Why do MD/PhD

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by medical22, May 26, 2002.

  1. medical22

    medical22 Senior Member
    7+ Year Member

    Jul 15, 2001
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    I don't understand why one would want to pursue an MD and a PhD. Once you become a doctor, I doubt you would have anytime to do research work. So why do so many people choose both? What are the benefits? Is it much harder to get into than just an MD?
  2. Hopkins2010

    Hopkins2010 Membership Revoked

    Nov 5, 1999
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    you should look at Vader's MD/PhD website. It has detailed answers to all of your questions.

    Also try the search function. I know for a fact that your questions have been answered in excrutiating detail several times in the past.
  3. wgu

    wgu Senior Member
    10+ Year Member

    Apr 29, 2002
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    This may be of interest, it compares MD w/ PhD w/ MD/PhD in a practical sense related to your career goals. This is someone else's opinion, I don't know enough to form one of my own.

    After reading the 7 responses on this thread, I thought I should add my
    perspective as a PhD with 2 months left on the MD. I've done alot of
    retrospective soul-searching and thinking about a similar question
    since deciding on a research career. You have three options:

    1) Get an MD and a PhD.

    Pros: * PhD will get you out of last elective year of med school.
    * You get med student "real-world" experience with PhD scientist
    training. This is a great background particularly if your
    research is more applied than truly basic.
    * You can possibly get fully-funded MD training so you won't
    have the $80,000+ loan debts fellow med students will incur.

    Cons: * It will cost you 2-5 more years than straight PhD or MD.
    * You will be torn between choosing additional clinical
    training (i.e. residency to get board certification) or
    going straight into reseach. Remember that an MD without
    residency doesn't allow patient care. You need to
    pass part III boards (which requires 1 year internship)
    to even moonlight in an ER, and you need full residency
    to practice medicine.

    --> Two articles might be useful here.
    [1] "Educators Say MD-PhD Degree Programs Make Sense,
    But Prove It" JAMA, Oct 17, 1990, pg 1919.
    [2] "Doctor-Doctor: Growing Demand for MD-PhDs"
    Science, Sept 24, 1993.

    2) Get an MD

    Pros: * You'll be exposed to areas in which medicine really needs
    new methods. Scientist training without real-world
    experience can lead to techniques in search of
    applications instead of the other way around. It can
    be argued that the best work is done by scientists who
    see a problem and then find techniques to solve it.
    This can be contrasted to the scientist who has a
    technique (perhaps from a PhD dissertation) and
    focuses on its extensions.

    --> Side note: Read "A Ph.D. is Not Enough" by
    Peter J Feibelman, Addison-Wesley 1993.

    * You will have a medical career as a safety cushion if
    research money can't be obtained OR you can pursue
    reseach part-time in which case you will make more
    money than straight research.
    * There are a number of programs so you can pursue research
    while in medical school (e.g. NIH cloister), but
    this training is usually *in addition to* typical med
    school training.
    * IF you do the additional training to become licensed,
    you will be able to head patient studies and couple
    the research more closely to treatment.

    Cons: * You will have to do additional training to become licensed
    to practice medicine (see Cons in #1). And once you
    become licensed, your clinical obligations might detract
    from your time to do research.
    * You might become disgruntled with the excessive amount of
    memorization required versus real scientific training.
    Medical school does NOT teach students how to become
    scientists. It's tough enough trying to teach students
    all the basic sciences and clinical survival, so the
    time demands often lead to mindless memorization rather
    than "Why?" questions.
    * If you pursue research in areas other than the "basic
    sciences," the MD is no substitute for the PhD. For
    example, you typically will not be able to obtain
    an asst prof position in Comp Sci or Engineering depts.

    3) Get a PhD.

    Pros: * It's the most direct training method to becoming a
    * It's cheaper than the MD since most PhD programs will
    provide full funding in the form of fellowships or
    * You will have more time to pursue in-depth research
    as a PhD student than you will as a med student.

    Cons: * You might get little "real-world" experience (see
    first pro in #2 above).
    * You will typically make less than a MD who performs
    part-time clinical work. Caveat: an MD who only
    performs research probably has no significant
    salary advantage over a PhD since he/she is NOT
    pulling in money for the dept through clinical care.

    In summary, while the MD adds alot to your background, there is
    a price. To actually practice medicine requires a substantial
    time commitment (beyond med school) that could be used for post-doc
    and/or directed reading/experience in a particular facet of medicine.
    In the case of genetics, the MD/PhD approach could be very
    successful. As your tastes move from the basic sciences, though,
    it becomes very difficult to marry the clinical side with the
    science side. My focus has been on computer technology; therefore,
    there is virtually no overlap (in training time) between my chosen
    area and any medical residency. On the other hand, the basic MD
    training has already proven useful for my research/perspective in a
    number of ways.


    KTiger1000 likes this.

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