Transferring into Md/PhD

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Nov 19, 2013
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Hey guys,

I'm an M1 in an Md-only program who's been doing about 15 hours/week of research since the fall. I was recently floated the opportunity to enter my school's fully-funded md/PhD program, but I'm not sure if it's worth it.

I recently awarded a year-long fellowship to research in the lab full-time (between M1 and M2) and my PI, without my prompting, spoke to our md/phd coordinator about transferring me into the program. The coordinator was very supportive of the idea and my PI offered to fund the rest of my PhD.

Here's the thing: I don't know if I want to do it.

I love research and teaching, but I don't know if the finances and time commitment would be worth it. I also happen to love patient contact, and I know I'd end up spending more time in the clinic/on the wards than most md/PhD researchers.

I told him I would wait to see how my project is progressing to get an idea of the PhD timeline, but I also need some time to think.

What would be the added merits of getting the PhD for a doctor who expects to be in the lab about 50% of the time? Would it be helpful for doing more complex clinical research than the average MD? Does it matter if the PhD isn't in my future field of practice? Will it help advance my career/qualifications to have the dual-degree? Would I be an idiot for passing up such an incredible opportunity?


Total nerd
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20+ Year Member
Mar 14, 2002
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These are very personal questions. My take is that the MD/PhD is a leap of faith for everyone who does it. During my decade of pre-MD/PhD and MD/PhD, my desires for research time went from 80% to 100% to 0% to 50% to 80%. It probably changed a few more times in there. In the end I was limited by opportunities that were really out of my control. I know several brilliant physician-scientists who are now in private practice for reasons predominantly out of their control. Will you have the opportunity to use the MD/PhD? Who knows. You can always come back and get a PhD later if you really decide you want one.

To answer your specific questions (that I can):

Clinical research really isn't all that complex. The difficulties are more in the mundane things--stats, trial design, enrollment, etc. That's why you don't need a PhD to do it. It does help to have some clinical research specific training, but that's not what PhDs typically do. Most people get clinical research training "on the job" through participation in clinical projects and trials, mentorship, workshops, etc. If that's your interest, honestly you should try finding that now instead of working in a lab. It might help you solidify your career plans earlier rather than later.

It helps for a PhD to be in your future area of practice. It's not mandatory. I recommend it when possible.

Will the PhD help advance your career/qualifications? Well it is a qualification. As far as your career, it depends on how your career shapes up. It's impossible to predict.

Are you an idiot for passing up an MD/PhD program? Of course not. People do it all the time. You need to be committed. It's a lot of time, a lot of heartache, and it's a questionable future for combined degree graduates.
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Doctor Professor
10+ Year Member
Jul 7, 2008
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Would I be an idiot for passing up such an incredible opportunity?

Getting into a PhD program is not difficult (getting out of one is another matter). The incredible opportunity for you was and is medical school. Your PI is looking for cheap labor and looks at you as a golden goose.
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Seriously, dude, I think you're overreacting....
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Oct 12, 2004
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Since you're a clinically oriented guy or gal, no, in your case, I don't think the PhD is worth it. As Neuro said, you really don't need a PhD to do clinical research. In fact, you'd be better off getting a clinical research MS, which many med schools offer (and which you can do after med school, while being paid instead of having to pay for it). The PhD is intended to train bench scientists. Unless that's your goal, you shouldn't get one.
Oct 11, 2007
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There are PhDs in Translational Science that allow you to expand further your expertise. These are based at the CTSAs. If your school has one of those, it might be worth talking to the program director of the PhD and MSCI (MS in Clinical Investigation) about your choices, benefits of each program and your needs.