Applying to Medical SchoolDual DegreesExtracurricularsIn Med-School - Pre-ClinicalInspirational

MD, PhD, or both?

Why getting the dual degree should take some more thought

By Benjamin Wang

Every year, thousands of students apply for professional and doctorate programs with the purpose of advancing their careers and getting jobs. A select few hundred ambitious students apply for joint MD/PhD programs and medical scientist training programs with the hope of receiving financial support and significant exposure to research. These programs represent the epitome of academic achievement and open doors for professionals to pursue clinical practice, academic research, clinical research, teaching, and leadership roles in medicine. Students pursuing such degrees often undertake seven to eight years of intensive professional education before they are able to enter a residency position and their tuition and living costs are covered by federal assistance. Understanding how the admission processes for this program is administered is key to understanding whether or not pursuing the admissions process is worthwhile.

MD/PhD program applications are a significant investment in time for undergraduate students. The PhD committee involved in the process is often looking for a track record of significant and independent basic or clinical research. In order to be competitive, applicants should try to maximize the number of presentations, projects, and publications that can be completed during their undergraduate education. At the same time, due to the limited number matriculate positions available, applicants must also be careful to balance their academic performance, MCAT, outside activities, and timing as both committees are looking for highly qualified applicants.

Applying to a small number of schools can also be beneficial as most applications ask for significant additional information in the form of essays. Whereas a medical school secondary application can be as short as a post card and a photo. MD/PhD and medical scientist training programs often ask for tens of pages of additional essays focused on one’s research experiences, ambitions, and future career. When the size of each MD/PhD application is multiplied by a high number of applications, the sheer number of customized material that must be provided can likely hurt an applicant’s ability to successfully matriculate to a medical program in any given cycle.

Understand that applying to a MD/PhD program at a specific school will delay your normal application for their medical doctorate program and hurt even a very qualified applicant’s chances of matriculation. As MD and PhD program utilize two different committees to review and select applicants independently, an applicant who applies to both committees must wait for an answer from both committees before they are able to schedule an interview. The fact that these two committees do not communicate with each other on a daily or even weekly basis at times, further delays an applicant’s interview and decreases their chance for matriculation into the medical doctorate program. Last, as both committees need to interview applicants, MD/PhD and medical scientist program applicants are not interview daily or even weekly by both committees. Often times, applicants to these dual degree programs are interviewed only on a few specific dates each month, when the schedules of each committee allow.

If you are serious about applying to a dual degree program such as an MD/PhD program, a consultant that has completed the process can be invaluable. A mentor or advisor who has firsthand experience and the necessary maturity and skill set will be critical to your success. Often times, school councilors have only been able to observe the process from the applicant’s side and lack the process understanding to give applicants the critical and subtle details they need to be successful. To be perfectly honest, if school councilors were good at the process, they would have become doctors years ago and traded in their counseling positions for clinical positions. Be sure to consult the small group of expert who have been successful in this process.

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