Will USMLE changes affect the MD/Phd? How?

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Medical students and MD/PhD applicants have likely heard the rumors: the USMLE program sequence will be changing.  This news quickly draws the attention of those starting down the regimen of a MD/PhD program.  Most MD/PhD students currently take 2 years of medical school basic science and the USMLE step 1 exam before heading down the PhD road.  So, what changes are planned and how will these mandates change the order of the MD/PhD program as we know it?

First, the United States Medical Licensing Examination board (USMLE) has been holding hearings and writing the new principles that will guide a new exam structure since 2005.  The process is slow and the future changes still need to be defined, communicated with and approved by medical schools, state medical boards, and national medical boards.  In short, we don’t know the exact language of the changes, but we can guess what the

When will the changes happen?  The earliest year the exam would be affected would be 2011.  The USMLE board expressed the importance of providing a grace period to allow for students who have passed Step 1 to take Step 2.  This means that whatever system is in place when you begin your program, that’s the program that you’ll follow thanks to likely grandfathering clauses.

What’s changing? The full statement of principles are outlined on the USMLE website.  It’s important to note a couple things: clinical skills and basic science knowledge will be tested at the same time, so MSTP students will need some of the third year curriculum to take the test.  And they’ll need to take the exam at least 9 months before they plan to start their residency program.

One change will surely drive changes in the medical school curriculum, and favor MD PhD students.  The board’s recommendations stated:

CEUP [board] recommends that USMLE emphasize the importance of the scientific foundations of medicine in all components of the assessment process. The assessment of these foundations should occur within a clinical context or framework, to the greatest extent possible.

The hope is that this new emphasis on the exam will change the way that physicians are trained–to think more like scientists!

Read the principles of the new changes http://www.usmle.org/General_Information/review.html

Writing the AMCAS essays for MD PhDs

Friday, July 11th, 2008

If you’re a 2009 MD/PhD applicant, you’re probably well on your way to completing your AMCAS primary application.  Most students submit their applications between the beginning of July and the middle of August (at the very latest). The value of an early start cannot be understated–especially for Texas and east coast schools.

1. Review the objectives for each essay, seek clarification from individual programs, and review example essays.

I found a book on the MD Personal statement mostly unhelpful. I tried the book Medical School Essays That Made a Difference but it didn’t help much. It included many essays that clearly made a negative differences, as the essays authors were rejected by most schools they applied to; in short, these essays were no better than a random assortment of essays. I finally got the ball rolling when I gave up on external inspiration and took a more introspective approach.

2. Start with the Personal Statement
. Begin outlining your personal statement, determine how you are going to represent yourself and what angle you are taking. Writing about yourself can be difficult (it took me nearly a month to draft my personal statement), and establishing your narrative and voice can take several iterations–why do you really want to do this? The personal statement should stand on its own and clearly explain your interest in medical school (MD only).

3. Build on your personal statement with the Why MD PhD and research essays.
In addition to a personal statement, MD PhD applicants are required to write a short “Why MD PhD statement” and a 10,000 character research statement (~4 pages). The best thing you can do is have these two essays reviewed by your laboratory PI and the post-docs you work around.  While it may be frightening to open yourself up for criticism, they will be able to help you establish clarity more so than most of your peers and people outside the field. In the “Why MD/PhD essay” will be required to carefully bridge the dichotomy between degrees many times over throughout the application process. See the Intransit.us guide for more thoughts on this.

Excellent Resources