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Association of American Medical Colleges

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

MD-PhD Career

What is the advantage of completing an MD-PhD and doing research or doing research as an MD?

Graduates with MD-PhD training often conduct research that is directed towards defining mechanisms of human disease.  This research can be conducted in model systems or on human subjects and is often different than the clinical research that many MD graduates conduct who may not have trained to conduct hypothesis-based research.      

What is the advantage of completing an MD-PhD and doing research or doing research as a PhD?

MD-PhDs often conduct basic research that defines fundamental questions in basic research similar to research conducted by PhDs. An MD-PhD also has a medical perspective that may translate basic, clinical, and translational discoveries from the bench to bedside.  Students interested in pursuing a basic research career should consider if MD training is needed to develop the scope of their research topic.       

What is the advantage of completing an MD-PhD and doing research or doing research as a MD-MS with research who gains research experience during residency/fellowship?

MD-MSs who gain research experience during residency/fellowship will have a good perspective towards developing a career in biomedical research.  The MD-PhD has integrated research and medical training, which may help develop theoretical- and experimental- approaches to solve problems on hypothesis-driven research.  MD-PhD training may be shorter than MD-MS training followed by research during residency/fellowship.

MD-PhD program vs. PharmD for career in drug development

PharmD graduates focus their research on the use of pharmaceutical drugs, while MD-PhD graduates have a greater breadth of potential research directions.   

Why don’t all scientists obtain MD-PhD training?

MD-PhD training is for a subset of scientists and physicians who have aptitude and interest in both research and medicine.     

Why do you need MD-PhD to do the research?

You do not need an MD-PhD to conduct research.  Graduates with MD-PhDs have the both medical and research perspectives in the development of a research project.   

Funding opportunities and percentage of applications funded for MD-PhDs vs. MDs or PhDs

Success in achieving NIH funding for MD-PhDs is similar to the success rate for PhDs and better than the success rate for MDs.

What is the average age of the first major independent research grant (R01 grant) for MD-PhDs?

Average age to your first R01 is 43 for MD-PhD graduates and MD graduates and 42 for PhD graduates.  MD-PhD often completes the mentored research (K) award while finishing their fellowship years of medical training.  

MD-PhD Programs

How can I identify the PhD degrees that are granted by an MD-PhD program?

MD-PhD programs do not grant PhD degrees, but facilitate the integrated training associated with dual degree training.  Degrees are granted by the respective medical- and graduate- schools associated with the MD-PhD program.  The PhDs degrees that MD-PhD trainees can pursue may be all, or a subset, of the PhD graduate programs of the Graduate School.  PhD degree possibilities are typically described on the MD-PhD programs website.  

What are the unique features for MD-PhD programs?

Unique features of MD-PhD programs are the integrated experiences that the trainees have, including unique courses, workshops, and activities that are dedicated to the dual degree career. Research activities are possible during medical school training, while clinical activities are possible during graduate school training. Please see MD/PhD Programs by State for individual program descriptions.    

What is the difference between an MD-PhD program and an MSTP?

Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) designates an MD-PhD program as having 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 44 MD-PhD programs that have T32 awards.  Non-MSTP MD-PhD programs also provide environments where students obtain outstanding dual-degree training.      

What are the most common reasons for leaving an MD-PhD program?

There are several reasons for trainees leaving an MD-PhD program, including the realization that the trainee does not have a primary interest on research as the major focus of their professional career or that the trainee does not have a medical interest for the pursuit of their research interest.     

What is the financial package for an MD-PhD trainee?

Financial packages vary among MD-PhD programs, but typically provide a stipend and remission of tuition for both graduate school and medical school training.  Programs may also provide additional support, such as health insurance. The financial package for each program is listed on the program’s Web site. 

What is the average time for graduate with an MD-PhD degree?

The average time to graduate with an MD-PhD degree is 7-8 years.  This is often shorter than obtaining the MD and PhD degrees individually.    

What is the number of MD-PhD applicants? 

Using data from the AAMC, in 2011 there were 1813 applicants for MD-PhD programs and 633 matriculants into MD-PhD programs.  

Do MD-PhD program accept international students?

Some MD-PhD programs accept international students. See MD/PhD Programs by State for individual program descriptions.

Preparing to Apply to MD-PhD Programs

What is a good research experience?

A good research experience provides a student with the opportunity to conduct hypothesis-driven research, developing this hypothesis into a research problem, conducting research to test the hypothesis, and then reporting the outcome and significance of this research.  The research topic may or may not be within the biomedical sciences. These research experiences may be conducted during a student’s undergraduate career or after completing the undergraduate degree while in a “post-bac” program or conducting research in a laboratory.     

How important is your MCAT® exam score?

The MCAT exam score is one component of the MD-PhD application that also includes research experience, letters of reference, GPA, and other experiences.   

Do MD-PhD programs require MCAT exam and GRE scores?

While most MD-PhD programs require only the MCAT exam score, some programs require MCAT exam and GRE scores. See MD/PhD Programs by State for individual program descriptions.

Would you suggest that I get a master’s degree before applying for an MD-PhD program?

Most students who apply for MD-PhD programs do not have master’s degrees. However, some students choose to a complete a master’s degree to assure that research is a primary focus of their career. 

How many times should I take the MCAT exam if I want to improve my score?

There is no suggested number of times that a student should take the MCAT exam to improve his/her score.  If a student feels that a specific MCAT section score, or the overall MCAT exam score, does not reflect his/her academic potential, the student could consider retaking the MCAT exam.  Each MD-PhD program considers each component of the application when evaluating an applicant.  For reference, in 2011 for all MD-PhD matriculants, the average overall MCAT exam was 34 with a range of 22 to 44.     

Where should I do my research as an undergraduate--at my home university, at other schools, or both?

The site of an undergraduate research experience is less important than the experience providing an extensive experience for conducting hypothesis-driven research. 

How important is it to prepare for medical school if I'm doing an MD-PhD? Isn't it all about research? Should I still do a lot of shadowing or volunteer work?

While research is a major focus of the MD-PhD, candidates should conduct sufficient shadowing or volunteer activity to assure that clinical medicine is also a desired component of their career.  

Applying to MD-PhD Programs

Who should I ask to write letters of reference for MD-PhD applications?

Letters of reference should be written by research mentors and others who can speak about the student’s scientific aptitude, integrity, and other attributes. 

What is the timing for submission of MD-PhD applications?

Early applications are suggested since interviews are often scheduled on a first come basis.  Most MD-PhD programs are affiliated with the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®) where students apply through a primary application and then complete a MD-PhD program-specific secondary application. The AMCAS application site opens on June 1; most programs suggest that your application be submitted and completed before September.

How are applicants chosen for acceptance into the MD-PhD program?

Some MD-PhD programs invite and admit students autonomous of their medical school and graduate school admissions committees, while other MD-PhD programs link their invitations and acceptances to either or both of the medical school and graduate school admissions committees.

The Application Process

Most MD-PhD programs use AMCAS. Apply via AMCAS and complete the program-specific secondary application. Some programs are connected to their school of medicine admissions office and some operate independently.

MD-PhD programs strongly encourage early applications. Follow AMCAS guidelines for the opening day of application submission. You must adhere to deadlines at each MD-PhD program to remain eligible.

There are approximately 1700 applications nationally. Two-thirds of those interviewed receive an offer.

Time commitment

The average time to degree nationally is seven to eight years. If you choose to complete each degree separately, medical school would take four years and the PhD would take anywhere from four to six years, depending on the program. MD-PhD programs integrate the graduate and medical curriculum to decrease the total time to degree.

Financial assistance

Each institution has a financial package. Most programs offer a monthly stipend and a full tuition scholarship for the length of the program.

Nearly all programs require MCAT exam scores. The need for the GRE is program specific. Please see Summary of MD-PhD Programs and Policies  for details.