Physician Scientist - MD/PhD Options

Why the need for MD/PhD programs?

MD/PhD programs are designed to create physician scientists who are trained to bridge the gap between the clinical sciences and the biomedical sciences. Students who are exceptionally talented can complete the dual program in six to seven years. Participants acquire the knowledge, skills, and experience to begin careers in the more exciting areas of medical research, and are able to meet the degree requirements of both a graduate school and a medical school. Medical schools provide many diverse research opportunities that satisfy most who are interested in research. The close integration between clinicians and researchers better reflects the nature of the future careers of biomedical scientists.

Although 150 medical schools have MD/PhD programs, only 35 are funded as a part of the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Students accepted into the MSTP receive a stipend and paid tuition. MSTPs are funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. Competition for the MSTP is very stiff. Of the 16,000 students entering medical school each year around 180 students, or about 1% of the medical school matriculants, will start out in the MSTP. Students in other MD/PhD programs are funded through other sources including the various grants held by the primary investigators themselves.

Which schools offer MD/PhD programs?

Virtually all allopathic medical schools have MD/PhD dual degree options, although the rules for admission into the joint program may vary. About a third of the programs require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The acceptance policies also vary. The majority of programs may accept students to the MD program, but reject students to the PhD program. Others require acceptance to both programs or not at all, and still others may accept students into the PhD program, but not the MD program. For many schools, the opportunity to enter an MD/PhD program is not available to incoming medical students. However, after matriculation into the MD program, most schools have options to enter the PhD program, although a few may not offer full funding. Research experience is virtually mandatory and some programs require higher a higher GPA. About half of the osteopathic medical schools have MD/PhD options and may allow entry into the PhD program after matriculation. Candidates for MD/PhD joint program may sometimes be admitted into MD program, but not the PhD program, but not the reverse.

In Missouri, UMC, SLU, and Washington University all have options to enter their PhD programs after matriculation. The six year program at UMKC does not have options for a joint MD/PhD. Neither of Missouri's osteopathic schools (UHS-COM and KCOM) have MD/PhD program options.

Should pre-med applicants consider this route?

Not all future physicians have an interest in, or talent for, biomedical research. But if you do, you should consider the MD/PhD option. (See the biomedical research web page to assess your research interest and experience). Many pre-meds who apply to medical school have had a research experience in support of a strong application.

  • Did the research experience interest you and did you show a talent for research?
  • Were you productive in your activity?
  • Do you see yourself in a research role as a physician?

These are the questions applicants to medical schools need to explore before applying to a dual program. Sometimes, the answers are found after the student matriculates into medical school. The physician scientist interest may lead one into a career as an academic physician scientist with teaching, research, and clinical training roles within the medical school environment.

Other MD/graduate program combinations

Most allopathic schools now offer master's programs or the Doctor of Laws (JD). The most common master's programs are degrees in Public Health (MPH) and Business Administration (MBA). Applicants interested in the MBA may be required to submit the GMAT along with their MCAT. Often, these programs can be selected and begun during medical school or residency training.

For more information

For information search the web resources using the key words "MSTP", "medical scholars", "MD/PhD" or inquire about the programs available at the medical schools to which you are applying. AAMC has a list of MD/PhD programs at their site. Many schools have different deadline dates for their medical school applications and PhD programs. Since more specific research opportunities may become available after matriculation in medical school, students interested in research options may choose to explore these options while in medical school.

You may also contact :

Dr. Richard Garrad, 417-836-5372, Professional Bldg., Room 345
Dr. Colette Witkowski 417-836-5603, Professional Bldg., Room 404

Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri 65897