June 15, 2017
McGovern Medical School offers a variety of dual degree programs for medical students interested in a curriculum beyond the doctorate of medicine. Today we are spotlighting the MD/PhD program, our original dual degree program. The program is administered jointly by the medical school and the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Program Director Dianna Milewicz, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine and the President George Bush Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine, sat down to discuss the program with us in greater detail.
Tell us about the program.
MD/PhD programs were established to integrate the training of individuals who want to pursue both patient care and research. This training prepares physician-scientists to not only pursue the causes of diseases but also to translate this knowledge into improved outcomes of disease. The MD/PhD Program at McGovern Medical School and MDACC was established in 1982 and provides students pursuing careers as physician-scientists a unique opportunity to earn both MD and PhD degrees in a six- to eight-year integrated program. Co-directors of the program are Dr. Milewicz for UTHealth and Russell Broaddus, MD, PhD, for MDACC (a graduate of the UTHealth and MDACC program), and three co-directors, Wendy Woodward, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology, MDACC; Ruth Heidelberger, MD, PhD, professor of neurobiology and anatomy and Frederic B. Asche Chair in Ophthalmology; and Terry Walters, PhD, professor of integrative biology and pharmacology and Robert L. Kroc Faculty Fellow.
Students complete three years of Medical School before beginning their dissertation research. In the past 5 years, medical students from the University of Puerto Rico who are interested in careers as physician-scientists have been integrated into the MD/PhD program to obtain a PhD degree at MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
How many students apply and are admitted each year? What factors are considered in the admissions process?
The program generally accepts five new students per year. In the past 5 years, we have received up to 200 applications per year. A variety of factors are considered in the admissions process, including GPA, MCAT scores, and exposure to biomedical research. The most important factors are that the applicants demonstrate a commitment to pursue research as a career and have sufficient research experience to ensure they understand the research process.
How long does it take students to complete both degrees?
The average time required to earn dual MD and PhD degrees for our students over the past decade has been 7.3 years. This includes the standard 4 years of Medical School and the additional time required to earn the PhD.
What opportunities do students have for laboratory rotations?
Students take three research tutorials with Graduate School faculty prior to selecting a laboratory to pursue their dissertation research. Between UTHealth and MDACC, we have over 600 Graduate School faculty with research interests spanning the entire spectrum of biomedical sciences. Students can search the Graduate School research database to help them identify faculty conducting research in areas where they have an interest.
Which faculty teach in the program?
For the research training, our MD/PhD program takes advantage of the approximately 600 faculty members in the Graduate School, another joint program between MDACC and McGovern Medical School. These faculty have research interests spanning the entire spectrum of the biomedical sciences. Undergraduate medical education involves a large number of faculty at McGovern Medical School in both the pre-clinical and clinical years of medical school.
How does the curriculum compare to the MD curriculum?
The MD/PhD program includes a traditional four-year Medical School curriculum and additional courses and research required for the PhD degree. The PhD requirements include: three lab tutorials, ethics in biomedical research, biostatistics (or other approved quantitative course), scientific writing, critical thinking in science, and participation in an ongoing MD/PhD seminar on topics in molecular medicine. Students also must complete written and oral candidacy exams as well as a research dissertation and defense.
How has the new medical school curriculum affected the MD/PhD curriculum?
The new curriculum shortened the research rotations but has allowed students to enter their graduate training a few months earlier.
What areas of medicine do your graduates typically pursue?
Our students match into all types of residency programs, including programs that continue to integrate medical and research training (physician-scientist residencies).
How many students have graduated from the program?
Since the program’s inception, a total of 106 students have graduated. Alumni include faculty at the NIH, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Yale, and MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Thank you for a closer look at this amazing program.