This article is about MD–PhD programs. For doctor of osteopathic medicine–PhD programs, see Medical Scientist Training Program § Non-MSTP MD–PhD and DO–PhD programs.

The Doctorate of Medicine and of Philosophy (MD–PhD) is a dual doctoral degree for physician–scientists. The degree is granted by medical schools often through the Medical Scientist Training Program or other non-MSTP MD-PhD programs. The National Institutes of Health currently provides 43 medical schools with Medical Scientist Training Program grants that support the training of students in MD–PhD programs at these institutions through tuition and stipend allowances.[1] These programs are often competitive, with some admitting as few as two students per academic year.[2] The MCAT score and GPA of MD-PhD matriculants are often higher than MD only matriculants.[3][4]

Application and Admissions

MD-PhD typically require or prefer candidates who have had a background in research, either under a professor as an undergraduate or have taken at least one gap year to work in a laboratory setting. The application process in addition to a personal statement required for MD-only applications also require two additional essays to describe why an applicant wants to pursue an MD-PhD and an essay describing their research background.

Training programs

In the United States, MD–PhD degrees can be obtained through dual-degree programs offered at some medical schools. The idea for an integrated training program began at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1956[5] and quickly spread to other research medical schools. In 1964, through the Chief of the Office of Program Planning and Evaluation Herbert H. Rosenberg, Ph.D., the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed a grant to underwrite some universities' MD–PhD programs. This funding was distributed through the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). There are also non-MSTP funded dual-degree programs (e.g., the Medical Scholars Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which receives funding through endowment funds, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and extramural fellowships). Non-MSTP funded dual degree programs have more flexibility and can extend to degrees other than the PhD (e.g., JD and MBA degrees).

Admission to a dual degree program is not a requirement to receive MD and PhD degrees. An individual has the option to complete each degree separately through single-degree programs. However, the student is responsible for all medical school tuition and does not receive a stipend during their MD education. Furthermore, since the PhD training is not streamlined with the medical training, students will often take additional years to complete their PhD.

A PhD may also be obtained by physicians during the residency training period. This combined research and graduate-level medical education are offered by a minority of residency programs. This additional education typically extends the residency period by three to four years.

Training structure


Upon matriculating in an MD–PhD program, students will often follow a 2-PhD-2 plan. In this system, students will complete the pre-clinical curriculum of their medical school (2 years), transition into PhD graduate training (3–5 years), and then finally complete clinical rotations (2 years). By contrast, students in the Medical Scholars Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago are generally required to complete all the requirements of a regular doctoral student before advancing to the second year medical school curriculum.


Upon receiving the MD–PhD dual degree, physician-scientists may choose a variety of career paths. The most common continues to be residency training with additional laboratory training. However, a physician–scientist may also elect to refuse residency training, thereby having a career essentially akin to a conventional PhD scientist. A physician–scientist may also elect to work in the private sector with no further formal academic clinical nor research training.

Benefits of the Dual Degree Program

Financial compensation

Most MD–PhD programs (all MSTPs) cover all medical school tuition, provide a stipend, and cover health insurance expenses.

Residency programs

Candidates with MD–PhD dual degrees are favorably looked upon in most residency programs.

Career Flexibility

MD-PhD can have any career related to an MD or PhD. On top of graduating debt free, they won't have to stay in the medical field to pay off large debts if they decide to quit medicine and find work as a researcher or in academia. Like residency, MD-PhD are often given preference in any research or academia job applications.

Career paths

The vast majority (over 80%) of MD–PhD graduates eventually choose to enter academia, government, or industry where medical research is a central component of their duties.[6] According to a FASEB study conducted in 2000, graduates of NIH-funded MSTPs make up just 2.5% of medical school graduates each year, but after graduation, account for about one third of all NIH research grants awarded to physicians. Many MD–PhD graduates also practice clinical medicine in their field of expertise.[7]

Notable MD-PhD Physician-Scientists

See also


  1. "Medical Scientist Training Program - National Institute of General Medical Sciences". Retrieved 2015-07-02.
  2. "Merge Interests in Science, Medicine With an M.D.-Ph.D.". Retrieved 2015-08-29.
  5. "CWRU Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)". Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  6. Ley TJ; Rosenberg LE (2005). "The physician-scientist career pipeline in 2005: build it, and they will come". JAMA. 294 (11): 1343–51. doi:10.1001/jama.294.11.1343. PMID 16174692.
  7. Zemlo TR; Garrison HH; Partridge NC; Ley TJ (2000). "The physician-scientist: career issues and challenges at the year 2000". FASEB J. 14 (2): 221–30. PMID 10657979.
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