and welcome. This set of questions and answers was compiled
by a group of MD-PhD program directors to
help applicants (and potential applicants) learn more about
MD-PhD programs and about the process of applying to them.
of us hope that you will find them useful. Some places to
obtain additional information are included in the text.
if I'm not sure?
Program (or How does it work?)?
happens after you finish? Admissions issues
is the purpose of MD-PhD training?
programs provide training in both medicine and research. They are
specifically designed for men and women who want to become research
physicians, also known as physician-investigators or physician-scientists.
Graduates of MD-PhD programs often go on to become faculty members
at medical schools, universities and research institutes such as
the NIH. Regardless of where they eventually end up, MD-PhD trainees
are being prepared for careers in which they will spend most of
their time doing research, not just taking care of patients. It
is a busy, challenging and hugely rewarding career that offers opportunities
to do good for many people by advancing knowledge, developing new
treatments for diseases and pushing back the boundaries of the unknown.
is the difference between an MD-PhD program, a combined degree program
and an MSTP program?
Programs designed to train physician-investigators go by all of
these names. For the most part, the terms are interchangeable, although
at some schools "combined degree" programs can include MD-JD and
MD-masters programs as well. The NIH uses the term "MSTP" to refer
to schools that have been competitively awarded special training
funds to help support MD-PhD candidates. There are currently 39
NIH-funded MD-PhD programs.
MD-PhD programs limited to those interested in laboratory research?
answer varies from school to school. Not all schools offer PhD programs
in all disciplines and, even if offered, medical schools may limit
the disciplines that can be combined with MD training The vast majority
of MD-PhD students receive their PhD in a biomedical laboratory
disciplines such as cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, immunology,
pharmacology, neuroscience, and biomedical engineering. The names
of departments and graduate programs vary from school to school.
At some schools, MD-PhD trainees do their graduate work outside
of the laboratory disciplines in fields such as economics, epidemiology,
health care policy, sociology or the history of medicine. You should
check before you apply to see what is actually offered at any particular
if I'm not sure that this is what I want?
there other ways to become a physician-scientist?
short the answer is "yes." Some schools will consider you for transfer
into their MD-PhD program after you have completed a year or two
of medical school or graduate school at the same university. The
rules and requirements vary from school to school. Another option
is to complete medical school and residency training before doing
an extended period of supervised research. That used to be the main
path for preparing physician-scientists, but with the increase in
the number of MD-PhD training programs nation-wide, most people
who make the decision to become physician-scientists while still
in college think hard about doing both degrees.
I really need a PhD?
school by itself does not provide training in how to do research.
At some point you will need that piece of your education if you
intend to become a physician-investigator. In years past, it was
not uncommon to learn how to do research by doing an extended postdoctoral
fellowship after (or instead of) a clinical residency. The total
time is not necessarily shorter, the costs for you (especially medical
school tuition) are likely to be much higher and you will miss the
coursework and formal training in research methodology that are
part of a good graduate program. If you are ready to make the commitment
before starting medical school, MD-PhD programs offer many advantages.
program (or how does it work?)
does MD-PhD training work?
answer varies from school to school, but typically students begin
with two years of medical school, switch to graduate school in
the third year of the program, then return to finish medical school
after completing (and defending) the thesis research project.
At a growing number of schools there has been an increasing emphasis
on integrating the MD and PhD parts of the training with graduate
school courses during years 1 and 2 and clinical experiences during
graduate school. Be sure to ask how things are organized at schools
that you are considering. In programs leading to a PhD in laboratory
science, MD-PhD trainees usually spend the summer between the
first and second years of medical school working in the laboratory
of the faculty member that they are considering as a potential
thesis advisor. Some programs ask students to do one of these
"lab rotations" in the summer before starting medical school classes
as well. When fulltime clinical training begins varies among programs.
Depending on the particular school, MD-PhD trainees may have anything
from casual clinical experiences during the first two years of
medical school to extensive fulltime clinical rotations lasting
six months or more. Depending on the number of clinical months
completed before starting the thesis research, students returning
to medical school will need 1 to 2 years to finish their training
and meet the requirements for medical licensure.
long does it take to complete both degrees?
goal is to complete an MD-PhD program in 7 or 8 years. Numbers
from across the country show that some students finish in 6 years,
while others take 10 years (or more). A couple of issues are worth
keeping in mind. First (and most importantly) the goal is to train
you to be a physician-investigator. That takes time to do right.
The biggest variable is the time needed to complete a thesis project.
You will want to do a first class project that will set a pattern
for your career. Second, keep in mind that the average time to
complete a biomedical PhD in the U.S. is about 6 years. Combined
with 4 years of medical school, 6 + 4 = 10 years. Doing both degrees
in less than 10 years is possible because of overlap in coursework
and tailoring programs to fit the needs of the physician-scientist.
You will want to be focused and efficient, not a clock watcher.
long does it take to complete training after an MD-PhD program?
as this may sound, the process is never really finished. Your
education will continue throughout your career. A more pragmatic
answer is that the process began in college (or sooner) and will
extend beyond medical school and graduate school as you complete
your post graduate education. Here are some typical numbers:
most people the "postdoctoral fellowship" includes another year
or two of clinical training, followed by a return to research
for 2 or more years. So the total before you get your first job
can be 13 or more years beyond college. You'll be in your 30's!
That means that you have to be sure that this is what you want
to do and you have to be able to enjoy the process as it unfolds.
happens after you finish?
happens to the graduates of MD-PhD programs?
end up with a career in which most of their time is spent on research.
The research may be lab-based, translational or clinical. Most
end up at academic medical centers, research institutions like
the NIH or in the parmaceutical/biotech industry. Most, but not
all, do clinical training for several years after completing medical
school and many find that their MD-PhD training makes them particularly
appealing to residency programs at top institutions.
do physician- investigators spend their time?
answer to this varies depending on what type of career they have
chosen. A physician-investigator who is a faculty member at an
academic medical center will typically spend 75-80% (or more)
of his or her time doing research. The remainder may be split
between clinical service, teaching and administration. Admissions
issues Who should apply? College graduates (or soon-to-be graduates)
who seek to become physician-investigators and whose commitment
to doing research requires graduate school (PhD) level training.
This includes men and women who made the decision to become biomedical
researchers while in college as well as those who have known since
schools offer MD-PhD programs?
than 100 U.S. medical schools have an organized MD-PhD program.
They range in size from small programs that admit 1 or 2 students
per year and might have only a dozen students enrolled, to very
large programs that admit 20 new students per year and have over
150 students enrolled. The disciplines, in which PhD training
is offered vary from school to school, so make sure you ask.
do I find out if a medical school that I am interested in offers
of the programs can be reached using links from this site. If
the school you are interested in is not included, contact them
directly to ask. . The most complete list of MD-PhD programs can
be found on the AAMC website.
big are the programs and how many new students are admitted each
programs vary in size enormously - from smaller programs that
take 1 or 2 students per year and might have a total enrollment
of a dozen, to very large programs that might take 20 (or more)
new students per year and have a total enrollment of 150+. As
you look at programs you should ask yourself what will be the
best fit and you should ask the program director what they consider
the strengths and weaknesses of their program, including program
do I apply?
process varies from school to school. Some schools have a separate
MD-PhD admissions committee that will screen your application
and coordinate the interview and admission process. Other schools
consider MD-PhD applicants only after a decision has been made
about MD admissions. Finally, some schools consider students for
the MD-PhD program only after they have completed a year or more
of medical school. Schools that subscribe to AMCAS will ask you
to indicate your interest in an MD-PhD program and then to provide
additional information as part of a secondary application.
do I apply?
people apply after finishing their junior year in college, but
a growing number of applicants finish college and work for a year
or more before applying. Some people use time after college to
take courses needed for medical school admission (if they've not
had them already) or to gain more laboratory research experience.
Some people simply weren't ready to make a decision about their
future career and postponed choosing beyond the finish of college.
will I hear?
letters go out at different times of the year depending upon the
policy at the individual school. Some schools do rolling admissions
and send out acceptances throughout the year. Other schools send
them all at the same time. That can be as late as March or even
do admissions committees look for?
answer to this question clearly varies from school to school,
but some basic principles apply. In general the admissions committees
will look for four things: evidence of academic success, relevant
research experience, letters of recommendation from people who
know you well and your plans for the future.
1) Evidence of academic success using criteria that will include
your GPA and MCAT scores, but not be limited to them. They will
undoubtedly consider where you went to college and what types
of courses you took. They will not necessarily be dismayed if
you got off to a slow start, as long as you did well later.
They will place the greatest emphasis on courses that are relevant
to your chosen area of graduate school training.
Relevant research experience. If you plan to get a PhD in one
of the laboratory sciences, then prior laboratory experience
counts heavily, particularly if you spent a year or more in
the same laboratory. Summer laboratory experience can be helpful,
but summers are short. Whenever possible you should try to do
research during the academic year or at least spend multiple
summers in the same lab. For those of you planning a PhD outside
of the laboratory sciences, seek equivalent experiences. The
idea is to be sure you like it and to create a track record
upon which your past performance can be judged and your future
Letters of recommendation. The most important letter(s) are
from the faculty member or other senior investigator with whom
you worked. The letter should comment on your talents, skills,
and potential for success as an independent investigator. If
you are working with a senior faculty member, it is very helpful
if they can compare you to other students with whom they have
worked. Note that such a letter is not necessarily the most
appropriate for an MD-only application. MD-PhD program admissions
committees are usually most interested in your talent and ability
as a scientist, not as a future primary care-giver. Fortunately,
medical schools know this and allow you to submit more than
one letter of recommendation.
Your plans for the future. Since training to be a physician-investigator
is so costly in terms of your time and the school's resources,
your career goals should be compatible with MD-PhD training.
Becoming a full time practitioner is a laudable goal, but doesn't
require a PhD in addition to a MD. Your goal as a trained physician-investigator
should be to spend at least 75% of your time on research. You
need not know the specific problem you want to work on at this
point (many don't), or with whom you would like to train, but
your commitment to becoming an investigator should be clearly
communicated and you should have given thought to what will
it important to have spent time working in a hospital or clinic
before I apply?
Some medical school admissions committees take that as evidence
of commitment and as a predictor that you will do well in the
clinical portions of your training and career.
GPA and MCAT scores will I need for admission?
answer to this question varies among the MD-PhD programs. All
of the medical schools will want to be as sure as possible that
you can handle the load of work involved in doing medical school
plus graduate school. MCAT scores and your college GPA provide
one way of predicting how you will do, but only one way. Average
MCAT and GPA scores for combined degree program applicants last
year were about 31 and 3.5 respectively. Average numbers for those
accepted varied from school to school. At one large program, the
average numbers for matriculants were MCAT 36 and GPA 3.8, but
the range was large. If you have concerns or questions, ask the
schools you are considering. If you take the MCAT exam more than
once, some schools will look only at your highest scores.
I need to take the GRE?
schools require the MCAT, not the GRE, but some schools will want
both for combined degree applicants. Be sure to ask. What kinds
of letters of recommendation will I need? See: "What do admissions
committees look for?" I'm not a U.S. citizen. Will that affect
my chances for admission? It does complicate things. Some schools
will not consider applicants who are not U.S. citizens or permanent
residents of the United States, in part because NIH training funds
are only available for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
If you are a non-citizen who went to college in the U.S., evaluating
your credentials is easier for admissions committees than if you
did college work outside of the U.S. Nonetheless, some MD-PhD
programs will consider your application despite these obstacles.
The only way to be sure is to ask each program that you are considering.
how many schools should I apply for admissions as an MD-PhD candidate?
is no universal answer to this question. Nationally, the average
is 7 or 8 (compared to 11 for those who apply only to medical
school). The range is wide. The application process is time-consuming
and expensive. As when you applied to college, consider your strengths
as an applicant and apply to programs that vary in their competitiveness
should I decide where to apply?
applicants have decided that they want to work in a particular
field or with a particular faculty member. For them, choosing
where to apply is defined by where that faculty member works or
where the field is best represented. Most applicants have only
a general idea of what they might want to work on in the future
and know that their interests are likely to evolve as they are
exposed to new things. For them choice will be defined by issues
such as the reputation of the school (hopefully not based solely
on US News and World Report!), the success of the graduates of
the program (be sure to ask!), and geography. Schools range in
terms of the difficulty of gaining admission. The directors and
non-faculty administrators of MD-PhD programs nationwide are a
large pool of resources that you can tap. Most of us get e-mail
from future applicants all of the time. Take advantage of our
willingness to talk with you. Ask questions about the things that
are important to you.
I get in somewhere?
history shows that most well-qualified applicants who adopt a
wise strategy for applying to programs will end up with one or
more letters of acceptance. Just as you did when you applied to
college, it is a good idea to assess your strengths as an applicant
and Page 8 of 8 apply to a number of schools. It is also a good
idea to plan ahead by seeking advice from physician-scientists
at your institution and others. Is it okay to apply "MD-only"
at some schools and "MD-PhD" at others? Yes. But consider what
your motives are for doing that. Is it because you are uncertain
about which type of program you want? Is it a strategy to make
sure you have been admitted somewhere for some thing? If you are
invited for an interview by an MD-PhD program, members of the
admissions committee may want you to explain your reasons.
schools consider me for admission as "MD-only" if I apply unsuccessfully
to them as an MD-PhD candidate?
they will, but not necessarily automatically. The wisest thing
to do is to ask them what their policy is and let them know whether
you might be willing to consider an offer to enter as a medical
student - perhaps with a plan to apply for transfer into the MD-PhD