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Interested in psychiatry and informatics in mental health – where to apply (heavily research-based MD, MD/PhD, take a gap year)?

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SpanishMusical

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Hi all,

I've posted some stuff like this in the past, but now I have more concrete details that I was hoping would help people give me some better opinions. I will likely be applying to programs this upcoming cycle, and was hoping to get some insight.

My problem: I feel like I wouldn't be happy doing med school only; while the human body and medicine is interesting to me, and I very much like patient interactions (as I've come to understand through various ECs), I don't think I could could be satisfied being just a clinician. I've found myself drawn to psychiatry (even more so in a primary care setting and for underserved populations where access to mental health care may be more difficult); furthermore, as I've continued doing research, I find myself more and more drawn to computational approached to nosological questions. In my lab, I've been basically managing a database with decades of participant and patient data, including building the database up and writing code to help people sort through the database (ie, how many people have these 3 measures within 3 months of this other measure) as well as do some very basic machine learning algorithms on it (hierarchical clustering). I immensely enjoy this stuff; I love feeling useful by making this code, and finding better ways to classify psychiatric pathology (potentially with computational methods) and maybe using this to tailor treatments has always been something I've been passionate about.

On the flip side, there is a human element that I also really enjoy. I volunteered at a free clinic for a few years, which has shown me both how widespread psychiatric issues are as well as well as how some of the issues with psychiatric treatment (needing to try multiple meds, potential side effects) make these diseases particularly difficult to treat for underserved populations (where access to healthcare is already difficult enough, let alone needing to come back to the clinic multiple times for med checks and adjustments). I guess my ideal career would be seeing patients, but also continuing to use what I see in the clinic to inform any future research I do and use this research to improve patient outcomes

As far as my concerns go, I have a couple of things I'm worried about. The universities doing the kind of research I am interested in (computational approaches to psychiatry) all appear to be in Europe, Canada, or US Ivy Leagues (Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Brown, UPenn; although UT Houston is also on the list), and I worry about even being able to get into these programs (MD or MD/PhD). Furthermore, my formal training in a lot of these technique is quite frankly lacking; most of what I have learned has been self-taught, although I will be taking classes in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and linear algebra to hopefully get a better handle on these techniques. Still, I will be taking these classes my senior year, after I submit applications, and so may not be able to discuss them intelligently at interviews. My stats are as follows:


Demographics:
Residency: Indiana resident going to Indiana University
Majors: Neuroscience BS, Spanish BA (4.00 GPA)
Study abroad: One summer in the Dominican Republic, one summer in Spain
MCAT practice scores have been around 517; hoping to get this up to 520s in May
Race: White and Hispanic (of Spanish descent); I am always very clear about this on all applications, and do not consider myself URM or Latino
Gender: Male
No institutional actions or legal problems

ECs:
- Certified English-Spanish medical interpreter (therefore fluent in both)
- Free clinic volunteering (2 years): 123 hours at front desk, 53.5 hours doing patient intake (after getting EMT certified); interpreting throughout
- Weekend Spanish language school (2 years): 43 hours total
- Hospice (1 semester): Hopefully 20 hours by the end of the semester
- Domestic violence shelter (1 semester): Hopefully around 40/50 hours by the end of the semester
*I had to change activities, as the free clinic underwent some restructuring and stopped taking volunteers, and I didn't feel comfortable taking on the 20-hour per week job offer they extended to me
- Shadowing: 8 hours ophthalmologist, 8 hours ENT, 8 hours ER, ~8 hours during my interpreting at the free clinic, 12 hours on an ambulance (not sure if relevant), 15 hours in orthopedics in Spain (not sure if relevant, as it's not in the US); hoping to get a little more before applying
- Play classical and Flamenco guitar for fun

Research:
- 3.5 years in my current lab (cognitive and clinical neuroscience); about 10 hrs a week
- 1 3rd-author publication under review, my name is on a couple posters, but all my presentations have been in my university only
- Experience working with animals (rats), EEG, helping with lit review and basic experimental design, and database management (as I discussed earlier)
- Paid EEG technician for one semester (until the grant ran out, basically)
- Considering an honors thesis, but unsure still

Given all this, what path does everyone recommend? Do I have a good shot at these top MD/PhD programs? How about MD programs (with a research focus)? Would an IRTA gap year make more sense? Any other advice? I'd be especially interested to hear opinions from @Neuronix , @splik , @Goro , and @LizzyM
 

SpanishMusical

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Impossible to advise without an MCAT score.

Fair enough; unfortunately, I will be getting my score back right before applying, so I will have to make my list off of trends instead of a hard score. What would you advise someone with stats like mine and a score of 517 (129/130/129/129)?

As far as the research goes, I understand that research with an MD only is possible – in this case, would the researcher pick up research experience in residency? A fellowship?
 

Goro

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Fair enough; unfortunately, I will be getting my score back right before applying, so I will have to make my list off of trends instead of a hard score. What would you advise someone with stats like mine and a score of 517 (129/130/129/129)?
I don't do hypotheticals. Come back with an actual score.
 

Seihai

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I will say one thing: your research hours (assuming 3.5 years at 10 hours/week gets you roughly 1500 hours) may be a bit low for MD-PhD, especially with the limited productivity you've got in terms of posters and pubs (the latter not being confirmed).
 

pBar

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I will say one thing: your research hours (assuming 3.5 years at 10 hours/week gets you roughly 1500 hours) may be a bit low for MD-PhD, especially with the limited productivity you've got in terms of posters and pubs (the latter not being confirmed).
The hours would be fine if there were more output (pubs, posters, presentations). Im pretty sure I had only 1500 or so, but had the output to justify. Quality not quantity.

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SpanishMusical

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The hours would be fine if there were more output (pubs, posters, presentations). Im pretty sure I had only 1500 or so, but had the output to justify. Quality not quantity.

Sent from my SM-G973U using SDN mobile

Thank you both for your responses — looks like I may not be competitive for MD/PhD as I had originally thought. Would these same points you’ve raised count against me for just MD at these top schools or raise any red flags? My research since the first publication has involved human subjects, which tends to take a while.

Do you know any lower-tier schools with a strong research focus (especially protected time, funded 5th year, etc) that may be more reachable for MD? (I’d like to have some other schools to get excited about outside the top-tiers.)
 
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valkirieas

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Not sure if considered lower tier, but Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine might be worth looking into for a research focused MD
 
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