M.D./Ph.D. Programs or Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP) train physician-scientists to become leaders in biomedical research. Students who pursue this option obtain both an M.D. and a Ph.D. degree with in-depth training in modern biomedical research and clinical medicine. The typical M.D./Ph.D. career combines patient care and biomedical research but leans toward research. It is an excellent choice for students who are passionate about research and are certain that research will be an important dimension of their careers.
Since they are completing two graduate degrees, M.D./Ph.D. students spend a longer period of time in graduate training. Generally, however, your tuition is paid by federal or institutional grants, and you receive a stipend. So, even though the time to degree (and practice) is longer, you may graduate debt-free. Average program length is 7 - 8 years; however, M.D./Ph.D. graduates, on average, are in a position to secure funding to direct a research lab in fewer years than M.D. graduates who pursue research fellowships after residency.
The types of Ph.D.s that can be combined vary considerably from institution to institution. Some institutions only offer Ph.D.s in scientific fields while others are more flexible. You should research each program individually to evaluate its offerings.
Most M.D./Ph.D. programs arrange for a student to take off from medical school between the second and third years (after the preclinical portion of medical school) to complete his or her PhD. The student then returns after three to seven (typically four) years to resume medical school by beginning the clinical portion. The student is normally awarded both degrees together upon graduating from medical school after a total of seven to ten years.
An MD/PhD often leads to becoming a faculty member at a medical school, university or research institute such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A few MD/PhD graduates opt for research careers in the private sector.
Exposure to the Field, Shadowing, and Volunteering
Some shadowing and experience in a hospital setting is important, but since physician-scientists will spend most of their careers in a laboratory, a student’s research experience is the most important experiential dimension of the application.