program and the PhD programs. All trainees are required to fulfill all requirements for both the MD and PhD degrees. The single exception is the MD program requirement for a Scholarly Concentration. For dual degree MD-PhD students, the PhD substitutes for this requirement.
Will I have special opportunities as an MSTP student?
Yes! In addition to individual regular advising meetings with the Program Directors, we hold seminars, courses, and lunches with guest speakers, covering important topics of professional development and translational medicine. The MSTP community also meets annually for the MSTP Scientific Conference, to present research, and to share clinical experiences, advice and above all support.
Will I have special responsibilities as an MSTP student?
Of course! Besides the challenge of balancing graduate and medical training, we ask all MSTP students to play an integral role in the recruitment, education, and evaluation of incoming MSTP applicants.
Can I get a PhD outside the Medical School?
Yes. One of the unique aspects of the Stanford MSTP is its close affiliation with departments in other Schools, including Engineering (Bioengineering, Chemical, Computer Science, Electrical) and Humanities and Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics).
Can I get a PhD in a clinical department?
The PhD must be conferred by a degree-granting department or program, and most clinical departments do not grant PhD degrees. However, most scientists in clinical departments either have joint appointments with basic science departments or are members of interdepartmental programs such as Cancer Biology, Neurosciences, or Immunology, and the only restriction regarding thesis advisors is that they must be members of the Academic Council.
Can I apply to the MSTP and get a PhD in a social science?
If you are a current Stanford MD student and have previously been admitted to a social science PhD program, you may apply to the MSTP for funding. Admitted PhD candidates may apply through the MSTP internal admissions process.
Are there teaching requirements?
The MSTP itself has no specific teaching requirements, but some PhD programs do.
How will my training differ from other “straight PhD” students?
The short answer is, “It won’t.” PhD training for MSTP students is just as rigorous and intensive as for students outside the MSTP. However, MSTP students don’t spend their first year rotating through different laboratories, and most MSTP students complete their preclinical medical school curriculum before starting full-time laboratory research.
How many applicants do you interview and admit?
On average, we invite about 60 students for interviews or about 1 in 9 of those students who submit a secondary application. About 8 – 10 students begin the MSTP every year.
Can I apply to the MSTP after starting medical school?
Yes! One of the unique aspects of the Stanford School of Medicine is its strong emphasis on research, and the MSTP invites current Stanford medical students in their preclinical years, who have made a commitment and contribution to a research-based career, to submit an application for the MSTP. We refer to this as the “internal” application process. Typically, the MSTP admits 1 – 2 internal applicants every year.
Is there an early decision program?
No. We think making a decision about combined medical school and graduate training is challenging enough! Finding a program that best matches an individual student’s interests and goals is facilitated by visiting several universities and meeting with a variety of potential research advisors.
How do I find out about the status of my application?
Just ask (we don’t mind).
Can I schedule my interview for a different day?
There are 5 – 6 interview days per season; once invited, interviews are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. We will try to accommodate requests for other dates if necessary.
I don’t know whether to apply for Med School or MSTP?
You should only apply to the MSTP if you are committed to a career in biomedical research; such a commitment should be based, in part, on previous sustained and productive research experience as an undergraduate. If you’re not sure, consider working full-time in a laboratory after undergraduate school before deciding whether an MSTP is right for you, or, alternatively, starting as a “straight MD” student, participating in a research project in your 2nd or 3rd year, and possibly applying to the MSTP as an internal applicant (see above).
What does the MSTP Admissions Committee look for?
Besides qualification for admission to the medical school itself, the single most important component of an MSTP application is a previous sustained and productive research experience.
When can I expect to hear about the outcome of my application and/or interview?
Interview season is October – February; interview invitations will be issued 3 – 6 weeks before the scheduled interview date. MSTP admission decisions are made on a modified rolling basis.
Are MSTP applicants considered independently for medical school admission?
The MSTP Admissions Committee is separate from, but closely integrated with, the Medical School Admissions Committee. All applicants to the MSTP are also considered for MD-only admission. If you are not chosen for an MSTP interview, your application is automatically routed for MD-only consideration. If you are chosen for an MSTP interview, you will also be required to participate in the MD admission interview process. These interviews will be scheduled the day before, or day after, your MSTP interviews. If you are not offered admission to the MSTP, you will be considered for MD-only admission.
Can I afford to live in Palo Alto?
Housing costs in the Bay Area are more than other cities. However, every new graduate student is guaranteed housing on campus or at University associated off-campus sites. Almost anyone can afford to live comfortably as a Stanford graduate student solely on stipend support.
Will the program pay for health insurance? What about the rest of my family?
We consider health insurance an essential component of all graduate training programs. The program covers the entire cost for individual students and offers a mechanism for subsidizing dependents.
Isn’t there more to do in San Francisco than in Palo Alto?
It depends whether you would rather watch street vendors in Union Square or go hiking in the Los Altos foothills. Seriously, downtown San Francisco is a short train ride away from Stanford, but the two environments offer different (and complementary) experiences. Downtown Palo Alto doesn’t have skyscrapers but it does have a thriving economy, a diverse population, and an environment that attracts many students to stay here for postgraduate training and career opportunities. Come see for yourself!
As you prepare to apply to medical school, it’s valuable to explore other potential career paths beyond a traditional MD degree. One path to consider is an MD-PhD degree, which provides training in both medicine and research.
But how do you know if it’s the right career path for you? We asked AAMC experts to explain the advantages of training to be a physician scientist through an MD-PhD program.
Who are physician scientists? Physician scientists are focused on scientific discovery and patient care at the intersection of science and medicine, understanding human health and disease from a scientific and clinical perspective. Physician scientists have the unique ability to identify and study important questions in health care. There are four pathways to become a physician scientist:
Complete MD training and then conduct extended research through fellowship training.
Complete MD training and then return to graduate school to earn a PhD degree.
Complete PhD training and then enter medical school to earn an MD degree.
Work towards both degrees simultaneously in a dual MD-PhD degree program.
In each pathway, students are exposed to a career in scientific research while also treating patients in a clinical setting.
What are MD-PhD Programs? MD-PhD programs provide training for the dual degree by integrating research and clinical training experiences where students learn to conduct hypothesis driven research in a mentored environment. There are over 100 MD-PhD programs affiliated with U.S. medical schools, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences partially supports approximately 45 programs, known as Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTPs).
These programs provide unique training experiences, including MD-PhD specific courses and professional development workshops, visiting scholar seminars, retreats, opportunities to attend national conferences and join organizations, and mentoring for graduate and residency training. The students and mentors in these programs are a vibrant community, working to advance the trainees’ development as a scientist and physician.
How long does training take? The MD-PhD career path is a commitment, as training to complete both MD and PhD degrees takes about 7 or 8 years.
How do I pay for a MD-PhD program? Most programs offer financial support, including stipends, tuition waivers, and health insurance to help students cover the cost of their scientific and medical training.
Who are MD-PhD students? Annually, an estimated 600 students matriculate into MD-PhD programs. This is only about 3% of all students who matriculate into medical school. PhD training for MD-PhD students is typically in biomedical sciences, such as molecular, cellular, or human or animal studies in biochemistry, cell biology and microbiology, immunology and genetics, neuroscience, pharmacology, and physiology. However, PhD training may also be in fields outside of the classical biomedical sciences, such as bioengineering, chemical biology, bioinformatics, public health, anthropology, and bioethics.
What do MD-PhDs do after graduation? Most MD-PhD graduates train in a residency program and become licensed to practice in a specific field of medicine. From there, they typically go on to careers that blend research and clinical medicine, though their research topic may or may not be closely related to their field of medical practice. Most MD-PhDs work in academic medical centers, such as medical schools or teaching hospitals. MD-PhDs also conduct research in institutes such as the National Institutes of Health or other government or private agencies, or work for pharma or biotech companies.
MD-PhD careers provide unique perspectives on questions about basic scientific discovery, medical intervention, or translational research. During their career, MD-PhDs may remain focused as a basic or clinical scientist, or become an administrative leader within their academic medical center. Their training provides opportunities to be successful in either environment.
During the first 18-months of the pre-clinical medical school curriculum, MD-PhD students complete courses co-listed in the medical school and graduate school. These classes are graded and count toward course requirements for both degrees in most BBS PhD tracks. Examples include classes in Cell Biology (CBIO 501 Molecules to Systems; CBIO 600/601 Science at the Frontiers of Medicine), Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry (MB&B 800/801 Advanced Topics in Molecular Medicine) and the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (INP 701 Principles of Neuroscience). These co-listed courses require additional work when taken for credit (e.g. reading, discussion and presentation of primary literature in small groups with faculty experts) and emphasize independent and critical thinking. These graduate courses parallel the content of the medical school curricula, allowing integration of medical school and basic science learning. All PhD programs and departments have slightly different course requirements which are occasionally modified/individualized on a case-by-case basis to accommodate MD-PhD students so that unproductive redundancies in coursework or differences in preparation do not negatively affect their training plan and time-to-degree. All PhD programs have allowed a decrease in required teaching time for MD-PhD students. MD-PhD students complete two ~5-week laboratory rotations during the summer between the first and second years of medical school in order to explore potential research mentors and projects.
Year 3 and 4 through PhD Defense
R=Retreat; Blue bars indicate qualifying exams or clerkship evaluations (CE). PASS=“Peer advising by senior students”, directed toward med school adjustment & rotation lab choice. STEP= advising around USMLE Step I preparation.
During the summer following their 6 months of Integrated Clinical Clerkships, MD-PhD students study for and take USMLE Step I. There is also time to complete an additional research rotation, if necessary, and to take a vacation. The Step 1 exam must be taken by December 31 of Year 3. Students meet with their Director of Graduate Studies to formally affiliate with a PhD department and research laboratory at the start of Year 3 and complete program or department-specific coursework, teaching and qualifying examination requirements in Years 3 and 4. A thesis prospectus is submitted in Year 3 or 4, which coincides with participation in the MD-PhD Program’s Grant Writing Workshop to prepare NIH NRSA F30/F31 and other private foundation applications. Students are required to submit a first author paper and successfully write, defend and submit their PhD dissertation before returning to the wards in October or January of their penultimate year of training.
There is a strong emphasis on maintaining engagement in clinical activities during the PhD thesis years of the MD-PhD training. Clinical activity during research years is an explicit part of the IDP review process, and thesis advisors are informed that this is an encouraged training activity for dual-degree candidates. Most students participate in one or more longitudinal clinical experiences (LCEs) or the student-run “Wednesday Evening Clinic” (WEC) for which they receive elective credit. A student-organized monthly Clinical Reasoning Seminar employs a clinical case-based approach to review diagnosis, pathology and treatment/management with a clinical faculty expert. In addition to maintaining clinical fluency, customized LCEs allow students to explore clinical (sub)specialties related to their research work and interests and are precepted by physician-scientists whenever possible. These experiences allow students to gain a richer understanding of possible career paths for physician-scientists and expose them to the advantages and challenges of combining research with clinical care. Strategies to manage wellness and resilience in a physician-scientist career are discussed during annual program retreats and recurring Brown Bag lunch discussions, while a Curriculum in Leadership and Research Management for Physician-Scientists provides ongoing career development training and experiential learning to MD-PhD students.
Re-entry and Final Year
R=Retreat; Blue bars indicate qualifying exams or clerkship evaluations (CE). PASS=“Peer advising by senior students”, directed toward med school adjustment & rotation lab choice. STEP= advising around USMLE Step I preparation.
Four to ten months prior to re-entry, all MD-PhD students must meet with Dr. Tamar Taddei, Associate Director for Clinical Education to complete Re-Entry requirements. Following the thesis defense, submission of a first author manuscript and submission of the dissertation, students complete a two-week Re-Entry Elective and return to clerkships in January (or less commonly October) of the penultimate program year. This allows ample time for completion of remaining clerkships, a mandatory 4-week sub-internship or clinical elective, additional Yale or away electives relevant to postgraduate training, completion of USMLE Step 2 CK/CS exams and the C-OSCE exam, residency interviews and a mandatory medical school capstone course to ensure that students are “internship-ready.” Almost all MD-PhD students spend time during this final 18-month period engaged in basic, translational or clinical research: they may return to their thesis lab, structure a short research experience to learn a new skill, or participate in clinical research related to the specialty in which they plan to match.
If you are a pre-med, you might have heard that it is possible to obtain both an MD and a PhD. But is it worth it? Is it right for you? Let’s explore some of the main differences and see if we can find the answer.
How Long is An MD Phd
Many pre-med students often wonder whether pursuing an MD/PhD is worth it. It definitely sounds prestigious, but will the extra years of training pay off in the end? Unfortunately, this is not the question that students should be asking themselves. An MD/PhD does not necessarily put someone ‘ahead’ of a physician who has just an MD; rather, an MD/PhD leads to a more research-oriented career. Therefore, it is not a matter of which degree is more worth it, but rather a question of what work you prefer to do as a trained physician. Are you more interested in clinical practice or research experiments? Let’s look at the differences between the two degrees so that you can decide for yourself which type of work best fits you.
||Read: Summer Research Programs For Premeds||
When a school accepts you into their MD/PhD program, they expect you to enter into a research-oriented career. They are investing in you so that you will make medical advances through your training as a researcher. If you have no desire to pursue research, you really should not pursue an MD/PhD program. MD/PhD graduates often go on to obtain positions at universities, research institutes and medical schools. Though they can and do see patients, most of their time will be devoted to research projects.
Note: You can pursue research opportunities with just an MD degree. MD physicians who desire a research career can pursue fellowship training.
Program length is one big factor that tends to deter pre-med students away from MD/PhD programs. A typical MD candidate finishes medical school in four years. A typical MD/PhD candidate finishes medical school in seven to eight years. Add on residency, it will take at least a decade for an MD/PhD student to be a fully licensed physician.
||Read: 5 Steps To Landing An Undergraduate Research Position||
Medical School Cost
There is no doubt a big time commitment required to pursue an MD/PhD. However, to entice students to consider this pathway, schools offer a generous financial aid package. In fact, most students get their entire medical school tuition waived and it is very possible to get an annual stipend. However, remember this financial investment is made because you will be participating in research.
Level of Competition
Medical school is hard to get into. MD/PhD programs are even harder to get into. According to AAMC, an average matriculant at a medical school has a GPA of just under 3.7 and an MCAT score of 515. Matriculants of MD/PhD programs have an average GPA of 3.8 and an MCAT score of over 517.
The average MD–PhD program length, according to the AAMC report, is eight years. So, in attending an MD–PhD program, you’re doubling your time in medical school. When factoring in residency training and, for those who have aims on fellowship, an MD–PhD student’s training can extend well beyond a decade.
The first year curriculum begins at the end of August and MSTP students follow the same curriculum as first year medical students. In 2009 the College of Physicians and surgeons initiated a new curriculum, which tightly integrates instruction in the first and second years.
In addition to the medical school curriculum, MSTP students will use their elective time during the first year to take at least one of the graduate courses, such as eukaryotic molecular biology.
The MSTP advisory committee will work closely with the student during this period to help identify appropriate laboratories for rotation and to select courses. There are a number of advantages to offering a graduate school course during the medical school curriculum:
The completion of a major graduate course allows more rapid completion of course work and earlier full-time involvement in laboratory research.
Participation in the course at this early stage allows students to become familiar with members of the graduate faculty at an earlier time than would otherwise occur.
The additional course work can help inform the choice of a laboratory or define a student’s interests.
It puts the student into contact with graduate students from the time they enter rather than requiring that they “shift gears” suddenly upon entry to the PhD years.
Year 2: Medical School Courses and Graduate Level Course
The second summer is committed to a laboratory rotation to assist the student in defining an area of interest and selecting a thesis advisor. During the first six months of second year of medical school the MSTP student follows the medical school program. Starting in January of the second year, MSTP students complete two clinical rotations, one or two laboratory rotations, Step I of the USMLE and choose a graduate program.
Year 3: The Graduate Years
The third year begins in the summer after the student takes Step I of the USMLE. Students who have selected laboratories will begin work under the direction of their thesis advisors combining laboratory work with the completion of any remaining course requirements. In addition, the completion of the preliminary examination must occur by the end of the third year. Students who have not selected laboratories will have the option of completing a third rotation in the summer preceding the third year, but are still expected to complete the preliminary examination by the end of year three.
The progress of each student is monitored by his/her mentor, by the thesis advisory committees, which must meet annually, and by meetings with the Program Director and members of the Executive Committee. We expect that the majority of students will have developed a thesis proposal by the end of the first year of graduate work and that the majority of course work will have been completed by that time. It is expected that all of the students will have published a first authored paper and that most students will have defended their theses by the spring of their 4th graduate year (6th year total).
In addition, students will begin their participation in the Clinical Competence Program. Throughout the years in the lab, each student meets a faculty member (Dr. William Turner, Dr. Steven Mackey, Dr. Christina Ulane, or Dr. Paul Lee) in the hospital. They practice history and physical exam skills with the cooperation of one of the patients in the hospital, and discuss the patient’s illness in detail. The students also meet once a month in small groups with their preceptor, reviewing the pathophysiology of some common diseases and presentations.
Years 4, 5 and 6: The Graduate Years
During these years, students work on their thesis research under the direction of their advisors. Progress continues to be monitored by the thesis advisory committee, by the director of the graduate program in which the student is enrolled, and by the MSTP directors. Depending on progress, the thesis is written and defended by December of the sixth year, so that the student can return to medical studies by January of the following year.
Starting in the second semester in the lab, the Clinical Competence Program allows students to pick clinical fields that interest them and are assigned preceptors who work in that field. They meet with that attending once per month. Students have accompanied their mentor during office hours, on hospital rounds, in the operating room, at clinical conferences, and at clinical research meetings, thus allowing them to see what the attending’s daily schedule is like as well as providing continuing exposure to patients.
Their activities during their last year in the lab are the same as in the first year with respect to the Clinical Competence Program, except that more emphasis is placed on write-ups and presentations when they meet with Drs. Turner, Mackey, Ulane, and Lee.