How to Get into an MD/PhD Program: Interview with a Program Director

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Session 67

How to Get into an MD/PhD Program: Interview with a Program Director

In today’s episode, I talk with Dr. Jose Cavazos, the Assistant Dean of the MD/PhD Program at The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio. He is also the Program Director for clinical neurophysiology (a fellowship in neurology).

Hear about what premed life is like as a possible MD/PhD student, how to get into an MD/PhD program, funding in MD/PhD programs, and life after medical school for the MD/PhD graduate.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

Jose’s journey along the MD/PhD path:

  • Starting with an MD and wanting to pursue more research
  • Pushing for a PhD and doing his residency
  • Starting faculty after residency
  • Being an international graduate at a 7-year program in Mexico (premed undergrad plus medical program)

[Related episode: Do You Need an MD/PhD to Do Research as a Physician?]

Challenges coming back to the states to practice:

  • More paperwork
  • Questions as to the depth of his knowledge (which pushed him to the top 5-10% of his specialty)

Considerations in going to an MD/PhD program:

  • If you have a fascination about why certain pathological processes happen
  • If you can sustain research experience for several years
If you're someone who really has a fascination about why certain pathological processes happen, take a look at MD/PhD programs.Click To Tweet

What is a wet lab experience?

Wet lab means you’re doing medical research in a laboratory, mixing wet solutions. What they’re looking for is research assessing fundamental questions about the science of what’s going on. This can be in chemistry, genetics, molecular biology, physiology, pharmacology, neuroscience, and so on.

Do you have to major in chemistry or biology to get into an MD/PhD program?

No. It’s possible to pursue a liberal arts major in college, and then do a 1- to 2-year postbac program that involves research experience. You can get into an MD/PhD program on this kind of path. If your goal is getting into an MD/PhD program, you can also look at using a gap year to accumulate more research experience.

[Related post: The Best Premed Major to Get into Medical School.]

Getting into MD/PhD programs and funding:

  • You’ll go through a series of interviews (and pay a lot in application fees and travel costs).
  • Tuition is entirely paid, plus a pre-doctoral student stipend ($22,000-$32,000 per year).
  • 45 programs receive NIH funding with a training award called the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP).
    • Update: As of 2018, 48 MD/PhD programs now exist in the US.
  • Other NIH awards are individual awards obtained by MD/PhD students.
  • Mega-programs have 25 positions per year.
  • Medium-sized programs have over 13 positions per year.
  • Most programs have 5-10 positions per year.
As of 2018, 48 MD/PhD programs exist across the United States.Click To Tweet

The perks of getting into an MD/PhD program:

  • Not accumulating debt during an MD/PhD program or even after you become a resident
  • Having the ability to use the NIH loan-repayment program, through which undergrad loans are paid back
Getting into an MD/PhD program allows you not to think about financial considerations during your medical training.Click To Tweet

Other opportunities for an MD/PhD graduate:

  • You can see patients and still do research.
  • You’re able to bridge the gap between discovery and implementation of new research.
  • You’re able to work for pharmaceutical companies, bringing research discoveries into clinical platforms (doing clinical trials, phase I and II studies).
As an MD/PhD, you're able to work for pharmaceutical companies, bringing research discoveries to clinical platforms.Click To Tweet

How to get into an MD/PhD program:

  • In-depth research experience
  • Strong letters of recommendation from research advisors
  • Shadowing physicians
  • Volunteering
  • Competitive MCAT and GPA
  • Research, research, and more quality research

[Related episode: Can I Start an MD/PhD Program at an Older Age?]

Getting the good stuff when volunteering:

  • You have to earn your stripes.
  • Own some aspects of the research and make it known to the PI’s.

Links and Other Resources