A specific MD vs. PhD question

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Jan 2, 2008
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I am having a hard time deciding between MD/MD-PhD/PhD. I want my main focus to be research regardless of what I choose. Because of that, my intention since I started college (am currently a junior) has been going a direct PhD route. After reading these forums (all of them), the consensus seems to be that MD-PhD can provide both the research aspect as well as the stability/financial aspect that PhD-only's lack.

My question is mainly about the hardships/trials that PhD's face and if they are a strong enough deterrent (grant issues, job stability, etc.). Do your PhD-only colleagues regret their decisions? Would it really be worth it for someone not interested in the clinical side of science to get an MD or MD-PhD simply for the stability? Any personal experiences or helpful links would be greatly appreciated.

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I can't answer all of your questions. However, I spoke to a MD/PhD who was not interested in the clinical side of medicine and chose not to do a residency. They felt that certain doors were closed as a result - you don't get the financial stability you're talking about, as well as some other career possibilities, without doing a residency (and board certification). To get full use of your MD, you need to do a residency. At the minimum (say a job in pharma), you'd want to do an intern year to pass Step 3 and your license.
I had the same problem when applying for graduate school. I ended up applying for both PhD programs and MD/PhD programs. In my AMCAS application, I found it very difficult trying to justify my decision to pursue an MD/PhD as opposed to a straight PhD. I only applied to three MD/PhD programs and was interviewed at University of Rochester.

I feel like the MD interviewers there saw through me and made the decision for me that I was going to be a PhD student. I had a very good MCAT score & GPA but my background was pure research (in chemistry) and while the PhD interviewers sang my praises and immediately offered me admission into the PhD program, the MD people rejected me.

I don't want to completely discourage you but if you are so torn and the only reason you are thinking about going the MD/PhD route is financial security, you will probably be as transparent as I was. The admissions people will probably make your decision for you so I would suggest making up your mind one way or the other and sticking firmly to it.

I'm now in a biophysics PhD program at Johns Hopkins and, while I completely hate Baltimore, I could not be happier with my decision and the lab where I now work. I know I'm not going to have as thick a wallet as those who went the MD route but I can't see myself doing anything else and I know I made the right choice.

There are more options for somebody with a PhD than becomming a professor or working in an academic setting, and pharmaceutical companies do pay pretty well if you're good enough. And if next year I decide that I want to be a doctor instead, I still have my MCAT scores and I can leave here with a Masters and have a beautiful story how a PhD was not enough and I needed more. The door doesn't immediately close on you.

Anyway, good luck with your decision either way.
as i have said before in this forum, don't get a MD unless you want to practice medicine. it's true that an MD/PhD can enjoy a little more stability as a practicing physician, but it's a long road to travel if you are only interested in research.

my 2,