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The MD / PhD Track : MSTP Discussion 4

MD/PhD Discussion 4

TEE: I am a new MD/PhD student and I was not sure until the last minute (meaning last week!) that I wanted to follow this track as opposed to just the MD track or PhD track. I agreed with the first part of the article that maybe I am not sure of what I want to do in the future and both science and medicine intrigue me. However, I was SOO upset when I read the disadvantages; they were very discouraging. Unfortunately, when I was deciding which track to take, I only had a chance to get views from MDs, who ALL felt it was a waste of time. And then this article further proved that it was a useless degree. Are there any MD/PhDs around that can tell how their dual degrees actually assisted them? In other words, for those who both practise and do research, do they feel any better off or more prepared because of the track they chose?

Moderator: The good news is that by doing your first two years of an MD/PhD you're not wasting any time. It gives you the chance to do research, be in medical school, and ask the people you work with what they think of the MD/PhD track. It's important to ask both academic physicians and basic scientists their opinion (remember, the private-practice physician isn't the right advice giver in this case, since you're likely to end up in academic medicine with an MD/PhD).

The two caveats to considering your 1st 2 years as "trial runs" are 1) take them seriously, both your research and your medical school courses, and 2) make sure you understand your payback agreement. If you leave an MD/PhD program after only a year or two, you may be required to "pay back" either in time or money. Check with your program administrator.

On a personal note, let me encourage you to keep an open mind and enjoy what you do. In the long run, 3 or 4 extra years isn't too a big deal.

MUDPHUD: My program has gotten clever, in that now in the MD/PhD you don't participate in the Intro to Clinical Practice where you learn all of the basics of histories and physicals and such until *right before* you finish your PhD and go back to do your clinicals.

It's clever, because it does avoid the problem of teaching you all of those things and then forgetting them while you spend 4 (or more) years getting your PhD. It's also clever because it cuts down on the "I think I'll pass on the PhD and just get my MD, thanks for paying for two years" syndrome.

As far as asking advice, the moderator's right. You shouldn't ask a private practice MD since that is definitely far from what you'll likely be doing. However as always I advise, take the advice with a certain grain of salt. Ask as many people as possible and consider what there biases might be. I just spent the last two days at mixers for incoming med students, and even the reactions of other medical students was variable.

My theory is that the time will pass regardless of what you're doing, so if you're doing what you want, it's time well spent. Most of the students I met always remarked about the time. I met a couple of people who were very negative - one blunt enough to tell me they didn't think MD/PhDs got as good of a clinical education as a straight MD, and another who went off about how she'd never do it because it was just too much time. Even now that I'm in the program, I'm getting an earful from opinionated people. :)

I think the key is, if it's what you want to do, do it. I had PhDs tell me everything from "Oh, it's a diluted 'fake' PhD that you'll get" to "This is the best career move you'll ever make"... I've had MDs tell me everything from "I would've done that if I went through again" to "Why on earth would you want to do that?" You know what they say about opinions... everybody's got one.

Continued in the next MD/PhD discussion

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