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PhD to MD

Scien_Phys

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    Hi guys,

    I wanted to get your opinion on my situation. I'm a PhD student in Cell biology thinking to go into medical school. Not to switch careers, but rather to compliment my graduate education and gear towards a career in translational medicine as faculty.

    A bit of background - double major in undergrad (3.6 overall GPA/3.7 science GPA) - decent school in CA. Didn't apply to MD/PhD programs, although I think I should have. Currently in grad school also in CA - 3.9 GPA with ~ 20 publications in top journals, including Cell and Science. 4 first authors in top-tier journals (research and reviews). ~700 clinical volunteering, shadowing a physician (member of my committee) and also doing monthly brigades to help at a clinic in Mexico. I think it is also important to note that I was born and raised in Mexico. Haven't taken the MCAT yet, but currently preparing and thinking to take it around January.

    Do you guys have any advice/comments for me on how to make myself competitive for the application process? Any help is appreciated!

    Thanks so much!
     
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    amuseddoughnut

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      Are you going to be applying as an international student? You are already competitive but I think being an international student makes the whole process more competitive. Take the MCAT and get a great score. Start working on your personal statement, which is a very important part of the application.
       

      amuseddoughnut

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        My experience with applying and interviewing was great. The schools with a research and diversity focus were the most interested in me, which makes sense. I applied to about 25 schools and received about 5 interview invites. My MCAT score was ok, but should have been better. I underestimated how difficult that test would be and I studied for it while doing research full time and dealing with health issues. Looking back, I should have taken a couple months off to study full time.

        Many people told me that as a PhD it's very important to demonstrate that you've thought through your decision to go clinical. AdComs will be skeptical of the motives of PhD to MDs, so you will need to convince them that your main priority is to help patients get better and not to get grant money for the really cool research you will do someday. Only one interviewer asked about my doctoral research, probably because they had no qualms about my research strength based on my CV. I suspect the same will be true for you.
         
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        Dral

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          Other than born/raised in other country, my story is close to yours. dual major undergrad, PhD in Molecular genetics, then med school.

          If you are truly interested in a translational career, you have to put your money where your mouth is the whole way through.

          Sometimes, the PhD prior to med school can be an issue. I ran into a lot of issues and assumptions from people during the residency interview process.
           
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          DBC03

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            Hi! Thanks so much! I didn't know about this program. I will look into it!

            I know some people have discussed programs like this in the past. It seems that more medical schools used to have these programs, but Columbia may be the only school that has it at this point. However, I would definitely try to find out if there are others.
             

            amuseddoughnut

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              I know some people have discussed programs like this in the past. It seems that more medical schools used to have these programs, but Columbia may be the only school that has it at this point. However, I would definitely try to find out if there are others.

              Vandy has a fully funded ($$$!) PhD -> MD track right now. I believe they are taking 4 people a year.

              I'd be interested to know what obstacles are faced by PhD->MD people at residency application.

              That's great to hear! It seems that schools with a heavy research focus do seem to be more interested in PhDs - I was told the same thing by one of my committee members. At the moment I am not planning on taking time off to study - do you think I should? Research is just tough, you know how it is! I will definitely take your advice into consideration - I think my longterm goal of helping underrepresented communities will help shed light on my decision of going med, and hopefully AdComs appreciate this.

              Only you can really decide how much studying you will do if you are doing heavy research at the same time. Keep in mind that a lot of pre-meds are taking 2-3 months off to study exclusively, and that is who you are competing with to get the 90+ percentiles you probably want. I studied at night for about 3 months and had an average matriculant MCAT score. My plan was to retake it if I didn't get in this year. Needless to say, I am EXTREMELY grateful I don't need to take it again. It is a beast of a test.
               
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              Dral

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                Hey! Thanks for your input. It seems that you ran into issues during the residency interview process (what residency program did you match to?), but may I ask what was your med school/interview application process like? MCAT? What do you think made you jump out of the page and get in?


                I matched into Derm (it wasn't easy). I got a 37 on the old MCAT. I only applied to maybe 12 med schools. I got interviews at probably 8 of them. I got waitlisted a lot. I was straight out accepted at UVA while I was holding a few waitlist spots.

                That was over 10 years ago though. I would never apply to that few of programs today. I didn't do any shadowing or clinical work (only clinical was volunteering in the pharmacy dept of a hospital). Basically my application probably wouldn't get me in anywhere in 2017. heh.

                The difficulty at the residency level has a lot to do with Derm. It's generally regarded as a lifestyle field, so I was constantly trying to convince people that I was genuinely interested and not using it as an 'out' since it is a lifestyle field.

                If you want to get into IM or something that isn't as competitive, I would doubt you would have as difficult a time.
                 

                QofQuimica

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                  If you want to get into IM or something that isn't as competitive, I would doubt you would have as difficult a time.
                  Agree with this.

                  OP, IM is full of MD/PhDs, and for those who want to try for a research career, there are even special research residencies (PSTPs) that are geared toward this. Besides IM, pathology, peds, psych, and neuro or neurosurg also have significant numbers of MD/PhDs. If you want to strike out into less charted waters like derm, the uphill climb may be harder. But obviously some people can still do it.

                  For med school apps, the PhD was a bonus significant life experience that helped me stand out, but it is is not a substitute for having strong grades/MCAT score. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you don't have to compete with the trads on grades/MCAT since you have a PhD, because you do.

                  For residency and attending job apps, it was a nonissue and didn't really come up. Although I think both departments (I was in academic programs) liked having another MD/PhD on the roster, I was doing 100% clinical work, so the PhD wasn't a significant factor in my being hired for either position.

                  For fellowship apps, it was highly significant as I went into a field that doesn't get a lot of MD/PhDs and my PhD is in a relevant area. I am still not doing hard core research, but this specialty (and fellowship in general) is more research-oriented than a residency or clinical academic job would be. If I decide to apply for another job after fellowship (I may not; I'm kind of burned out on academic medicine at the moment), I do expect that the PhD would again be significant, especially for an academic position.

                  But again, unless you are doing a 100% research career, a PhD is not a substitute for clinical competence. If you are going to go to medical school and want to be competitive for residency, the best advice I can give you is to focus on becoming an excellent clinician.
                   
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                  WhiteCoat2016

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                    Agree with this.

                    OP, IM is full of MD/PhDs, and for those who want to try for a research career, there are even special research residencies (PSTPs) that are geared toward this. Besides IM, pathology, peds, psych, and neuro or neurosurg also have significant numbers of MD/PhDs. If you want to strike out into less charted waters like derm, the uphill climb may be harder. But obviously some people can still do it.

                    For med school apps, the PhD was a bonus significant life experience that helped me stand out, but it is is not a substitute for having strong grades/MCAT score. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you don't have to compete with the trads on grades/MCAT since you have a PhD, because you do.

                    For residency and attending job apps, it was a nonissue and didn't really come up. Although I think both departments (I was in academic programs) liked having another MD/PhD on the roster, I was doing 100% clinical work, so the PhD wasn't a significant factor in my being hired for either position.

                    For fellowship apps, it was highly significant as I went into a field that doesn't get a lot of MD/PhDs and my PhD is in a relevant area. I am still not doing hard core research, but this specialty (and fellowship in general) is more research-oriented than a residency or clinical academic job would be. If I decide to apply for another job after fellowship (I may not; I'm kind of burned out on academic medicine at the moment), I do expect that the PhD would again be significant, especially for an academic position.

                    But again, unless you are doing a 100% research career, a PhD is not a substitute for clinical competence. If you are going to go to medical school and want to be competitive for residency, the best advice I can give you is to focus on becoming an excellent clinician.

                    I am a PhD student with strong undergrad grades/MCAT. I am doing a PhD right now because I went to do a research 1 year Master degree after undergrad at Cambridge (UK) and really liked the project, so stayed on as a PhD students through the Gates Scholarship. In your opinion, how can people with significant research background demonstrate "strong clinician interest and skills" besides just shadowing?

                    Would really like your input! Thanks!
                     

                    QofQuimica

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                      I am a PhD student with strong undergrad grades/MCAT. I am doing a PhD right now because I went to do a research 1 year Master degree after undergrad at Cambridge (UK) and really liked the project, so stayed on as a PhD students through the Gates Scholarship. In your opinion, how can people with significant research background demonstrate "strong clinician interest and skills" besides just shadowing?

                      Would really like your input! Thanks!
                      Other options include clinical volunteering or a clinical job. In most cases, as a grad student, shadowing or volunteering are going to be your only viable options.
                       

                      Naruhodo

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                        20 publications! Holy cow, I'm going to go feel inadequate now...

                        But in all seriousness, this is absolutely doable. There are three students in my year at my med school who did their PhDs before med school. As others have said you still need to do all the other things well too (MCAT, volunteering, shadowing primary care, explaining how you know you want to do this crazy thing, etc.) I applied to 15 schools with a PhD and a 99th centile MCAT and I can tell you in retrospect that I should have applied more places (and, if I'd had the guts, run my school list by folks here, who can seem brutal but actually tend to give decent advice oftentimes on what sorts of schools might be interested in your application). Also, NYU is another school that has a 3-year MD-to-PhD track although it involves also committing to doing your residency at NYU.

                        Also @WhiteCoat2016, one of the PhDs in my cohort did a similar accelerated UK-style PhD, and was actually super creative in starting a charity that targeted their specific interests in medicine. Not that I recommend taking on the financial responsibility (to my knowledge this person still is filing UK taxes because of the charity), but I do admire the ethos of recognizing when a need is not being met and doing something about it.
                         
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