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Hey all,

I am an M1 student at a big research school and I am starting to question my decision to do an MD instead of an MD/PhD.

I structured my 4 years of undergrad life around bench research and, to a great degree, it kept me sane. The lab was a relaxing and happy place for me. Even my mentors and other researchers commented how my enjoyment of research was uncommon. At the end of my tenure, my PI half pleaded with me to do a PhD instead of an MD.

Despite all of this research, I only got a few posters, presentations, abstracts, and acknowledgements to my name. I never authored any pubs. As a result, I didn't think I would be competitive for MD/PhD despite my high stats. In addition, my PI and her colleagues (all brilliant PhDs or MD/PhDs) told me that the PhD was mostly a skills-based degree and that MDs had the same access to bench research grants as MD/PhDs.

Since I started med school, I've spoken to a number of MDs and PIs about research, and the answer always comes back the same.
- First they're incredulous that I like bench research and ask me why I chose the MD path
- Next they tell me that there's a back door into our MD/PhD program (no tuition reimbursement)
- Then they tell me that med students don't have time for lab work
- Finally, they put nails in the coffin by telling me that MDs don't do usually bench research and can't get grants for it

I don't know what to do. Obviously Med School is hard, but I find it very manageable and I definitely have time for research.

- If I switch into the MD/PhD, I have to pay two years tuition/room/board and I'm limited to the choice of PIs at my school. I'm also stuck far away from my serious SO for another 3 years, time in which we probably would have taken the next couple steps.
- I can't find any MD/PhD programs that accept transfers from other schools
- If I finish the MD and do post-docs after my residency, I'm going to live like a pauper and still have trouble getting grants. Not to mention the incredible strain this puts on a relationship due to moving around. One person I spoke to specifically advised against this since he regrets pursuing this route instead of the MD/PhD. Apparently, MD+PostDoc is becoming much rarer.
- I've been told that dropping out of med school is a huge black mark on getting an MD later.

Halp. I feel trapped. I did my best to learn about MD vs MD/PhD before I applied, but I clearly failed. What options are there?
 

md-2020

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90% of the PIs I've met are MDs, not sure where you're getting the "MDs can't do research" vibe.

If working in a lab kept you sane in UG you need to find another outlet, such as going on on the weekends.
 
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Pacna

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Getting an MD does almost nothing to diminish your research opportunities. Plenty of MDs work 90% research.

Edit: Wtf @md-2020 ... beat me to the 90% stat...
 
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22031 Alum

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I personally know several MDs without PhDs whose research involves mouse models and gels and all kinds of bench-y things I've worked strenuously to avoid. I think you're just having some early M1 remorse and need more time to see the breadth of opportunities that are available to MDs. Do not commit yourself to more debt and time!!
 
OP
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90% of the PIs I've met are MDs, not sure where you're getting the "MDs can't do research" vibe.

If working in a lab kept you sane in UG you need to find another outlet, such as going on on the weekends.
Getting an MD does almost nothing to diminish your research opportunities. Plenty of MDs work 90% research.

Edit: Wtf @md-2020 ... beat me to the 90% stat...
I personally know several MDs without PhDs whose research involves mouse models and gels and all kinds of bench-y things I've worked strenuously to avoid. I think you're just having some early M1 remorse and need more time to see the breadth of opportunities that are available to MDs. Do not commit yourself to more debt and time!!
Its definitely possible that the guy I most recently spoke to (MD with lab) is just a little frustrated because he had two grants get turned down recently. I really needed to hear this. Thanks guys
 
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TBV

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Do research with an MD

/thread.
 

GrapesofRath

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more important to decide why you're pursuing the MD degree if you envision a research-based career. better off switching into a PhD program, paid via grants, and forgetting the MD.
This

The better question is what the MD does for your life not a potential PhD. If what you said is true that "people are incredulous that you even went the MD route" and your response to them isn't to immediately retort back with a clear reason for an MD and these people are making you question your desires and needs, that's somewhat revealing.

Although I wouldn't necessarily take it so far as to drop medical school all together as openly as this post might suggest, you do need to evaluate the purpose of an MD for your life.
 
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ACSurgeon

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more important to decide why you're pursuing the MD degree if you envision a research-based career. better off switching into a PhD program, paid via grants, and forgetting the MD.
This

The better question is what the MD does for your life not a potential PhD. If what you said is true that "people are incredulous that you even went the MD route" and your response to them isn't to immediately retort back with a clear reason for an MD and these people are making you question your desires and needs, that's somewhat revealing.

Although I wouldn't necessarily take it so far as to drop medical school all together as openly as this post might suggest, you do need to evaluate the purpose of an MD for your life.
MD or MD/PhD will have much more job security and flexibility, and better pay. That's a good enough reason for anyone with enough interest in clinical medicine to stick it out to the end.
 

ACSurgeon

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Hey all,

I am an M1 student at a big research school and I am starting to question my decision to do an MD instead of an MD/PhD.

I structured my 4 years of undergrad life around bench research and, to a great degree, it kept me sane. The lab was a relaxing and happy place for me. Even my mentors and other researchers commented how my enjoyment of research was uncommon. At the end of my tenure, my PI half pleaded with me to do a PhD instead of an MD.

Despite all of this research, I only got a few posters, presentations, abstracts, and acknowledgements to my name. I never authored any pubs. As a result, I didn't think I would be competitive for MD/PhD despite my high stats. In addition, my PI and her colleagues (all brilliant PhDs or MD/PhDs) told me that the PhD was mostly a skills-based degree and that MDs had the same access to bench research grants as MD/PhDs.

Since I started med school, I've spoken to a number of MDs and PIs about research, and the answer always comes back the same.
- First they're incredulous that I like bench research and ask me why I chose the MD path
- Next they tell me that there's a back door into our MD/PhD program (no tuition reimbursement)
- Then they tell me that med students don't have time for lab work
- Finally, they put nails in the coffin by telling me that MDs don't do usually bench research and can't get grants for it

I don't know what to do. Obviously Med School is hard, but I find it very manageable and I definitely have time for research.

- If I switch into the MD/PhD, I have to pay two years tuition/room/board and I'm limited to the choice of PIs at my school. I'm also stuck far away from my serious SO for another 3 years, time in which we probably would have taken the next couple steps.
- I can't find any MD/PhD programs that accept transfers from other schools
- If I finish the MD and do post-docs after my residency, I'm going to live like a pauper and still have trouble getting grants. Not to mention the incredible strain this puts on a relationship due to moving around. One person I spoke to specifically advised against this since he regrets pursuing this route instead of the MD/PhD. Apparently, MD+PostDoc is becoming much rarer.
- I've been told that dropping out of med school is a huge black mark on getting an MD later.

Halp. I feel trapped. I did my best to learn about MD vs MD/PhD before I applied, but I clearly failed. What options are there?
Some of the most famous of general surgery researchers are MDs without PhD. Some do basic science while maintaining a surgical practice. Most have significant grants to fund their research...

Bottom line- the advantage of MD/PhD at this point outweighs the disadvantages (not getting tuition reimbursement, being far from your SO, etc). Maybe if you decided MD/PhD before med school it would have been worthwhile. At this point, it makes most sense to finish your schooling/training and find opportunities for research throughout. Examples include taking 1-3 years for dedicated research during this process. As long as you get some grants and publish papers, you can have a very bright academic career as a researcher without a PhD.
 

GrapesofRath

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MD or MD/PhD will have much more job security and flexibility, and better pay. That's a good enough reason for anyone with enough interest in clinical medicine to stick it out to the end.
I mean if we apply this logic then what's ever the point of getting a basic science PhD for someone? Sure there are some in PhD programs who would prefer MD's but didn't have the grades for it but this certainly is not the case for even close to all PhD's in basic science.

OP has to consider their skillset and what really moves them and what they are really passionate about. Like I said above I'd be a bit hesitant to just drop an MD program all together but they really do have to consider what purpose an MD will serve for them in their life and goal(not that there is or isn't a purpose only the OP can answer that but they do need to)
 

doc05

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Some of the most famous of general surgery researchers are MDs without PhD. Some do basic science while maintaining a surgical practice. Most have significant grants to fund their research...

Bottom line- the advantage of MD/PhD at this point outweighs the disadvantages (not getting tuition reimbursement, being far from your SO, etc). Maybe if you decided MD/PhD before med school it would have been worthwhile. At this point, it makes most sense to finish your schooling/training and find opportunities for research throughout. Examples include taking 1-3 years for dedicated research during this process. As long as you get some grants and publish papers, you can have a very bright academic career as a researcher without a PhD.
That reasoning is pure nonsense. Keep in mind the following...

1. those "famous" general surgery researchers are few and far between. Most surgeons in the academic world are under ever-increasing pressure to maintain a busy clinical practice, because that's what brings in the money. Very very few are able to generate significant NIH funding to run a successful lab. And maintaining a busy clinical practice will be an impediment to becoming a productive researcher. So unless you're the type who doesn't sleep, you just won't have time for both.

2. The advantage of MD/PhD may not outweigh the disadvantages, depending upon the OPs goals. Spending extra years in training, at extra cost, and away from the SO, isn't a good thing. From a practical standpoint, this may mean choosing a non-research career because of high levels of med school indebtedness, and also risks a relationship.

3. The idea that "as long as you get some grants and publish papers...." is nice, but I always recommend we think practically. The OP's post suggests a very strong research interest...if that's the ultimate career goal, the MD isn't very useful in practical terms. It's just a title.

Good luck.
 

futuremdforme

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I mean if we apply this logic then what's ever the point of getting a basic science PhD for someone? Sure there are some in PhD programs who would prefer MD's but didn't have the grades for it but this certainly is not the case for even close to all PhD's in basic science.

OP has to consider their skillset and what really moves them and what they are really passionate about. Like I said above I'd be a bit hesitant to just drop an MD program all together but they really do have to consider what purpose an MD will serve for them in their life and goal(not that there is or isn't a purpose only the OP can answer that but they do need to)
In my program, there are several people who did PhDs and returned to do an MD because they are eligible for more grants as MD PIs than as PhDs only.
 

haanman

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I did my best to learn about MD vs MD/PhD before I applied, but I clearly failed.
Not sure why you're being so hard on yourself, OP. You have plenty of opportunities to get involved in bench research and even to set yourself up for a research-oriented career if you like. It's true that the MD may be more trouble than it's worth if you're doing it "just for the knowledge," but assuming you do want to practice medicine, it sounds like you're in a good spot.

- Finally, they put nails in the coffin by telling me that MDs don't do usually bench research and can't get grants for it
Yes, MDs don't usually do bench research, but that's because most aren't interested. Many MDs get grants and run successful labs. You can get solid research training later on, especially during (clinical) fellowship.

If I were in your position, I would not go for the MD/PhD without tuition reimbursement. But you can definitely start looking for research opportunities and talking to PIs whose work interests you. If they tell you "med students don't have time for lab work," move on. Once you have a handle on your classes, start spending a few hours a week in the lab if you enjoy it and can spare the time. Do research full-time the summer after M1 year. If you haven't scratched the itch, you could consider applying for year-out programs like HHMI after M2 or M3 year. You'll be fine.
 

ACSurgeon

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I mean if we apply this logic then what's ever the point of getting a basic science PhD for someone? Sure there are some in PhD programs who would prefer MD's but didn't have the grades for it but this certainly is not the case for even close to all PhD's in basic science.

OP has to consider their skillset and what really moves them and what they are really passionate about. Like I said above I'd be a bit hesitant to just drop an MD program all together but they really do have to consider what purpose an MD will serve for them in their life and goal(not that there is or isn't a purpose only the OP can answer that but they do need to)
That's why my comment mentioned "as long as OP has enough interest in clinical medicine"
 

ACSurgeon

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That reasoning is pure nonsense. Keep in mind the following...

1. those "famous" general surgery researchers are few and far between. Most surgeons in the academic world are under ever-increasing pressure to maintain a busy clinical practice, because that's what brings in the money. Very very few are able to generate significant NIH funding to run a successful lab. And maintaining a busy clinical practice will be an impediment to becoming a productive researcher. So unless you're the type who doesn't sleep, you just won't have time for both.

2. The advantage of MD/PhD may not outweigh the disadvantages, depending upon the OPs goals. Spending extra years in training, at extra cost, and away from the SO, isn't a good thing. From a practical standpoint, this may mean choosing a non-research career because of high levels of med school indebtedness, and also risks a relationship.

3. The idea that "as long as you get some grants and publish papers...." is nice, but I always recommend we think practically. The OP's post suggests a very strong research interest...if that's the ultimate career goal, the MD isn't very useful in practical terms. It's just a title.

Good luck.
There's no indication the OP is interested in surgery. My comment was to say it's doable. I appreciate the difficulty of obtaining NIH grants in general, and as a busy surgeon in particular. But you know what, if the OP is as passionate about research as he says he is, then he'll be among the few that will have a basic science lab in addition to a clinical practice.
 

karayaa

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Not sure why you're being so hard on yourself, OP. You have plenty of opportunities to get involved in bench research and even to set yourself up for a research-oriented career if you like. It's true that the MD may be more trouble than it's worth if you're doing it "just for the knowledge," but assuming you do want to practice medicine, it sounds like you're in a good spot.



Yes, MDs don't usually do bench research, but that's because most aren't interested. Many MDs get grants and run successful labs. You can get solid research training later on, especially during (clinical) fellowship.

If I were in your position, I would not go for the MD/PhD without tuition reimbursement. But you can definitely start looking for research opportunities and talking to PIs whose work interests you. If they tell you "med students don't have time for lab work," move on. Once you have a handle on your classes, start spending a few hours a week in the lab if you enjoy it and can spare the time. Do research full-time the summer after M1 year. If you haven't scratched the itch, you could consider applying for year-out programs like HHMI after M2 or M3 year. You'll be fine.
+1 to this advice. Focusing on research during med school, doing a summer+gap year of research, and then focusing on research during residency+fellowship might satisfy OP.
You could also consider non-bench fields of research - eg using computers to comb datasets - where your MD and clinical skills are more of an advantage.
 
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I feel that I am in the same position as OP but I have not yet been accepted to medical school yet, so I am hoping I have time to make the most suitable decision. I have applied for DO/PhD track and MD/phD track , but I am considering what if I dont get accepted to the dual program and have only the individual MD or DO option available(stats not that competitive so its a very real concern). I also share the passion for research, but was worried that it would be difficult to obtain research positions without a masters or phD. The PIs I have worked with are non-clinical and only do research as phDs, so I have never been exposed to the possibility of doing research and acting as PI with only an MD.

The posts here have given me hope, but I would like to ask how does one attain a research position during medical school if not in the dual-program degree. Well, I know how (talk to researchers and PIs to gain experience within their lab), but can one eventually gain a position as a researcher (PI with own lab) without the MD/phD dual degree? If taking a gap year (as suggested by some) or working during the summers, would the experience usually be gained at the individuals own university, or are other labs at different universities also open to the idea?

Given that I am applying to schools this cycle, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

TLTR: As a medical student how does one get their foot in the door to do research (bench work) and set themselves up for a position as a PI if they are not in the MD/phD dual program?
 

OnePunchBiopsy

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5 of UTSW's 6 Nobel Laureates were exclusively MDs.
 
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FoundInStudy

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OP,
You mentioned that you did 4 years of bench research during undergrad (which is impressive) but you didn't publish. Do you really want to be switching to a degree which is predicated on you publishing? Where there is constant pressure to publish? And those UTSW Nobel laureates and other famous researchers generally all publish prolifically. I'm not saying that you can't, in the future, publish prolifically. But based on your current yield in research, I would not bank a career on publishing yet. You seem to have great ability - enough that a big research school (aka top school) believes in your ability as an MD. Therefore, I would recommend continuing to pursue the MD.

You mentioned that doing bench research keeps you sane. That is awesome. That, to me, is what a hobby is. Something to do on the side that keeps you sane. You said you did 4 years of research so I'm assuming you did 4 years of undergrad with a full course load the 4 years. Was the research part time during the school year with a full course load - so a few hours a week? Was it full time over the summers? Both? Some things you may enjoy doing for 10-20 hours a week (and find rewarding) can be draining when done full time. Finding the appropriate balance of hours to invest in research that allows you to enjoy it is important.

I suggest continuing to do bench research on the side, when you can, for yourself. It'll hopefully be fulfilling and continue to help keep you sane. If the research takes off and you decide to invest more time into it by means of research summer/year/HHMI fellowship or two, then by all means, continue to pursue research in whatever capacity you want to. But I would suggest taking steps towards research dominating your life and not dive right into a PhD or MD/PhD at considerable cost. When you inevitably succeed in research because you are pursuing something for yourself and your interests (the right reasons, IMO), the MD isn't going to be holding you back. It won't be what prevents you from getting grants or Nobel prizes. You'll need to find the time, excellent mentors to learn from (1 of UTSW's laureates Thomas Sudhöf was a post-doc to 2 other UTSW MD only laureates - superstar mentors is a pretty common theme amongst Nobel laureates/successful researchers), and the drive to dedicate the time necessary to succeed in research.

All that being said, everything I'm saying may be wrong but hopefully something I said will resonate with you. I am a pre-med but I have spent years trying to figure out where my passion for research begins and ends and how that fits into my life/career. And your problem seems to be more in having made a tough life choice and feeling regret.
 
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ACSurgeon

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I feel that I am in the same position as OP but I have not yet been accepted to medical school yet, so I am hoping I have time to make the most suitable decision. I have applied for DO/PhD track and MD/phD track , but I am considering what if I dont get accepted to the dual program and have only the individual MD or DO option available(stats not that competitive so its a very real concern). I also share the passion for research, but was worried that it would be difficult to obtain research positions without a masters or phD. The PIs I have worked with are non-clinical and only do research as phDs, so I have never been exposed to the possibility of doing research and acting as PI with only an MD.

The posts here have given me hope, but I would like to ask how does one attain a research position during medical school if not in the dual-program degree. Well, I know how (talk to researchers and PIs to gain experience within their lab), but can one eventually gain a position as a researcher (PI with own lab) without the MD/phD dual degree? If taking a gap year (as suggested by some) or working during the summers, would the experience usually be gained at the individuals own university, or are other labs at different universities also open to the idea?

Given that I am applying to schools this cycle, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

TLTR: As a medical student how does one get their foot in the door to do research (bench work) and set themselves up for a position as a PI if they are not in the MD/phD dual program?
As a student, it depends on your school has to offer. My med school was research heavy, so anyone who wanted to do research had that chance. If you want something more meaningful, there are many prestigious national summer and one-year research fellowships for medical students.

As an attending- it depends on your specialty and the hospital/medical school that you join. If you join a university hospital with a ton of strong research, it should be doable. Then of course you start somewhere and try to build a meaningful research lab.
 
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IlDestriero

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The problem you will run into is limited funding and increased competition for that funding. As a PhD student, you devote significant time to learning how to prepare publications for submission, requesting grant money, etc. You develop a new skill set and have a full time mentor(s) to assist you develop these skills.
If you want to be successful in academic medicine as a researcher you will need to devote at least 50% of your time to your research and if you want to be tenure track faculty you will need 75%+. It's much more easy to succeed in one of the limited research tracks which will generally offer 20-50% protected time, but these are not usually the people that are running their own labs. You have to determine what you really want to do with this research part of your career and how big a part of your practice it will represent.
The other problem you may run into is getting the required training and mentors to be hired into your desired track. You will need to get research time somewhere along the line and prove you can publish your own research. Many start by working a summer research job, then do some clinical research during the school year. Some also add a research year and one or two more in residency.
 
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First, you need to figure out whether or not you want a PhD. While MDs can certainly secure grants and become successful physician scientists, the benefit of the PhD is 3-5 years of protected research time with direct training in how to design projects, troubleshoot, publish, and present data. You get some of this as an undergrad, but the emphasis is usually on learning techniques and being useful at generating data - even the most successful undergraduate researchers rarely have the same responsibility or ownership of their projects that comes with PhD training. Since you haven't published, I would guess that you don't have this skill set yet.

So...you can either develop this skill set during a PhD or during a research-based fellowship. May of these fellowships will give you some degree of protected time, but realize that you will still be juggling research with clinical responsibilities. Of the half dozen fellows I've worked with, only one successfully obtained funding and ended up working in research full-time. Regardless, if you want to take the fellowship route, you will need to have some sort of research record from medical school, so whether you are transferring to the MD/PhD program or not, you should get involved in research now. You may have plenty of time as a MS1/MS2, but MS3 is harder and MS4 doesn't matter nearly as much from a residency application perspective (although it would matter for fellowship apps if you can get over MS4 senioritis and be productive).

As for transferring into the MD/PhD program, has your school told you that they won't fund you until after MS2 even if you get in? Would they fund MS3/MS4? That makes a world of difference in terms of your debt burden. Some schools will fund transfers from the MD program as soon as they are accepted, and in that case the single year of MD debt (which you could defer during MD/PhD training) may not be a dealbreaker. Regardless, MD/PhD admission is still competitive and you may want to apply and see if you even get in before driving yourself crazy with what ifs. As others have mentioned, single year programs such as HHMI are also possibilities for you.

Regardless, don't drop out of your MD program - that would be a HUGE red flag and you may never get another chance at medical training. You can consider transferring, but I've only seen it happen once and that was a current MD/PhD transferring into another MD/PhD program.
 
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Get a phd if you like a challenge because it will be a huge challenge to get enough funding to keep your lab open. That is if you can even make it to a tenure track position
 

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FWIW, purely anecdotal, but I have met several MD faculty that currently do research that (n = 3) after learning that I had a PhD said they wish they had gone that route. Not to rehash what others , especially what @urehere said, but remember a PhD is like medical school, it gives you a set of skills and abilities to do research. I haven't opened a glycobiology journal in 6 years, but I have written 3 grants, 3 publications, and given even more talks/posters since my PhD ended. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you go through the motions and learn the process. Yes, MDs are very successful researchers, but if you truly want a research-based career a PhD will go a long way to teaching you a set of skills that may not necessarily be easy to learn on your own.
 
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For what it's worth, I knew an MD/PhD that transferred from one school after getting her PhD and completed the last two years of MD at the other school. It helped that her husband was doing his post-doc work at the second school, but it worked.

While I enjoy research and used to want to do MD/PhD, I now cringe at the thought of taking a 3 year break for that.

Hey all,

I am an M1 student at a big research school and I am starting to question my decision to do an MD instead of an MD/PhD.

I structured my 4 years of undergrad life around bench research and, to a great degree, it kept me sane. The lab was a relaxing and happy place for me. Even my mentors and other researchers commented how my enjoyment of research was uncommon. At the end of my tenure, my PI half pleaded with me to do a PhD instead of an MD.

Despite all of this research, I only got a few posters, presentations, abstracts, and acknowledgements to my name. I never authored any pubs. As a result, I didn't think I would be competitive for MD/PhD despite my high stats. In addition, my PI and her colleagues (all brilliant PhDs or MD/PhDs) told me that the PhD was mostly a skills-based degree and that MDs had the same access to bench research grants as MD/PhDs.

Since I started med school, I've spoken to a number of MDs and PIs about research, and the answer always comes back the same.
- First they're incredulous that I like bench research and ask me why I chose the MD path
- Next they tell me that there's a back door into our MD/PhD program (no tuition reimbursement)
- Then they tell me that med students don't have time for lab work
- Finally, they put nails in the coffin by telling me that MDs don't do usually bench research and can't get grants for it

I don't know what to do. Obviously Med School is hard, but I find it very manageable and I definitely have time for research.

- If I switch into the MD/PhD, I have to pay two years tuition/room/board and I'm limited to the choice of PIs at my school. I'm also stuck far away from my serious SO for another 3 years, time in which we probably would have taken the next couple steps.
- I can't find any MD/PhD programs that accept transfers from other schools
- If I finish the MD and do post-docs after my residency, I'm going to live like a pauper and still have trouble getting grants. Not to mention the incredible strain this puts on a relationship due to moving around. One person I spoke to specifically advised against this since he regrets pursuing this route instead of the MD/PhD. Apparently, MD+PostDoc is becoming much rarer.
- I've been told that dropping out of med school is a huge black mark on getting an MD later.

Halp. I feel trapped. I did my best to learn about MD vs MD/PhD before I applied, but I clearly failed. What options are there?
 

ACSurgeon

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For what it's worth, I knew an MD/PhD that transferred from one school after getting her PhD and completed the last two years of MD at the other school. It helped that her husband was doing his post-doc work at the second school, but it worked.

While I enjoy research and used to want to do MD/PhD, I now cringe at the thought of taking a 3 year break for that.
And that 3 year break can turn into a 4-6 year break. I've seen it happen.
 
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Sep 8, 2015
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Stupid question here from a guy applying to MD programs for 2016... What do you guys mean by SO?
 

OnePunchBiopsy

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