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Combining Math and Medicine?

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by DeadCactus, Mar 21, 2007.

  1. DeadCactus

    DeadCactus SDN Lifetime Donor
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    I was hoping for some suggestions on a way to combine Medicine and Mathematics into a career. I'm posting here because an MD/PhD of some sort seems like the most likely route. So the question is, what kind of PhD?

    The best I've come up with is a PhD in Biomedical Engineering with a focus on the Computational or Modeling side of things. Any other suggestions? Just trying to get some ideas for areas to look into and see if they seem like a career path i want to go down.

    Thank you for your time.
     
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  3. SpeakLittleB

    SpeakLittleB Member
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    if you like theory, math and medicine probably won't work too well. but there are tons of opportunities for computation and modeling. you could try human genetics, structural biology, systems biology..
     
  4. Circumflex

    Circumflex Junior Member
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    I agree with biomedical engineering, but you also might consider a PhD in physics or neuroscience. You could definitley use math and physics in radiology research - developing new algorithms with new technology for imaging. Maybe you could develop a way to use MRI to image cardiac arrhythmias.
     
  5. antinomian

    antinomian New Member
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    In addition to the avenues stated above, it's possible to just do a PhD in math. People from our program have done math phd's in the past (jointly with The Courant).
     
  6. newton740

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    If you know you want to work in imaging (MRI) then a PhD in math or electrical engineering will serve you best. But if you are not exactly sure, a degree in biomedical engineering sets you up well for almost anything medically related. Also, some schools offer ms or PhDs in medical physics which would be another good route to utilize math/physics/cs in the medical field. Most med phys degrees include rotaions with radiologists (ie the joint ga tech/emory program)to give the scientists clinical exposure. BME and med phys degrees may even be all you need (and no MD) if you want to do research/industry/academia. If you enjoy statistics, there are several programs in biostatistics. I know some of these people work for the cdc and in epidemiology. I am sure I am leaving out a lot of programs and options since there are so many. If I were you, I would look around and read up on these fields because it would suck to invest time/stress/money in an MD/PhD if you did not need the MD to be successful in these fields... But if you ever want to treat patients and have some sort of clinical role, an MD would be required.
     
  7. DeadCactus

    DeadCactus SDN Lifetime Donor
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    Thank you all for the suggestions and I welcome any more.

    The MD degree is something I want to do for sure. I find myself constantly drawn to learning everything I can about both Math and Medicine and desiring to be active in research and teaching in both fields.

    If I had to give up one as a career though, it would be Math. If for no other reason than; you can't practice Medicine as a hobby.

    About just doing a pure PhD in Math:
    What kind of research/work do people with an MD and PhD in Math tend to get into?

    Does a PhD/MD in Math tend to take longer than a PhD/MD in a Biology/Medicine related field due to a lack of overlap in Med School and Grad School coursework?

    And also, I realize it is premature (to say the least) for a premed to worry about what specialty they will go into. At the same time it would seem to me that some sort of overlap between Clinical and Basic Science interests should be established. At this point I believe Emergency Medicine is the route I will be heading. EM just seems to fit my interests and desires, as far as clinical medicine goes, better than any other field; and so EM is my preliminary plan.

    Anyway, the point of all this is; my concern is whether it is possible to mesh a desire to do research a mathematical or engineering field with a desire to work in EM.

    (This may sound a bit familiar, I posted a similar question before. I am asking again because I now have a clearer idea of what kind of research I want to get into: the mathematical side of things, most likely the modeling and computational parts, though statistics has perked my interest.)

    So is there a lot of room in EM for work in developing models, developing the computational methods and tools to create better diagnostic equipment, work in the statistical part epidemiology , etc?

    Thank you again for all the help.
     
  8. TheBoondocks

    TheBoondocks StreetFighter 4 Virtuoso
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    i want to be an ep cardiologist. I'm still in undergrad and plan on applying to MD-PhD programs. My major is math, biochem, ane electrical engineering. My dad is making me do biochem. I want to do imaging research and perform procedures. Would it be best to do the phd in physics or electrical engineering? I noticed that most of the the post docs in the electrical engineering labs at my school got their phds in physics. I'm still close enought that I could easily switch to physics. I would welcome advice from all.
     
  9. mjs

    mjs Millionaire, Superhero
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    Computational work has become an essential part of all fields of biomedical research.

    Ask around at your neighborhood medical school. Find some researchers who do quantitative and computational work in medical departments. They will know much more about how to get where they are and what it's all about.
     
  10. rishi

    rishi Junior Member
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    I've met a couple people doing their PhD portion of the MD/PhD in bioinformatics (mostly protein folding prediction stuff).
     
  11. Circumflex

    Circumflex Junior Member
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    It's tough to say which would be better (I did molecular biology). But, I did do patch-clamp electrophysiology as part of my PhD. Part of my work dealt with optical mapping of arrhythmias in cell culture and the guy I worked with in th eengineering department had a PhD in physics. I guess a PhD in physics would give you a more theoretical basis that you could apply to a number of fields, whereas electrical engineering might be more limited in scope - just my idea.

    If you want to do the MD/PhD, your PhD will likely take 1-2 years longer than most MD/PhD students because of the extra coursework you will need to do. The time advantage of the MD/PhD is due to the decreased amount of coursework because you have already taken the courses in the first 2 years of med. school - this allows you to be in the lab more. This is something to look into. I know a couple of extra years doesn't seem like much now, but you are looking at 8-10 years of MD/PhD + 2-3 years Internal Med. + 3 years Cardiology Fellowship + 2 years EP fellowship = a long ass time. It's good to follow your interests now, but they will likely change significantly as you go through your training.
     
  12. greg12345

    greg12345 New Member
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    Why not a broadly applicable field like BME? That would be my rec since you are so early in the game...allows you some flexibility with future research endeavors depending on how your interests change over time. I am biological PhD though, so I really have no clue about the nuances between the different math-type PhDs.
     
  13. newton740

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    I don't think you could wrong with BME. IMO it does not make sense to major in math/biochem/ee b/c BME basically combines all three of these fields with an application toward medicine. If you like math, most undergrad BME programs require (CalcI-calcIII-including linear algebra, diffeq, and a calc-based stat) a pretty good bit. If you like physics/ee, BME programs offer a lot of programming in MATLAB and C as well as E&M circuits classes and signal processing. As far as chemistry goes, BMEs have to take (I know this is the case at most schools) chemistry through Organic II and some even require biochem I and II. Unless I knew exactly which area I wanted in this field, I would study BME. Even if I did know which area, I would have a hard time not doing BME because your interests may (are likely) to change by the time you graduate and BME will allow you to make an easy transition.
     
  14. TheBoondocks

    TheBoondocks StreetFighter 4 Virtuoso
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    thanks newton. My school doesn't have bme. So, I'm going to just switch to electrical engineering for undergrad and then do bme for my phd. I greatly appreciate all the replys.
     
  15. MSTPbound

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  16. Circumflex

    Circumflex Junior Member
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    I think this kind of decision comes down to feasibility. There are probably only a handful of MSTPs that will let you do a PhD in physics or math or history or philosophy or whatever. Not that these fields can't be applied to medicine, but the coursework that you take in the first 2 years of medical school does not prepare you for PhDs in these fields. Therefore, it will take you much longer to do the PhD. So, it is more difficult to find programs that will fund them. I'm sure you can take a leave from med school after the second year, do a PhD for 4-6 years in one of these disciplines, then return, but what's the point.

    The idea of combining science and medicine is cool and neaded. However, to run a well-funded research lab and do significant clinical work (and keep up on the literature for both) is hard.
     
  17. rishi

    rishi Junior Member
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    Getting a PhD in a field distantly related to medicine is the whole point of getting an MD/PhD. Once your done, its up to you as the Physician-Scientist to draw new relations between the fields. Thus, the wider your initial scope, the better.
     
  18. Circumflex

    Circumflex Junior Member
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    I'm all for using new, alternative methods for analyzing problems. But if the point of doing the MD/PhD is to do a PhD in a field distantly related to medicine, then why are there so few MD/PhD students getting PhDs in math, physics, philosphy, economics, and history? The point of doing the MD/PhD is to foster translational research for discoveries that will improve disease diagnosis and treatment (and cures).

    I believe that you can apply knowledge from physics, math, etc. to biomedical research, but it is much more difficult to do so. Part of my point in the previous post was that it will take longer because there is no overlap in the coursework between these fields and med school. One advantage of getting a PhD in a biomedical basic science field is that you are learning basic principles about the human body, which will be applicable to your research and medical specialty. I did my PhD in a Biochemistry/Molecular Biology Department, but my project involved electrophysiology, developmental biology, stem cells, and molecular. So, you can still get a broad education and not spend a decade getting your degrees.
     
  19. hawkeey

    hawkeey Member
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    Medicine is applied science where as pure Mathemetics is a highly theoretical field.

    Well, I don't think there is a single overriding reason for doing a MD/PhD or for such programs to exist, there is definitely some value in attacting people who are interested in interfacing between fields.

    Translational medicine is certain one kind of interface, which is characterized as an interface between medicine and basic science - mainly biology.

    You are probably not going find Sylow groups useful in medicine (but maybe), I definitely know of some applications of metrics and manifolds in medicine. The best case I can think of off the top of my head is Steve Alchuler and Lani Wu's laboratory at UT Southwestern (a biomedical campus with no math department at all):

    http://www.hhmi.swmed.edu/Labs/ms/people.html

    Steve and Lani are techinically in the Pharmacology department by the way.

    There are pure mathematicians who have crossed over to biology to answer some very interesting questions. Professor Alchuler has defined a way of generating high dimensional metrics between pharmasueticals which he can use to predict new applications of drugs. In his research you can see things such as hyperplanes defined by his metrics that clearly separate different classes of drugs and predict novel functionality. Professor Wu is working on cell polarity and using differential equations to evaluate some of the consequences of molecular signalling pathways.

    To be frank, I don't think there is a lot of mathematics in medicine at the moment just because there are not a lot of mathematicians working at this interface. If you are interested, I encourage you to pursue this path as the medicine as a field is in dire need for a rigorous mathematical approach.

    While you might not be able to do a pure mathematics PhD in some programs, you will that you can find something very close by joining a Biophysics program (physics is applied math in many ways, and biophysics is just its interface to biology) or a Computational Biology program (the more theoretical the closer to math it is).
     

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