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…)