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Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by Jimmy B, Jun 2, 2006.
This is actually a fairly common strategy for individuals who desperately desire both degrees but simply cannot gain acceptance to an MD/PhD program. I am curious though, what is so bad about your application to MD/PhD programs? With a 3.7 GPA, you may be able to gain acceptance to an MD/PhD program (perhaps not the most competitive ones, MSTPs) despite shortcomings in other areas of your application. Particularly to your benefit is the research thesis that you will complete as a requirement of your MS in nutrition. The general consensus (although a few individuals disagree) is that if there is any possibility of gaining acceptance to an MD/PhD program, you should do the combined program rather than complete both degrees sequentially. However, if this is not feasible (and I'm interested to hear why you do not think it is), completing both degrees separately will suffice, albeit require more time, on average.
I forgot to add that there are a number of contributors to this forum (e.g. QofQuimica) who have completed their PhD and then entered medical school for the MD. They will have very helpful comments on your specific situation (if they haven't already PMed you!).
Well if your MCAT is low then you might have trouble getting into the straight-MD program, even after finishing the PhD. Furthermore, by the time you complete the PhD, your MCAT scores will no longer be valid, and you will have to retake, many years after having taken the prereqs. Perhaps it would be worth your while to look into retaking the MCAT and then applying to MD/PhD programs. If you are really set on doing the degrees separately, both at Columbia, study hard for the MCAT in a few years. I don't really understand this decision though. If you have family obligations, why not try for the MD/PhD at another NYC school? If you really like a professor at Columbia, why not try to gain entrance to their MSTP? If you really like an area of research at Columbia, why not find another school with a similarly excellent program and do the MD/PhD there?
OP, I agree with solitude that you should attempt to get into an MSTP if you know that you want both degrees. It's a lot more efficient than doing them separately. FYI, I am totally telling you this from experience, because it took me nine years total to get my PhD (first I got my MS, then I took some time off and worked, then I got my PhD) and now I have four years more of med school on top of that. If I could go back and advise my college-aged self, I would have told her to apply to MD/PhD programs for sure. Alternatively, you can look into a five-year combined MD/MS. There are several formal programs (ex. HST at Harvard, CCLCM program at Case Western, and BSTP or CSTP at U Pitt), and many other schools offer optional formal five year research tracks (ex. look at Baylor's research track).
BTW, solitude, I take exception to you saying that people do the separate degrees b/c they can't get into MD/PhD programs. Some of us do them this way because we aspire to be professional students and we aren't sure yet what we want to be when we grow up.
I dont know if a MS or PhD in nutrition would necessarily help your application to med school. It doesn't appear as rigorous as say a PhD in a biological science or even something like epi. An MSTP student doing research in nutrition would definitely be in the minority. I'm not sure how med schools would perceive it.
Do you have a sincere interest in nutrition, or is your primary goal to make yourself more competitive for med school? If you really want to be a doc, doing an SMP would probably be the better way to go to improve your application. Then do the nutrition thing after you are in med school. If you're passionate about nutrition, maybe you should focus solely on that.
If you're going to do a PhD, earning the PhD should be the end goal. It shouldn't be a means to becoming an MD.
what is your mcat?
My apologies, but I didn't mean that the only people who do the degrees separately are those that can't get into MD/PhD programs. I said "This is actually a fairly common strategy for individuals who desperately desire both degrees but simply cannot gain acceptance to an MD/PhD program." i.e. some individuals know that they want both degrees, and choose the Phd, then MD strategy to thereby accumulate both degrees. But it can also be a fairly common strategy for those who are undecided. I readily admit that there are many individuals who simply do not know whether both degrees are right for them, and thereby start with one degree and then complete the other in succession. I did not intend to demean these individuals as in any way inferior.
1) Why do you want both degrees so badly?
2) PhD, then MD is a bad plan. Can easily take >10 years and you still have to pay for med school, but you don't have any $ because you've been in grad school for the past six years. Ouch.
3) PhD first is not going to make your MD app much more competitive than it is now. Maybe slightly, but not a lot. Instead of taking 5+ more years to do another degree, why don't you take 1 year to improve your MCAT? That will be much higher-yield. It's way easier to improve your MCAT than your UG GPA.
4) I don't have any personal prejudice against nutrition as a science, but the dir of our program expressly forbade one of our MSTPs from getting a PhD in nutrition because "MD-PhD's don't do nutrition." Based on this I doubt the nutrition degree is going to improve your application a great deal.
I'm just giving you a hard time, dude(tte). I wasn't really insulted.
OP, yes, people can do the two degrees separately. I'm one person who is doing that. But I don't think it's the best way to do them if you know up front that you definitely want to do both degrees. Not only does it take a lot more time, but it almost certainly is going to cost you for med school if you do them separately. In addition, I agree with tr that it isn't very clear why you NEED both degrees. Maybe you can elaborate on that a bit? Also, if you are sure that you want an MD, and your MCAT is low, you should look into retaking the test as soon as you can. They're going to be offering it about 20x per year starting in January, so no excuse for not being able to fit it into your schedule. All joking aside, waiting longer to retake isn't likely to do wonders for raising your score. If you look at the AAMC stats (go to www.aamc.org and click on "MCAT"), non-trads over age 30 tend to be the LOWEST scorers as a group, while teenage college students score the highest. The pattern is consistent and the generation gap differences are huge.
Haha OK, I missed the sarcasm. For future reference, I'm a dude.
I'm one of those poor saps who realized his med school aspirations midway through his PhD. I have finished both degrees now and I'm almost a PGY-2. Sounds awesome until you realize that 1. I'm 32 and still four years from a real job, 2. I spent six years living on Ramen and malt liquor in grad school, four years living on pasta and Natural Light in med school, and I'm still 137K in the hole, and 3. I'll probably never really use my PhD.
The OP sounds remarkably blase about pursuing medicine. Unless he/she does some soul searching and comes back gung ho I'd say that it's insane to apply to any program with an "MD" attached to it.
Don't feel bad, Havarti. I'm a year younger than you as a rising M1, so I won't have a real job until I hit 40. I got asked at one interview how I feel about not only being much older than my classmates, but also being considerably older than most of the residents. I think I was about the same age as the interviewer, who was an assistant prof. Hell, when I say I needed time to think this MD thing over, I *really* meant it. All joking aside, it's interesting that you felt the OP sounded blase about medicine....I was thinking s/he sounds blase about the research degrees, which IMO is probably worse because the attrition rate is so high in grad school. But considering that the OP has now gone and erased all of his/her posts, I don't think any more of our advice is being solicited.
solitude, FYI, I'm a big joker in general. I try to use smilies to show when I'm kidding, but sometimes people still don't realize. I'm sorry that you thought I was serious.
I'm starting to realize just how stubborn I am. I take all the anecdotal stories of people who do PhD then MD (I helped proofread this one person's AMCAS PS then found out this person got a couple full-rides to top 20 MD programs) and ignore all the stories about how much longer and more expensive it is (e.g., like the above quotes).
tr, I was hoping to--like the anecdotal stories I have--use my PhD as a huge way to get into a great med school or to be more competitive for merit scholarships, essentially getting the same funding as a regular MSTP'er would in a combined program. (Assume I want the PhD and am not using it as a stepping stone, btw. I always have, actually.) But if you're saying that it won't really improve an app, then that makes me stop and think if it's really worth it in the end, esp. with Havarti's words that he might not truly use it for it be worth it.
But seeing as I'm already taking extra years in undergrad, I'll be 39 to 40 after residency if I take the long route. I've been way too delusional about "self-sacrifice! love people! put selfish needs last tee hee!" but I realize that if I shave off even four years by skipping the PhD, I could essentially gross $800K in that time @ 200K/year. I never really cared about money, but now things are changing as I see more of the big picture and lose the "save-the-world" attitude.
I read about successful biotech startups in industry who used their knowledge gained from grad school (PhD) for their companies, and I wonder how that compares to successful startups from MD-only types. I'm more into the engineering aspect, which is one big reason I wanted the PhD too--it opens a lot of doors in the business sector, and the PhD training translates easier into product design than MD training, which translates more into being a solid clinician. Maybe venture capitalists would pay more attention to a PhD type over an MD. (Crap, Bill Gates didn't even have a Bachelor's.)
I'm rambling, but I guess I can come to a better decision by considering the things I absolutely want, and then use logic to decide the best path:
1) I want to complete a residency and practice medicine. This requires MD.
2) I'd like to go into industry by forming a start-up.
3) I want to leave open the possibility of research (but more like self-guided R&D, not bench stuff at a university).
4) I do not want to be a professor, teach, or go into any form of academic medicine.
The PhD is great for grants, great for research, and great if one wants to spend one's life as a Nobel-wannabe publication whore. Do I want that? Then again, I don't want to just practice medicine--I'm looking for specialties that have a lot of growth for high-tech innovation. But then again, specialties like RadOnc cream over the MD-PhD types, so it'd be harder with just an MD.
Cutting myself off. The sun has risen. Time to find my bed.
Re: the PhD then MD idea: Im a Ph.D. who just finished the first-year of medical school. The training is too long and too hard and youll be totally disillusioned by the time you finish. I got lucky and escaped in 3.5 years with a PhD. On average, you're looking at 9 years of doctoral-level education if you get your way and that's without any postdoctoral training. You can do a lot with your life in that time. 99% of PhD-to-MD converts had no intention of applying to medical school initially and a PhD alone will not win you a medical school scholarship; a stellar GPA and MCAT will do that. The research training during a PhD and formal postdoc is amazing and it cannot be matched by token research projects picked up during medical schoolI make no bones about itbut a PhD will confer no advantage whatsoever in obtaining grants. Ive said it before and Ill say it again: at the RO1 level, all of the proposals are just breathtaking; a PhD will not sway a reviewer. The best scientist I ever worked for is only a MD (at Hopkins)
with several RO1s and he publishes in Cell, PNAS, JCI etc routinely. A word to the wise: do an MD if you want to practice medicine, do a PhD if you want to be a scientist, but dont do a PhD then an MD if youre unsure.
Please do not go into research if you do not love research. Do not go into medicine if you do not love medicine. Duhhh.
Anyway, have you considered doing an MD/MBA program since you seem to be interested in the business side. You can always get some biomedical research under your belt later on (like during fellowship).
Another good option is an MD/MBA if you're truly interested in the industry side of things. You can always do a fellowship after your MD to do some research and get some good publications to your name. But in a start-up, it's a whole lot easier if you know the business side of things since that's who you'll mainly be interacting with in the start-up process. So, to fufill your goals, I'd say MD/MBA over MD/PhD.
Oops - just realized I replied without finishing the thread - glad someone else agrees about the MD/MBA.
Think about this from the adcom's point of view. Med schools want to be able to say they have 'highly competitive' student bodies by throwing around numbers like average MCAT and GPA of the entering class. Having a couple of PhD's in there doesn't do much for their statistics.
And funding for med school is hard to come by. The vast, vast majority of MD students operate mainly on loans. I've heard of a few scholarships, but they're not common and you can't count on getting one.
This will continue. The older you get, the more you will realize how valuable your time and your money are.
Anyway, how does 'loving people' translate to getting a PhD? Does not compute. Why don't you join the Peace Corps? You'll have more fun, help more people (or some, as opposed to none), and end up with much better stories.
I agree that the MD won't train you to be a biotech engineer. But, so do you want to be an engineer, a clinician, or an entrepreneur? All three is a tall order, especially if you won't even finish school until you're 40.
By the way, I was just talking to one of the other students in my MSTP program who is about to finish up, and he says that he regrets even getting the dual degree. He's in his eighth and final year of school; the class he started with is finishing residency. They're through the wall and ready to get real jobs, and he's still looking at four more years of training. He says if he could do it over he would go straight MD.
I would still do the dual degree myself if I could start over (albeit there are a lot of sub-choices I would make differently). But I would never, never choose to do the degrees separately on purpose. I'm already old and grumpy enough as it is. I can't imagine starting all over again at this late date, and my hat is off to those of you here (QofQuimica, ScottishChap, Havarti666) who somehow found the stamina.
I appreciate the kudos, but the stamina wasn't too hard to come by when I compared life with an MD vs. life without.
Agree. If you want the MD, you will make the necessary sacrifices to get it, no matter what your age. It's all about how badly you want the degree.
Dallenoff, tr is correct that the vast majority of straight-MD students do NOT get scholarships. You should absolutely NOT count on getting one, PhD or no PhD. Even for the lucky few students who do manage it, almost none get stipends like MSTP students do, so they still have to come up with living expenses. Having a PhD is nice, but it doesn't substitute for a poor UG GPA or an un-noteworthy MCAT score, and it doesn't excuse you from needing the same shadowing, volunteering, and other experiences that the typical trad pre-med coming out of college does. You may also find that some schools are just not as open to people with less traditional academic backgrounds. That's been my experience, anyway, and my stats were stellar.
I agree with the previous couple of people who suggested applying for an MD/MBA. If you know for sure that you don't want to do research, then you really don't need a PhD. If you think that you really want a dose of research experience, then try an MD/MS. There are a lot of schools that offer five-year programs. You'll still have to take out loans with an MD/MBA, but you'll probably wind up making more money too.
I'm am PhD to MD.
I did it mainly for two reasons. UG scores would probably not got me into a great MD/Phd program, but I did get into a great PhD program...second were some life issues.
Although I am currently in medschool and think it is a great way to go there are some disadvantages...
will have to repeat some coursework... depending on your phd area you may have to repeat a lot of junk that may not be the most intersting in the world... this may also not guarentee you an "A" in the respective class.
In interviews for medschool you WILL be asked...A LOT... about why you want a career switch -- even if you dont think of it as one.
Plus as soon as some of the PHD faculty get wind that you are applying to med school they may assume that you have "sold out" and put you on the back burner.
I would also have to say that I think I ultimately got into a better medical school that I would have If I just applied right our of UG... but its at a cost. While I am probably scientificly more knowledgable than 90% of my med school classmates , PHD is a type of learning that is very different than Medicine land.
Also, while doing your phd, you will still need to do the same volunteering, medical expsure stuff, which many of your PHD classmates will not have to contend with.
i just posted something similar on a nontraditional students thread... but I think it actually applies better here:
the gist of it is that I was recently accepted to a PhD program in clinical psychology and I had NEVER previously considered getting my MD until very recently.
Keep in mind that its typically not possible to do a PhD in clinical psychology in under 5 years. And my end goal (regardless what degree I end up with) is to be a researcher in the field of mental health.
So, is it silly to be contemplating the MD? I would like to broaden the scope of things that I can research in the field of mental health, and have been wondering if it might be valuable for me to have grounding in the medical field to do so.
Any comments would be appreciated.
Speaking from experience: the material one is exposed to during the PhD is one inch wide and ten miles deep and the material one is exposed to during the MD is one inch deep and ten miles wide. The latter will allow you to do almost anything but keep in mind that you're looking at 4 years 'just' for the degree and 4 years for a residency in psych and you'll probably pay > 130K upfront for medical school.
Adding to what ScottishChap said, I'd give you two sets of questions to ponder:
1) When you say mental health, what are we talking about here? What kind of research do you want to do? If you want to do basic science research (not with patients), you probably don't need the MD. If you want to do clinical science research, it would help. In that case, though, do you really need to do the PhD? Why not do an MD/MS, or if you decide that you must have both degrees, why not apply to an MD/PhD program? Just throwing out some ways to save money and time here.
2) What is your academic background like? Do you have good grades from college? To get into medical school, you must have at a minimum one year each of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics with labs. Some schools also require English, math, biochemistry, and genetics. In addition, you must study for and take the MCAT. Assuming you have not yet completed these pre-reqs, you will need to fit them in somehow during grad school, or take off some time from school to get them done. You will also need to have some clinical activities (and ideally some volunteering ones as well) if you want to apply to a straight MD program. Again, you will need to fit these things in as a grad student. It's possible to do this (that's what I did), but it's d*** hard. To get into an MD/PhD program, you'll need a strong research background on top of many of these other qualifications, and you'll probably also need very strong UG grades and MCAT scores.
I suggest that you sit down and really consider whether you want to go through all of the preparation needed to even apply to med school, because it's a very grueling and difficult process, MUCH harder than applying to grad school. Try to be as specific about where you want to end up as possible, because that will make it easier for you to figure out what path you need to take in order to get there.
i see it working the opposite way. a number of schools like to report the number of ma and phd degree holders in their entering class. if this isn't giving a nod to "competitiveness" then it at least gives one to diversity.
Hi there everyone! I'm just a master's student in a thesis program, but I have to agree with the sentiments of many of the previous posters. If you truly want to become a physician and work solely with people, it is better to spend the extra time improving your grades and MCAT scores. In the end, adcoms will pay attention to numbers first and the EC second. Those are the plain and dirty facts of medical school. I'm not saying that there aren't some amazing applicants out there who can overcome the numbers hurdles through the "non-numbers" part of their application but for most students this is not the case. Going into grad school to fix the numbers should not be the answer as many of the graduate classes, if not all, are tremendously demanding. Grades are not inflated, at least not at my school. With this in mind, if you choose to go into research, go into it because you love the science and not because you want to pretty up your CV for medical school. Graduate school, as you can see from everyone's comments, is no walk in the park and you would only be kidding yourself into thinking you would be a shoe in for medical school with an added degree. Graduate school is an amazing experience, but only for those who love the science. KUDOS to all PH.d.s that got into medical school. You guys rock. That Ph.d road is insanely difficult and I have nothing for respect for your hard work. Thanks for listening, good luck to you all!
And piss-off our spouses by never actually getting out of school .
To the OP - I did the PhD first (it didn't take me as long as Q, I'm sure I'd be single now if it had ) I did the PhD in 4.5 yrs (molecular epidemiology), and I'll be an M2 starting 7/31. IMHO I think its a great way to go, expensive, but great. There's less pressure to get out of the PhD very quickly, so you have some more time to do some things that you think are cool. Also, I've been told by several PhDs in my field that when they talk to MD/PhDs looking for faculty positions, one of the first thigs they look for is whether the PhD was done in a combined program or not, because they believe that the person who got them seperately - has gotten better training (just what I've been told, no flame war intended). They believe that MD/PhDs from MSTPs get away from the problems/troubleshooting that a PhD then MD student gets. So there may actually be a career benefit to doing the PhD/MD rather than MD/PhD.
For those of you who did the MD after the PhD, what did you do with your first summer off? A lof of students seem to do some kind of research then but that seems dumb for those of us who have extensive research experience from our PhDs already. That and I don't feel like getting paid half of what I used to make for the same work. Research in a more medically relevant area is always an option but does anybody have any other ideas?
That's where I'm at now, and yes, I'm doing research. It kind of just worked out this way on its own because I met this professor when I interviewed here, and I may just continue on for the rest of the year part time, depending on how things go this summer. If you don't want to do research though, then don't. No rule says you have to do anything this summer, and you can always spend your summer off traveling or volunteering or doing something else that's fun.
I originally had visions of completing the manuscripts that I abandoned at the end of my PhD. The ones I ran off and left to start med school orientation.
Instead I spent that first summer in a bathrobe with a seemingly endless procession of frozen drinks in my hand. It was glorious. No regrets.
I know the University system I work for has a tech-transfer department to help profs get their research off the ground. Outside of academia, US government has start-up grants and you can get small buisness loans to help inventors. Biotech firms love docs because MD's have training (surgical procedures) and access to populations (patients) that most can't touch.
Though you may not like academia, what you describe can be achieved with tenure. You can also build up ties with industry and have them support you. Half of the professors in my department in ugrad were funded by industry contracts.
The MD is just as good, maybe even better than the PhD for getting grants. I've worked with a lot of both, and when I need some lab supplies, more often than not the MD says, 'where do I sign?' and the PhD says 'No, and let me finish my Ramen!'
When I think about how hard its been to get where I am (soon a MSI), and how hard it'll be, this is always a source of motivation.
LOL. That's exactly what I did to some degree. I headed to NC to be with my wife (girlfriend at the time) and took over all household duties (cooking, cleaning, watching TV and exercising).