Your answer to the question “” can help you determine whether MD-PhD programs are right for you. MD-PhD programs accept exceptionally bright and motivated applicants interested in becoming physician-scientists – this means that instead of focusing your time and efforts on clinical work, you will commit your life to scientific innovation and research. In addition to the demanding curriculum and extended period of study (7-8 years!), MD-PhD application procedures typically involve additional components and supplementary interviews.
Whether you are applying through AMCAS, , or , you will be required to submit additional essay components explaining why you are the right fit for the MD-PhD program of your choice along with your , , or TMDSAS application. In this blog, you will learn everything you need to know about MD-PhD programs, including a list of schools that offer MD-PhD programs, how to apply, and 5 tips to get accepted!
Note: If you would like to navigate to specific sections of the article, click "Article Contents" above (on mobile) or on the right (desktop) to see an overview of the content.
Listen to the blog!
If you are contemplating between , it's important to know what the MD-PhD programs entail. The MD-PhD program allows you to obtain a dual degree in both medicine and research to become what is known as a physician-scientist or medical scientist. After graduation, students will receive a combined MD/PhD degree with advanced, hands-on research training and expertise in a particular field of their choice.
How do I know if the MD-PhD program is for me?
The MD-PhD program is definitely not an easy one, it is designed for exceptional students who have a true interest and commitment to a career in medical research. If you're only interested in becoming a practicing physician, that doesn't require a PhD, so the MD-PhD program is not the right choice for you. When considering if this program is well suited to your strengths and interests, ask yourself a variety of questions. Are you fascinated by the unknown? Do you find yourself asking why and how? Are you interested in a disease or condition that is commonly treated by physicians? Do you want to make new discoveries and implement what you've learned? Do you want to combine scientific research with medicine? ? If research is not your forte, perhaps MD-PhD programs are not for you. However, if you feel a definite drive and determination to pursue medicine and research at the same time, the MD-PhD program is a perfect option.
Does my PhD have to be in laboratory research?
PhD programs on offer vary from school to school, therefore, depending on the school you apply to, you may not necessarily have to train in laboratory research. The vast majority of MD-PhD students obtain their PhD in biomedical laboratory fields of study. This includes genetics, neuroscience, and immunology. However, some schools offer research in fields outside of the laboratory in fields such as economics, public health and sociology.
Although each program has its own curriculum, all MD-PhD programs train students to become competent physicians as well as skilled scientists. Most students complete the degree within 7 to 8 years. The length of your degree will depend on several factors, like your clinical requirements, PhD requirements, progress of your research, and the time needed to develop into an independent investigator, which is the primary goal of the PhD training. Typically, students can choose to divide their training into 2-3-2 track or 2-4-2 track. You start the program by mastering basic science courses as an MD student for 1 or 2 years, followed by an intense period of PhD research for 3 or 4 years. The PhD period is very demanding because you must complete your research, thesis writing, and defend your work within this short timeframe. The last 2 years are dedicated to clinical training. This is a general outline, but each program may have its own approach. For example, there may be more research integrated into your first two years of study. Some programs may require you to participate in research labs during the summer between first and second years to get acquainted with programs and departments related to your research interests. Depending on your research, you may be required to start clinical training during your PhD component.
The general timeline of completion is as follows:
MD-PhD programs are not just a combination of two separate degrees. During your studies, you will be exposed to unique activities and training designed specifically for MD-PhD students. These will include courses and workshops, seminars dedicated to research and professional development, and sessions where you will be able to present your research. You will also be able to join your colleagues in student retreats and conferences designed specifically for this combined degree.
Having an MD PhD vs MD degree allows you to enjoy a career that combines both research and medicine. You have the opportunity for exploration, scientific discovery and medical intervention. Most MD-PhD graduates work in medical schools, research institutes or teaching hospitals, but there is also the option of working in public health, for pharmaceutical companies and even running your own lab.
If a school is offering an MD-PhD program, they are very aware of the difficulty in training to become a doctor and researcher at the same time. They value physician-scientists highly and fortunately, most programs offer some sort of funding opportunities to students. This can include tuition waivers and a stipend to help cover the costs of living expenses. (NIGMS) provides funding to 49 MD-PhD programs through the (MSTP). These programs are extremely competitive as the funding offers a tuition allowance and a basic stipend, with most institutions supplementing the stipend.
MD-PhD programs are not a prerogative of the . While their number is growing all over Canada and the US, here I've included an up to date list which is also available on the AAMC website. In addition to this guide, the website is a great resource where you can find a variety of other helpful tools for MD-PhD prospective students.
District of Columbia
Which schools are funded through the MTSP?
Applying to an MD-PhD program is essentially the same as applying to an MD program. If you haven't already done so, you will have to write the MCAT. Check out our blog for the current . Almost all programs use the (AMCAS) where you have a chance to apply as an MD-PhD applicant. As with MD programs, some will require a , along with a . The only difference is that for MD-PhD applicants, you will be required to provide two additional essays: the first should answer why you want to pursue MD-PhD training, the second should showcase your research experience. There are a few programs that are using an alternative service for accepting applications, so be sure to check which service your program is using.
MD-PhD Program Requirements
MD-PhD programs require the completion of a four-year undergraduate degree and background in the following disciplines:
One year of Biology
One year of English
Two years of Chemistry (this can include general chemistry, organic chemistry, as well as biochemistry)
One year of Physics
One year of Math
These are the baseline. Your academic record should demonstrate that you have taken a variety of science and non-science courses. Admissions committees will note the difficulty levels of your coursework and your academic improvement over time. Make sure to check with your program of choice for any specific course requirements, i.e. advanced placement classes, online courses, etc. The most important prerequisite for MD-PhD programs is your research background and your experience in the lab.
GPA and MCAT
According to the latest AAMC statistics, the average GPA of MD-PhD matriculants is 3.8, while the average MCAT score is 516. These are very impressive numbers and you must strive to at least meet these averages if you’re planning to apply. If your academic record does not reflect these numbers, you need to get your grades up. To improve your GPA, re-enroll in classes you performed poorly in and get a higher grade. Not only will this increase your GPA, but it also demonstrate your dedication, patience, and desire for improvement. Ask your instructors and teaching assistants if you can do anything for extra credit. Find a tutor or a study buddy to help with disciplines you struggle with the most. You can also plan your school schedule to include courses in disciplines you ace. If working on your GPA is not a priority for you, find out .
Your MCAT score is an important indicator of your academic prowess. Before you take the test, make sure you know and . Give yourself ample time to prepare. Start by taking an MCAT practice test to figure out what areas of knowledge and concepts you need to improve. Create an that incorporates a variety of active and passive study strategies. Keep taking practice tests to see if you’re improving. If you consistently score at the 90% percentile in your practice tests, you can start planning to take the real MCAT. Remember, take the test only when you feel ready. If you’re still wondering “?”, read our blog to get some tips.
Firstly, check out a list of this year. If your school is on the list, make sure you know what to expect. The CASPer test is an online situational judgment test that claims to assess the professional suitability of students applying to professional schools, including medical schools. The entire test is written on a computer and the students typically never find out know how well they scored. The test is comprised of 12 scenarios dealing with real-life situations. You are asked 3 follow up questions based on the scenario observed. Essentially, the questions will prod you to answer how you would deal with the situations you witnessed. You are given 5 minutes to type your answers for those three questions. Make sure you know . You have probably heard that it is impossible to prepare for CASPer. It is indeed difficult, but there are important approaches that you can implement to ace your CASPer test! The key is to know what categories of questions are typically included in a CASPer test and to have a concrete answer strategy for each question category. This means that even though nobody knows what exact questions you are going to get on your test, you will have an approach for answering any questions that may come your way. Make sure you know and go over our to ace your test!
You will need to submit a total of three essays for the MD-PhD program if you’re applying through AMCAS. On top of your AMCAS personal statement, you will need to submit two additional essays: the significant research experience essay and the . If you’re applying through TMDSAS, you will need to submit the Dual Degree essay along with the other essay application components. While your answers the question “Why do you want to be a doctor?”, the MD-PhD specific essays must demonstrate your research expertise and answer why you would not be satisfied with a career pursuing only one of the two programs. The significant research experience essay must outline the most valuable research experiences you’ve had. You will have 10,000 characters, including spaces, to give detailed accounts of your research projects: the nature of the problem studied, your role and contribution, duration of the project, and the name of your principal investigators and their affiliation.
Your AMCAS MD-PhD essay must be no longer than 3,000 characters long. The TMDSAS dual degree essay is limited to 5,000 characters including spaces. These essays must convince the admissions committees that you would be the right fit for the combined degree and how your experiences have led you to apply to it. Your MD-PhD essay should tell the story of how you became involved in scientific research and how you want to apply your research to medical practice. Remember, in this essay, you must link your passion for research to clinical practice. Adcoms need to see that you can be both: an expert researcher and a competent MD. You must demonstrate why you are an ideal candidate for the combined program, so do not simply focus on your research background. Showing interest in research alone may eliminate you from the applicant pool – adcoms will think that you can simply pursue a PhD. While focusing only on research is great for the significant research experience essay, your dual degree and MD-PhD essays must be crossovers between your scientific research and the experiences you had working with patients and physicians. Ideally, you will be able to show how your research interests are inspired by clinical experiences or patients you’ve had a chance to work with.
Want to know how to write the MD-PhD essay? Check out our video below!
As an MD-PhD applicant, you must have substantive research experience. Having a quality research background will indicate to admissions committees that you understand what you are getting into and that you have been exposed to research methods and techniques. Ideally, your application will demonstrate that you have been involved in multiple research projects, including thesis research. Your application must show that you have dedicated a substantial amount of your undergraduate degree to scientific research, otherwise the adcoms might wonder why you are pursuing a research-oriented program. What is most important in your research background is the quality of the experiences. You do not need to get involved in hundreds of research projects to make a great impression on the adcoms. Even one valuable research project can demonstrate your curiosity and commitment to scientific research. Having spent an extended period of time on a research project showcases your dedication, genuine interest, and high level of expertise in a research field. Make sure you can identify what you have learned from your research experiences – you will have to outline valuable lessons and skills you acquired in multiple parts of your MD-PhD application and interviews. Ideally, you can discuss the relationship between your research experience and the medical field. Remember, you do not need to have an extensive background in medical or clinical research. Laboratory skills are transferable from discipline to discipline. However, even if you have little to no clinical research background, you must show that you have reflected on the relationship between your own research experiences and their application to the medical field. An MD-PhD application is a tough balancing act: you must always remember to honor the integral relationship between research and clinical practice.
If you’re looking to bolster your research background, try looking for research assistant positions on campus. Talk to your instructors and teaching assistants to find out if they are involved in research projects and whether they need help. Keep your eyes out for any research position postings on your school’s website or around science departments. If you’re no longer a student on campus, reach out to your former instructors and ask about research opportunities. You can also contact physicians you volunteered with or shadowed, to find out if they or their clinic are involved in research projects. Even if they are not, physicians can often recommend some names of organizations and other medical professionals who are research-oriented. Keep in mind that if you apply to research positions, you will need to assemble a strong application, including a and CV. If academia is your passion, then you might want to look into . These graduate degrees are specifically designed to build-up students’ medical school applications and may help you improve the quality of your research background.
Clinical Experience and Shadowing
While it’s true that MD-PhD applicants highly value research and progress, you do need to demonstrate to MD-PhD admissions committees that you have clinical background. It is one of the key , so having no clinical background will significantly decrease your chances of acceptance to an MD-PhD program. You must provide evidence to justify your suitability for both research and medicine and that you have taken the necessary steps to test drive your future career. Remember to emphasize quality over quantity – you do not need to have an extensive clinical background to impress the adcoms. Choose to volunteer or work with organizations and institutions that would further inform your decision to apply to MD-PhD programs. Patient care is at the heart of the medical profession, so it is vital for MD-PhD applicants to get exposed to patients, who are after all the greatest inspiration for medical research and progress. Apply to work and volunteer in clinics, hospitals, and hospices. Apply to volunteer in long-term care and retirement homes. Gain clinical experience by working as a health professional’s assistant, become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), or a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT), a medical scribe, or a personal caretaker. Shadowing a physician can also greatly inform your knowledge of clinical practice. As a passive observer, you will get to see the everyday responsibilities of a practicing physician. Take note of memorable lessons you learn – they may prove to be invaluable sources for your MD-PhD essays. Make sure you know to fulfill the requirement and . Remember, committing to a clinical setting or shadowing a physician will provide you with an opportunity to reflect on how research can improve medical practice. Without clinical background, your perception of the medical field and medical research will not be complete.
MCAT CPBS: 129
MCAT CARS: 128
MCAT BBLS: 129
MCAT PSBB: 129
MCAT Total: 516
GPA Science: 3.77
GPA Non- Science: 3.84
GPA Total: 3.80
You might be wondering what kind of residency options MD-PhD graduates have after so many years of rigorous training. Just like the rest of applicants, you will need to use the application to apply to American residency programs and to apply to programs in Canada. First of all, you must know that as an MD-PhD graduate you will need to do a bit more research into residency programs than regular MDs. This is because not all residency programs focus on the research side of medical training. If you want to further your scientific as well as your clinical education, you will have to do a little more work to figure out which residencies will allow you to do so. Start by speaking with your program mentors who can suggest residencies they know to be particularly research-friendly. You can check programs' research track records to see if they value research and what kind of opportunities there are to shorten the residency for research-track trainees, such as the Accelerated Research Pathway (ARP), Integrated Research Pathway (IRP), and other physician-scientist track programs.
Look for residencies that have been specifically developed to foster the training of physician-scientists by fully integrating research into the clinical training. These programs usually offer shortened residency (specialty) training by allowing students to shorten their training by 1 year, depending on the specialty. Make sure that the residency offers their trainees to start research right at the beginning of the program, rather than choosing a full-time lab later in the process. Find out if there is any special financial support for graduates of the combined programs. To learn more about opportunities for physician-scientists, check out the list of residencies. Be aware, that if you decide to pursue clinical practice rather than research after your graduate from MD-PhD, you can still pursue residency in any specialty you choose.
1. Gain extensive research experience.
Admissions into MD-PhD programs are highly competitive, and your research experience is essential to your success in gaining entry into the program. You must be able to demonstrate a longstanding commitment to research. Be sure to start gaining experience as soon as possible and try to diversify that experience. For example, you could work in a medical laboratory, research hospital and for a pharmaceutical company. While it is a start to work as a lab tech, the majority of your experience should be focused on hypothesis-based research. The admissions committee will be interested in your ability and experience in developing a hypothesis into a research problem, testing that hypothesis by conducting research and generating a report to document your findings. Try to tailor your research experiences to the field in which you want to pursue, experiences in the biomedical sciences are very useful but not necessarily required if you'll be studying in fields outside of the laboratory.
2. Contribute to publications.
Try to publish your research findings or contribute to publications to help demonstrate the active role you played in conducting research. This can be a great way to give you a competitive edge as not all candidates have been published or have contributed to publications. If you have been published or contributed to a publication, even if you only played a small role, be sure you are very familiar with the paper and major details surrounding the research. During your interview, the admissions committee will ask you questions about the research you participated in and will want to see your thorough understanding of that research. In a previous blog, we discuss some of the and answers, as well as common be sure you review these to help you prepare for your interview.
3. Develop good relationships with your research mentor.
It is very important to develop good relationships with your research mentors straight away. When you apply to MD-PhD programs, you'll have to provide letters of recommendation and the best recommendations will come from a mentor who has spent a long time with you, has been able to directly assess your research skills and has a strong relationship with you.
4. Gain shadowing experience.
Gaining shadowing experience is important for students applying to an MD program so it's no different for those interested in MD-PhD programs. Remember, you are not only demonstrating your passion for research, you should also be interested in becoming a clinical doctor. Shadowing is a great way to learn quickly in a medical environment and gives you excellent experiences that can be discussed in your application or during your interviews.
5. Volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities.
Community projects and extracurriculars for medical school are a great way to demonstrate a variety of skills desired by the admissions committee such as leadership, teamwork, commitment and problem-solving. Whether you are a tutor, a teaching assistant, or are even part of a debate club, your experiences and what you gained or learned from them are essential. Check out our blog on volunteering to find out you need, as well as the best type of volunteer activity to make your application stand out.
1. Do I still need to get clinical and shadowing experience if I am applying to the combined program?
While research is going to be the major focus of the MD-PhD, you must still have sufficient clinical and shadowing experience to assure that medicine is also a desired component of your career. If you do not have clinical and patient experience, the admissions committee will question why you’re applying to the combined program, rather than simply a PhD.
2. Should I get a master’s degree before I apply to MD-PhD?
Most applicants do not have master’s degrees. However, some students pursue graduate education to bolster their MD-PhD applications. For example, some students choose to complete special master’s programs to gain valuable research experience.
3. How important are my GPA and MCAT score?
There is a possibility that your school of choice will forgive a lower GPA if the MCAT score is high. Likewise, if an MCAT score is lower than the school’s typical average, the GPA may compensate for it. However, due to their highly selective process, MD-PhD programs take only the best. Try to ensure that your GPA and MCAT score meet the averages of the schools to which you’re applying. Remember, your GPA and MCAT are not the only components of your MD-PhD application but they are often used to weed out students from the application pool.
4. Do MD-PhD programs require the MCAT exam and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores?
While most programs require only the MCAT, some programs may ask you to submit GRE scores as well. Check with your program to make sure.
5. What is a good research experience for MD-PhD?
A good research experience provides you with the opportunity to conduct hypothesis-driven research. You get the chance to develop this hypothesis into a research problem, conduct research to test the hypothesis, and then report the outcome and significance of this research. You do not need to have research experience in the medical field to qualify for MD-PhD. Many research skills are transferable across disciplines. As long as you learn valuable research skills and understand the process, your research experience can come from any field you like.
6. How much research experience do I need to get accepted?
The quality of your research experience is more important than its amount. Your application can be strong if you convey genuine interest and experience in only one research project. Your progress and commitment to a specific research area demonstrates expertise and dedication. It is not necessary to be involved in dozens of research projects or make any ground-breaking scientific discoveries to enter the MD-PhD program. In your application, focus on what you have learned and accomplished and don't be afraid to discuss your setbacks in addition to your accomplishments.
7. Do I need to be a published researcher to enter the MD-PhD program?
If you have publications, make sure to include them in your application. Having published research can give you a competitive edge as not every applicant will have this experience. Keep in mind that you must have an in-depth understanding of this research because you will be asked about it during your interviews. However, for the most part publications are not necessary. Many students apply directly out of undergrad and admissions committees understand that it is difficult to contribute to publication at such an early stage in your education.
8. When should I apply?
Early applications are highly encouraged since most programs have rolling admissions. Most MD-PhD programs are affiliated with the AMCAS where you apply through a primary application and then complete a MD-PhD program-specific secondary application. The AMCAS application site opens in early June; most programs suggest that your application be submitted and completed before September.
9. What is the difference between MD-PhD and MSTP?
Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) is an MD-PhD program that has been awarded a training grant (T32) from the National Institute of General Medical Science that financially supports trainees in the program. There are currently about 49 MD-PhD programs that have T32 awards. Non-MSTP MD-PhD programs also provide environments where students obtain outstanding dual-degree training.
10. What kind of financial aid is available?
Each institution has a financial package. Most programs offer a monthly stipend and a full tuition scholarship for the length of the program. Check with your program of choice.
11. How long does it take to complete MD-PhD degrees?
It takes 7 to 8 years. You must complete both MD and PhD degree requirements to graduate. Typically, you start the program by mastering basic science courses as an MD student for 1 or 2 years, followed by an intense period of PhD research for 3 or 4 years. During the PhD period, you must complete your research, thesis writing, and defend your work. The last 2 years are dedicated to clinical training.
12. What are my career options as a graduate of MD-PhD?
These programs aim to train physician-scientists, but other research-oriented career paths are also possible. Graduates of MD-PhD programs often go on to become faculty members at medical schools, universities, and research institutes such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
13. Who should write my recommendation letters for this type of program?
Ideally, at least one of your writers will be the head of a research project in which you participated. It is important to have a person who can speak to your research skills and progress. Other writers can include professors and instructors, volunteer and work supervisors, athletics coaches, or a physician you worked with or whom you shadowed.
14. Can I change my research interests during my studies, or will I have to stick to the research field I identified in my personal statement and my MD PhD essay?
It is completely normal to change direction in your research throughout your studies. Many students change their research fields after they gain more research experience. Rather than setting in stone what you are going to study, your application is meant to demonstrate the quality of your experiences and whether you are ready for the rigors of MD-PhD training.
15. Can I become a physician-scientist without obtaining an MD-PhD degree?
It is certainly possible to become a physician-scientist without obtaining an MD-PhD degree. However, if you are lucky enough to know that you want a career based in medicine and research, the joint program is the most effective way to become a physician-scientist. You can complete an MD first and obtain a PhD afterward, or you could complete a PhD first and obtain your MD afterward, however, the disadvantage is that this route takes much longer. Some schools will let you transfer into their MD-PhD program if you've completed a year or two in a medical or graduate school program at their school. If you are a few years into a medical or graduate school program at a different school however, most schools will not accept your transfer, although it can happen on rare occasions.
Want a quick recap? Check out our video below:
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo