MD/PhD Assistant Dean Shares The Steps to Success

Session 67

Session 67

In today's episode, Ryan talks 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 of neurology).

Listen in as we show you what premed life is like as a possible MD/PhD student, what a successful applicant looks like to a medical admissions committee member, MD/PhD programs and funding, and life after medical school for the MD/PhD graduate.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Jose:

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 (Premedical undergrad + medical program)

Challenges coming back to the states to practice:

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

Considerations in going to an MD/PhD program:

  • If you have the fascination at the specific resource and willingness to contribute as to why certain pathological processes happen
  • If you can sustain research experience for several years

What is a wet lab experience?

There is a typical, premedical, basic science of medicine that individuals will eventually get PhD's on (ex. chemistry, genetics, molecular biology, physiology, pharmacology, neuroscience, etc.). Wet lab means you do medical research in a laboratory where experiments are taking place, mixing wet solutions. What they're looking for is a research that can assess fundamental questions about the biology of what's going on.

Do you have to major in Chemistry or Biology?

No. It's possible to be on the Humanities track and the like and do a 1 to 2-year post bac program that involves research experience.

Research immersion during the gap year?

5-6 days a week type of immersion for an individual with 2-3 years of research experience from college (full time 10 weeks during the summer and 10-15 hours a week in the semesters)

Getting into MD/PhD programs and funding:

  • Going through a series of interviews (invest $5,000-$6,000 for interviews, applications)
  • Entire tuition fees are entirely paid plus a pre-doctoral student stipend ($22,000-$32,000)
  • 45 programs receive NIH funding in a training award called the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)
  • 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

The advantages of an MD/PhD student:

  • Don't accumulate debt during their MD/PhD or even after they become residents
  • Having the ability to use the NIH long repayment program where undergrad loans are paid back
  • A mechanism that allows you not to think about financial considerations

Other opportunities for an MD/PhD graduate:

  • On the clinical side, you're still able to see patients and still do research
  • You're able to bridge the gap between publications and discoveries
  • Joining pharmaceutical industries where you're able to translate bringing research discoveries into clinical platforms (doing clinical trials, phase I and II studies)

A strong candidate for an MD/PhD program:

  • In-depth research
  • Letters of recommendation from research advisors
  • Shadowing
  • Volunteering
  • Research, research, quality research

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:

School of Medicine – The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio

Dr. Cavazos Profile Page

Check out the NIH Postbaccalaureate Research Training Award

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  • Great interview. I think you and Dr. Cavazos did a great job highlighting the benefits of doing an MD/PHD program. It does open up a lot of doors.

    I’m just going to play Devil’s Advocate here for a second. We had an MD/PHD program at SLU, but I don’t have a ton of knowledge that program or the other types of programs out there. There are two points that I want to make.

    1. I think most programs are 2 years extra, is that correct? While interest won’t be accruing during that time period, it IS 2 years that you won’t be making a physician salary. This shouldn’t be the only consideration of course, but if you’re thinking “Might as well throw a PHD on there too!” Think about it a little longer.

    2. Depending on the program, you likely won’t be completing all four years of medical school with the same group of people. The bond that you form with your classmates over the 4 years is sort of like soldiers going through boot camp. It may be hard to achieve that as an MD/PHD candidate if not everyone is on that track. I remember a couple of MD/PHD candidates who had taken 2 years to do research at SLU. When they jumped back into our 2nd and 3rd year classes, we were all new people and they didn’t seem to have the same connection as everyone else.

    I still think MD/PHD programs are perfect for the right people, but don’t just stumble into it.

    Sorry, I’m rambling a little bit. Just wanted to get this comment in before I run off to do some errands. When you get a day off in the middle of the week, you have to make the most of it!

    Thanks for the insight Dr. Cavazos!


    Premed Revolution

  • doesn’t matter

    Ben, you said it yourself in your response that you don’t have a ton of knowledge, and your ‘points’ that you make reveals that. Average length of an MD/PhD program is over 8 years long. While you point out that one may be losing future earning potential because of time spent in school, the dual degree track is designed for those that really wants to contribute to the body and knowledge of medicine, something that the traditional American undergraduate medical curriculum does not offer. Ask yourself Ben, all of those films and imaging studies that you read, who developed them and tested them for clinical use? Did they miraculously just appear? As you know Ben, pursuing a career in medicine is not about making a fortune because that is foolish, considering of that time and effort spent for the formative years of many people. You’d be better off in finance, law, or coming up with the next and greatest app, if you wanted to make money. To your second point, if someone needed friends, they should get a dog.




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