A dual MD-PhD degree program is ideal for those interested in careers in biomedical research or academic medicine.
MD-PhD programs begin with two years of medical school courses combined with the other MD students. Then while the MD students go on to start their clinical rotations, MD-PhD students will join a research project and spend three to four years completing a thesis. Most PhDs are completed in the field of science, technology or engineering, but there are a few universities that offer degrees in social science. After completing the PhD requirements, the student will rejoin the MD-only students and enter into clinical rotations for their last two years. The entire process usually takes seven or eight years to complete, followed by the three to eight years of post-graduation residency training needed in order to specialize.
Many MD-PhD Programs are funded through the National Institutes of Health Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). This program completely pays for tuition and fees through all four years of medical school and up to two years of your graduate training, along with providing a yearly stipend (currently about $25,000) and health insurance. If an MD-PhD program is not funded through the MSTP the school will usually offer similar tuition payment and stipend rates, though the exact amount varies by school.
Prerequisite coursework for MD-PhD programs is similar to regular MD programs although it will be important to investigate the programs you plan on applying to for any additional prerequisites. Please see the Medical Coursework page for more information about the general idea of classes required.
Some PhD programs encourage students to take a full year of biochemistry, analytical chemistry, or biotechnology. These vary widely among schools, so it’s your responsibility to explore the programs you are interested in to get an idea of what is expected.
Application to an MD-PhD program follows the same process as normal MD programs. Applicants take the MCAT and apply through AMCAS a year before they want to enter the program. The GRE is rarely required for admission. In researching universities, it is the student’s responsibility to check out both the medical school and the PhD options available at the university. It is useful to identify thesis advisors that you might want to work with as you are selecting schools. As you progress in the application process, emailing their current graduate students could give you a clearer idea of what kind of research is going on, the environment at the lab, how well you might get along with the advisor, etc.
Most medical schools open less than 10 slots each year for MD-PhD applicants (in contrast to ~100 seats for the first year entering class seats for regular MD). Because of this, application committees have more time to spend reviewing your application and are more fastidious in recruiting students that are a “good fit” for their program. They are looking for students with a solid, verifiable interest in doing research, high academic ability and a commitment to service. GPA, MCAT scores and the average age of the entering class are higher than MD-only programs.
To be a competitive candidate, it’s important to get involved with research early in your undergraduate career. Please visit your department's academic advisor for information about how to get involved in research on campus. There are also plenty of opportunities for summer research internships, many of which are available through the National Science Foundation. Working on your own research project can help you figure out if you really want to commit the next 13 years of your life to an MD-PhD.
You also need to keep your GPA up (preferably above a 3.7) – especially in science and math courses. Shadowing and patient exposure are required, but more emphasis is placed on your research involvement, community service/volunteer work and leadership experience. Since the applicant pool is so small, admission committees want to see well-rounded, intelligent and hard-working students that are dedicated to a career in medical research.