MD/PhD in Epidemiology

TheMightyAngus

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    I'm seriously considering doing an MD/PhD in Epidemiology. I've worked in various research settings over the last few years, so I'm pretty sure I know what I'm getting myself into. But, is anyone else doing this or thinking about doing this? I know its more common for someone to complete the PhD either as a fellow or senior resident, but I'd rather get it done pre-residency. Is anyone on a similar track?
     

    fantasty

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      I'm doing it as a student in an MSTP.

      How far along are you? That's an important consideration. If you are currently a med student (pre-clinical) you might be able to apply to your school's combined degree program (if one exists). If you're M3/M4, it might be harder to do them concomitantly. And, I'd be a little wary of trying to do a full phd between med school and residency, since I would think having a break at that time would make returning a lot harder.

      If you're currently pre-med or applying to schools, check out the MD/PhD forum - there are multiple threads on this topic (some negative, but several talking about schools that offer epidemiology as a discipline).

      I know some residents and fellows who got an MS or MPH. The length of time to complete a PhD may limit you (meaning, you could get grad school started and knock out your master's but may need another year or two to get your phd). If you are thinking of academic medicine, you may be able to land a position with just the MD and master's and then you could chip away at the PhD over time.
       

      TheMightyAngus

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        dante201 said:
        I'm doing it as a student in an MSTP.

        How far along are you? That's an important consideration. If you are currently a med student (pre-clinical) you might be able to apply to your school's combined degree program (if one exists). If you're M3/M4, it might be harder to do them concomitantly. And, I'd be a little wary of trying to do a full phd between med school and residency, since I would think having a break at that time would make returning a lot harder.

        If you're currently pre-med or applying to schools, check out the MD/PhD forum - there are multiple threads on this topic (some negative, but several talking about schools that offer epidemiology as a discipline).

        I know some residents and fellows who got an MS or MPH. The length of time to complete a PhD may limit you (meaning, you could get grad school started and knock out your master's but may need another year or two to get your phd). If you are thinking of academic medicine, you may be able to land a position with just the MD and master's and then you could chip away at the PhD over time.

        I'm starting med school in the fall and thinking about joining a combined program at whichever school I ultimately attend (I'm only considering schools that offer a PhD in Epi or equivalent field).

        How long do you anticipate the MD/PhD is going to take you? Some schools claim that the combined program may only take 6 years to complete. Is this realistic? Doesn't it take a couple years to gather data?

        Also, would it be better to initially enroll in the MS or MPH program, since most PhD programs require a graduate degree before applying? Does it even matter?
         
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        fantasty

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          For me, my overall duration will be 7 or 8 years. My school does an abbreviated 4th year of med school, plus we do 2 months of clerkships prior to grad school. Therefore, I'll have either 4 or 5 years in grad school (it all depends on whether I can finish my dissertation in the next month, which I'm not too optimistic about at this point). One of the main "complaints" about doing epidemiology (or other public health fields) is that there is a lot of coursework and not much overlap with the medical curriculum, which means we may do more time prior to our comps than most MD/PhD students. (As a rough guideline, at my school, the lab students tend to do about 1 year coursework then 3 years in the lab, whereas I was 3 years of coursework and 1 year post-comps research).

          As for the time to get data, it depends. One option is to find a good source of pre-existing data that you could analyze. This is what I'm doing for my main dissertation project. We do have a primary data collection requirement, which I'm fulfilling with another small pilot study. But, even with an original study, you can form your dissertation committee early in your graduate school career and possibly start collecting data prior to passing your comps.

          As for enrolling in the master's - that may depend on the school. Again, my school typically would expect you do have a master's before applying. If you just have a BS, they would accept you as a master's student until you completed that degree, and you take a phd qualifying exam. However, as an MSTP student with 2 years of med school curriculum, they didn't mind me not officially having a master's. (In fact, I could have just gotten one along the way but my PI said wouldn't get me anything).

          If you've already narrowed down your schools, it might not hurt to let them know your interests. They might offer some good suggestions for how to streamline things.
           

          TheMightyAngus

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            Wow, this is very helpful.

            Sounds like you are in a MSTP program doing the 2-4-2yr path . Do you have full funding?

            A couple programs I interviewed at (Tulane, Case, Dartmouth) have substantial opportunities to take public health courses during your basic science years and again in your 4th year. At Tulane, it's even possible to finish most of your requirements for the MPH during your first two years of med school, thus shortening the program quite a bit. The catch is that funding is minimal since they dont have an MSTP program. Dartmouth is similar but they seem to have some funding available. Not sure about Case and Penn.

            So I guess my dillema is whether to spend $$$ on a shorter program, or to go to a school where funding is possible but the program is longer.

            Did you run into this problem when applying to schools?
             

            fantasty

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              Yes, my program is fully funded. U Iowa was the only MD/PhD program I applied to - I was mostly considering MD/MPH programs at the time, and got into Tulane - they mentioned that 4 years total was a possibility for the combined degree.

              But, you summed it up well - I was facing the decision of a longer educational experience with full funding, or a shorter program with tons of debt. The final factor for me was that I felt the extra time in graduate school could provide me with more research opportunities and a better chance to learn methodology in a relatively protected environment.
               
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