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The MD / PhD Track : MSTP Discussion 5

MD/PhD Discussion 5

SLevine: Thanks to the moderator for providing this forum and his well-founded views!

I know that the combined MD/PhD program confers many intangible advantages. No one can doubt the understanding and capacity for critical judgment gained by the reciprocal insight into both the basic sciences and clinical medicine. You can be one of those elite few who can understand and contribute to advances in research and also find applications for those advances in medicine.

Setting aside my personal preferences, most thesis advisors today recommend that we choose one track above the other. The current position of my thesis advisor (Cornell) goes something like this: The MD/PhD faces a difficult balancing of two careers: That of providing state of the art medical care, and that of continuously learning and advancing cutting edge research. Additionally, both medicine and basic research are becoming more specialized and complex, so we need to choose.

My own career has not moved linearly, neatly along the MD or the PhD path, but has zigzagged along the clinical research/academic attending physician course.

I have seen many courageous colleagues - practicing physicians - bite the dust trying to complete an experiment while confronting a private patient emergency over the phone.

I have seen this dual career function particularly well when the research interests coincide with the subspecialty field of the candidate. Others have achieved success within disciplines that have featured shorter bench time, shorter experiments, e.g., pharmacology, immunology.

Some thrive while balancing the two tracks plus their personal lives. Others prefer a neater, more predictable definition of their lives. Some MDs do very well at the bench, in the lab, while others fall apart because they need the rigorous training provided by the PhD. And, yes, the bottom line centers on whether your research is cutting edge. The only thing that counts is results.

Other issues: Does your personality thrive or fail under the crunch grant deadlines or NIH site visits? Do you have a good professional and familial support system? Most complete the combined MD/PhD program in seven or eight years. Note that some thesis advisors have a vested interest in keeping the student longer than they should, so stay away from these labs.

Best wishes and follow your heart!

S. Levine, MD, PhD - New Medical Mnemonics

Tee: Thank you very much for the insightful information. I still haven't met an MD/PhD holder yet to discuss the program so this was very encouraging. However, I would like to know especially, your opinion about the following (you dont have to reply right away, just whenever you have time):

1. Are MD/PhD holders ever more sought after more than MDs or PhDs in any job situation?

2. I might be interested in going into administration, would that interest work well with an MD/PhD or is this program only meant for strictly research and clinical work?

3. Lastly, I heard from some other MDs that MD/PhDs earn less money and are often considered less qualified than MDs, so it is harder to get a job. Is that true?


SLevine: I'll respond now while I still have some free time.

1. If your research is cutting edge, you will be courted by residency programs that do research. Those programs more heavily invested in clinical medicine may look upon your candidacy will distrust.

2. Are you talking about the MPH? The MD/PhD is specifically related to research and clinical medicine.

3. A research position pays less, even for the MD/PhD - although they are paid more than the pure PhD. Less qualified? I have heard comments to support the bias that a candidate is less qualified to do clinical medicine simply because he/she holds an MD/PhD. A covert yet negative bias does exist.

Best wishes,
S. Levine, MD, PhD

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