Archive for the ‘Advising’ Category

USMLE Step 1 Online Review Course (free)

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

The USMLE step 1 exam is a major milestone in the first two years of medical school that has major impacts on residency choices for MD-PhD students down the road.

A group at OHSU has launched a website with free USMLE review course on video that were very popular last year.  The review course is run by a Michael Wilson.  Dr. Wilson initially failed the boards (168).  He then took a couple months to learn how to take the boards and got a 230 on Step 1 and a 256 on step 2.  The course features free handouts and 50 hours of streaming video.  For those of you thinking about the boards, worth a look at

Finding the Right MD/PhD Curriculum

Friday, January 9th, 2009

The MD/PhD program has a unique mission and goal in training physician-scientists.  It’s important to remember that an MSTP student is not simply a medical student who happens to be getting a PhD for extra-credit.  It’s important to consider how the programs you’re considering integrate the MD and the PhD program.  Traditional medical curriculum is not well designed to deliver a streamlined educational curriculum.  The culture of science and medicine are quite different, and the range of philosophies between programs varies quite significantly. At this point in the year, many students are beginning to receive offers from several programs.  Evaluating the specifics of the curriculum should be an important part of your decision making process.  Students need to recognize which programs accelerate the coursework process and which programs contain significant redundancies between the PhD and MD programs.

For example, the Colorado program explains quite eloquently how their mission is different than a regular MD [my emphasis]:

“During Phase I [first calendar year of the program], MSTP students take courses administered by all of the UC Denver basic science graduate training programs, fulfilling the core course requirements of these graduate programs, as well as those of the medical school. For example, in Phase I, students take the core graduate course required by all programs and some program-specific elective courses. The graduate core course is literature-based, hypothesis-driven, and focused on biological mechanisms. The students are required to present research papers in a critical manner, and thus, they begin to read the original scientific literature from the outset. Additionally, rather than testing students for their ability simply to memorize facts, students are tested for their ability to think critically and creatively. For example, students are often asked to interpret a set of experimental data, to propose a hypothesis based on their interpretation, and to design well-controlled experiment(s) that rigorously and directly test their proposed hypothesis.” (more…)

Top journals provide “career articles” for aspiring MD/PhDs

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Increasingly, the tabloids (i.e. Science, NEJM & Nature) are providing excellent editorial pieces on career choices.  After catching up on some reading this news years, I’d like to recommend a few articles for those pondering their career direction as a physician scientist.

In September, JAMA published a largely descriptive study on MD/PhD program graduates, their career intentions, and other survey questions.   They were interested in the relationship between career intentions at graduation and subsequent career performance, accomplishments, and evolution.  The results aren’t groundbreaking, but it sets the stage for long-term evaluation of the joint degree program as a way to compare it to the alternative paths to becoming a physician scientist.

>>> Read the JAMA article “MD/PhD Programs–A Call for an Accounting” (zip file floating around internet or JAMA original)


12 questions to for an MD/PhD interview

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Perhaps you’re nearly finishing your MD/PhD interviews.  Or perhaps you’re getting ready for a busy January and February visiting potential schools.  Either way, preparation is key. As my basketball coach once said, “Prior practice prevents poor performance.” So, here are some sample questions that you are likely to encounter on the interview trail.  Preparing for these questions with mock interviews with your friends, graduate students in the lab, or a career counselor will certainly help you prepare for the big interview.  Remember, it just takes one school.  Good luck.

1. Describe your research.
2. Why are you interested in a combined program, versus one or the other?
3. Describe your solution to the US Health care crisis.  Is Obama/McCain’s solution likely to work?
4. What can physician-scientists do to contribute to your solution for the US health care crisis?
5. Have you had any leadership positions? Please describe your experience.
6. Do you follow or learn more about cancer biology through texts or primary literature?
7. Please tell me about 2 articles in the past year that were most exciting to you.
8. Tell me your knowledge of the research I am currently involved in (rare: only if you chose the specific investigator). 
9. Role play: Act like I am a 5 year old child who has cancer and explain what is wrong with me.
Explain it as though I am the child’s parent. Alternate: explain to an adult patient they have a terminal disease.
10. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?
11. Why would you convince someone not to pursue medicine? Despite these reasons, why are you
pursuing medicine?
12. Why are you interested in our MD-PhD program, in particular? Alternatively, tell me everything you know about this program.

P.S. We are interested in comments from blog readers about other good questions that interviewees could benefit from. Comment posting requires registration (in order to prevent boat loads of spam–sorry).

Can personality tests predict your medical specialty?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

The academic advisors in the deans offices of our country’s medical schools and the public health directors looking to admit medical students who will work in under served rural areas have long pondered how to predict a medical student’s specialty choice.

Can the senior faculty member read students in an admissions interview?  Can your academic advisor help figure out which specialty will be most fulfilling for you?  Can a personality test predict which specialty or research field you’re best suited for?

After taking a Myers-Briggs test recently, I came across a field of literature dating back to the 1950s about physician specialty choices.  And nobody has looked at the difficult decisions of how to balance the career of a physician scientist using these crude tools.  But some interesting insights came out of this.  First, my personality type INTJ is associated with being a biomedical scientist/researcher (yeah!).  If you know your type, check here for career matches, which include medical specialties.

One problem with the conclusions from the Myers Briggs data doesn’t seem to hold up with time.  In the academic literature, this results in statements like “predictive validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator should be reexamined.”  Some of this data goes back from the 1980s, and the nature of the professions have changed considerable.  Moreover, it doesn’t tell us if these people made the correct choices–just that they made a choice based on their personality type.  It would be interesting to look at satisfaction rates based on the personalities types, perhaps within a single specialty.  But that leads to the last problem: statistics.  The ratios are pretty weak because they researchers tackled an enormous question with just a few thousand people.  And personality type is far from deterministic.

Where else might this head?  Another quote from a Family Medicine journal article from 1985 indicates this is not a new idea: “This information may be useful in health manpower planning and in examining admissions policies of medical schools and residencies.”  But since this hasn’t happened in the last 20 or so years, I think this will have to remain a pipe dream for those sensing, feeling types.

P.S. I’ve included a brief chart on specialty choice.  For example, Child Psychiatrists are more likely to be NF (two of the 4 letters from a Myers-Briggs) than the other options.  Also, I would be interested in comments about how this relates to the MD/PhD student.

ST –
sensing plus thinking (practical and matter-of-fact)
– sensing plus feeling (sympathetic and friendly)
NF –
intuition plus feeling (enthusiastic and insightful)
– intuition and thinking (logical and ingenious)
Speciality N Ratio Speciality N Ratio Speciality N Ratio Speciality N Ratio
Aerospace Medicine 20 1.37 Allergy 17 1.46 Child Psychiatry 38 1.77 Neurology 39 1.62
Preventive Medicine 12 1.37 Anesthesiology 60 1.36 Neurological Surgery 17 1.50 Pathology 92 1.54
Obstetrics &
156 1.35 Ophthalmology 48 1.32 Psychiatry 146 1.49 Psychiatry 178 146
Orthopedic Surgery 68 1.24 Occupational Medicine 21 1.29 Public Health 33 1.44 Pulmonary Diseases 26 1.45
General Practice 260 1.23 Family Practice 33 1.22 Preventive Medicine 11 1.33 Child Psychiatry 36 1.35
Dermatology 25 1.23 General Practice 217 1.18 Gastroenterology 20 1.32 Thoracic Surgery 35 1.21
Urology 35 1.20 Urology 30 1.18 Dermatology 25 1.31 Cardiolovascular
77 1.20
General Surgery 165 1.18 Pediatrics 94 1.16 Plastic Surgery 16 126 Otolaryngology 27 1.18
Anesthesiology 58 1.15 Gastroenerology 16 1.14 Cardiovascular Disease 56 1.08 Internal Medicine 313 1.16
Radiology 61 1.05 Thoracic Surgery 24 1.10 Internal Medicine 234 1.08 Neurological Surgery 16 1.14
Otolaryngology 20 1.02 Plastic Surgery 13 1.09 Pediatrics 92 1.06 Radiology 76 1.12
Family Practice 31 1.00 Obstetrics &
111 1.09 Family Practice 30 1.03 Allergy 17 1.09
Occupational Medicine 18 .97 Orthopedic Surgery 52 1.08 Thoracic Surgery 24 1.03 Plastic Surgery 17 1.07
Cardiovascular Disease 53 .96 Otolaryngology 18 1.05 Aerospace Medicine 14 1.02 Aerospace Medicine 17 1.00
Public Health 23 .94 General Surgery 123 1.00 Neurology 19 .98 Anesthesiology 58 .98
Pediatrics 81 .88 Pulmonary Disease 13 .97 Occupational Medicine 17 .97 Preventive Medicine 10 .97
Internal Medicine 195 .85 Public Health 19 .89 Radiology 52 .95 Orthopedic Surgery 62 .97
Ophthalmology 35 .84 Internal Medicine 176 87 Obstetrics &
103 .94 Gastroenterology 18 .96
Pathology 41 .80 Radiology 43 .84 Ophthalmology 37 .94 Ophthalmology 46 .95
Allergy 10 .75 Neurology 14 .78 Pathology 45 .93 Pediatrics 101 .94
Neruological Surgery 9 .75 Cardiovascular Diseases 33 .69 General Surgery 122 .93 General Surgery 148 .90
Pulmonary Diseases 10 .65 Dermatology 11 .62 General Practice 171 .86 Urology 30 .88
Thoracic Surgery 16 .64 Pathology 26 .58 Pulmonary Diseases 12 .83 Dermatology 20 .84
Gastroenterology 10 .62 Neurological Surgery 6 .57 Urology 21 .77 Occupational Medicine 18 .83
Plastic Surgery 8 .59 Aerospace Medicine 7 .55 Allergy 9 .72 Family Practice 29 .80
Psychiatry 52 .50 Psychiatry 39 .43 Orthopedic Surgery 37 .72 General Practice 191 .78
Neruology 10 .49 Child Psychiatry 7 .35 Otolaryngology 13 .71 Public Health 22 .77
Child Psychiatry 10 .44 Preventive Medicine 2 .26 Anesthesiology 25 .53 Obstetrics &
92 .68
TOTAL 1243 1089 1169 1452