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MD-PhD programs – Is the combined degree worth it?

An MD-PhD program allows you to earn both an MD and a PhD in a condensed period, potentially giving you a competitive edge in the job market. It is a long and demanding training that requires a great deal of commitment and dedication. Is it worth it?

What is the difference between MD and PhD in medicine?

MD (Doctor of Medicine) is a professional degree focused on clinical training, preparing individuals to become medical doctors who diagnose and treat patients, while PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is an academic degree emphasizing original research and contributions to knowledge in a specific field.

What is the difference between PhD and MD regarding their job profile?

MDs primarily work in healthcare, providing medical care to patients, whereas PhDs often pursue careers in academia, research institutions, or industry, contributing to their field through advanced research. Some students pursue both degrees through MD-PhD programs, enabling them to integrate clinical practice with research.

What is an MD/PhD?

An MD/PhD is a dual degree program that allows students to earn both a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree.

MD/PhD programs are designed to train students to become physician-scientists, who are doctors who conduct research in the biomedical sciences.

What is the curriculum of an MD-PhD training?

MD-PhD student studying science and medicine
© sven hendrix / midjourney

MD-PhD students undergo rigorous graduate training in different research areas, combining years of medical school with advanced research.

The programs differ from the traditional medical school experience by integrating patient care and PhD training into the curriculum.

Typically, students begin their first year of medical school focusing on basic sciences and clinical basics. As MD-PhD candidates progress, they will focus on their PhD requirements, which often include advanced courses and research projects under the supervision of a research mentor.

The combined degree requirements for both MD and PhD are integrated to offer comprehensive graduate programs in medical science.

Most programs integrate basic science research, translational sciences, and clinical work into their medical school curriculum. Areas like molecular genetics, infectious diseases, and cancer biology could be part of the graduate study.

Unlike regular MD graduates, they may do laboratory rotations to expose students to different research laboratories.

After completing their combined MD and PhD degree, graduates often look for residency programs that will allow them to continue focusing on their specialized medical specialty.

Why should you do an MD-PhD program?

Student pursuing an MD-PhD program
©sven hendrix / midjourney

The main advantage of doing an MD-PhD training is that it allows you to earn both an MD and a PhD in a condensed period of time.

This can be a great advantage if you want to pursue a career in academic medicine, where you will need both clinical and research skills.

In addition, an MD-PhD graduate program can give you a competitive edge in the job market. Many employers seek physician-scientists who can bridge the gap between clinical practice and medical research.

Here is a table summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of an MD-PhD program in contrast to a classical MD or PhD program:

 MD-PhD ProgramClassical MD ProgramClassical PhD Program
Time to completion7-8 years4 years6-7 years
CostMore expensiveLess expensiveLess expensive
Clinical trainingYesYesNo
Research trainingYesNoYes
Career opportunitiesAcademic medicine, industry, governmentClinical practice, academiaAcademia, industry
CompetitivenessMore competitiveLess competitiveLess competitive

What are the disadvantages of doing an MD-PhD program

stressed MD-PhD student
©sven hendrix / midjourney

The costs and burdens of doing an MD-PhD program include higher costs, more time commitment, stress, and competition.

Costs: MD-PhD programs are more expensive than classical MD or PhD programs. The tuition, fees, and living expenses can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Time commitment: MD-PhD programs are longer than classical MD or PhD programs. They typically take 7-8 years to complete, which can be a significant commitment.

Stress and burnout: MD-PhD programs are demanding and can be stressful. Students must juggle the demands of clinical training, research, and coursework.

Competition: The MD application process is highly competitive, even more so for MD/PhD programs. The diverse group of students that apply are usually highly motivated and have substantial research experience. 

Fewer students apply to combined programs, but those who do are highly specialized and focused on planning careers in academic medicine.

How do MD/PhD programs differ between Europe and the United States?

MD-PhD in US or Europe
©sven hendrix / midjourney

MD/PhD programs in Europe and the US differ in a few key ways:

Length of program

MD/PhD programs in Europe typically take 6-7 years to complete, while MD/PhD programs in the US typically take 7-8 years to complete. One reason is that European MD/PhD programs usually have a shorter clinical training component. See below for details.

However, several key reasons determine how long it takes to finish your doctorate.

Structure of program

MD/PhD programs in Europe are typically structured as a sandwich program, where students alternate between medical and research training periods.

MD/PhD programs in the US are typically structured as a concurrent program, where students complete their medical and research training simultaneously.

Admission requirements

The MD/PhD admission requirements in the US and Europe vary from country to country, but they typically include a strong academic record in undergraduate science courses, a high score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and research experience in a biomedical science laboratory. See below for details.


MD/PhD programs in Europe are typically funded by the government. In contrast, md-phd degree programs in the US are supported by various sources, including the government, universities, and private donors. There are also free or fully funded PhD programs.

Career opportunities

MD/PhD graduates in Europe have a wide range of career options, including working as physicians, researchers, and medical educators. MD/PhD graduates in the US also have many career options, but they are more likely to work as researchers in academic medical centers. See below for details.

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between MD/PhD programs in Europe and the US:

Length of program6-7 years7-8 years
Structure of programSandwichConcurrent
Admission requirementsStrong academic record, MCAT score, research experienceStrong academic record, MCAT score, research experience, bachelor’s degree
FundingGovernmentGovernment, universities, private donors
Career opportunitiesPhysicians, researchers, medical educatorsPhysicians, researchers, medical educators

What is the difference between an MD/PhD and an MSTP?

The main difference between an MD/PhD and an MSTP is the funding. An MSTP (Medical Scientist Training Program) is a special type of MD/PhD program in the US funded by the NIH.

MSTP programs provide full financial support to their students, including tuition, stipends, and health insurance.

In addition to the funding difference, MSTP programs typically have more stringent admission requirements than non-MSTP programs. MSTP programs also usually have more research opportunities available to their students.

What are the admission requirements for MD-PhD programs in the US and Europe?

If you are a prospective student for a dual-degree path, you should first create a list of MD-PhD programs that align with your interests and goals. You may check out programs by state (US) or country (Europe) to help narrow down your options.

MD-PhD applications often require additional essays, commonly known as the MD-PhD essay, to gauge your interest and commitment to combining medical practice with scientific research. Once you apply to MD-PhD programs, you may be invited for interviews as part of the MD-PhD admissions process.

Be aware that the admission requirements and the application process may vary substantially between countries and even institutions. However, some general rules apply in most cases:

In most countries:

  • MD-PhD Applicants must have research experience in a biomedical science laboratory.
  • Prospective students must submit letters of recommendation from science professors and other mentors.
  • Applicants must write a personal statement that describes their interest in medical research and clinical medicine and how the program aligns with your career goals in academic medicine or public health.

In the US (commonly via an AMCAS application [American Medical College Application Service]):

  • Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.
  • Applicants must have a strong academic record in undergraduate science courses, with a GPA of at least 3.0.
  • Applicants must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and score at least 510.

In Europe (there may be substantial differences between countries):

  • Applicants do not necessarily need a bachelor’s degree, but they must have completed a relevant undergraduate degree in the sciences.
  • Applicants must have a strong academic record in undergraduate science courses, with a GPA of at least 3.5.
  • Applicants must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or equivalent and score at least 700.

In addition to these general requirements, some MD/PhD programs may have additional requirements, such as proficiency in a foreign language or experience in a specific research area.

How long does it take to complete an MD PhD training program?

How long takes an MD PhD training program
© sven hendrix / midjourney

The time it takes to complete an MD/PhD program depends on the specific program, the country in which it is located, and personal factors such as career goals, funding, and family situation.

Briefly, there are 6 year md phd programs in Europe and 7 year md phd programs in the US.

In the US, MD/PhD programs typically take 7-8 years to complete. The first four years are spent in medical school, and the last 3-4 years are spent in graduate school.

In Europe, MD/PhD programs typically take 6-7 years to complete. The first 3-4 years are spent in medical school, and the last 2-3 years are spent in graduate school.

In some cases, students may be able to complete their program in 6-7 years (US) or 5-6 years (Europe) if they can take summer courses or accelerate their research activities.

Some students opt for an extra year to dive deeper into a specialized research area, which adds to the program duration. This may be encouraged by faculty members to generate more distinguished dissertation research.

In addition, several personal factors determine how long it takes to finish your doctorate.

What are the funding options for MD/PhD students?

Funding options for MD/PhD students in the US and Europe vary depending on the specific program and the country in which it is located. There are free or fully funded PhD programs in many countries.

See below a short summary of funding options.

In most countries:

  • Research scholarships or grants: Multiple research scholarships or grants are available to MD/PhD students. These can support research expenses, such as travel to conferences or purchasing lab equipment.
  • Part-time jobs: Some MD/PhD students work part-time to help support themselves financially. However, it is essential to note that working part-time can be difficult, as MD/PhD programs are very demanding.

In the US:

  • MSTP (Medical Scientist Training Program): MSTP programs are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and provide full financial support to their students, including full tuition, an annual stipend, and health insurance.
  • Tuition waivers: Some medical schools offer tuition waivers to MD/PhD students. This means that the medical student does not have to pay tuition but may still have to pay for living expenses.

In Europe, different funding options are available for MD/PhD students.

  • Government scholarships: Many European countries offer MD/PhD students government scholarships. These scholarships can provide financial support for tuition, living, and research expenses.
  • University scholarships: Some European universities offer scholarships to MD/PhD students. These scholarships can provide financial support for tuition, living, and research expenses.

What are the career options for MD/PhD graduates?

MD-PhD graduates often find themselves in leadership positions, given their advanced training in both medicine and research. They may engage in clinical research, such as making major contributions to fields like public health, translational sciences, or other medical specialties.

MD-PhD graduates may also serve as faculty members in academic institutions. They are particularly skilled to become professors at medical schools or research institutions. In these roles, they not only lead cutting-edge research projects but also teach medical and graduate students, mentor the next generation of scientists and clinicians, and contribute to the advancement of medical education. This career path is long, carefully consider whether it is worth it being a professor.

Find below a list of potential career paths that MD/PhD graduates have taken:

Physicians in academic medical centers: MD/PhD graduates can work as physicians in academic medical centers, where they can conduct research, teach medical students and residents, and provide clinical care. They may also be involved in clinical trials or other research initiatives.

Researchers in biomedical research institutes: MD/PhD graduates can also work as researchers in biomedical research institutes, where they can conduct basic or translational research. They may work on projects that aim to understand the causes of diseases, develop new treatments, or improve healthcare delivery.

Clinical scientists who conduct research on the treatment of diseases: Clinical scientists are a type of physician-scientist who conducts research on the treatment of diseases. They may work in academic medical centers, pharmaceutical companies, or other research institutions. Their research may focus on developing new drugs and treatments or improving the delivery of existing treatments.

Science policy advisors: They may work in government agencies, non-profit organizations, or consulting firms. Their role is to provide advice on scientific issues to policymakers.

Medical educators: MD/PhD graduates may teach medical students, residents, or other healthcare professionals. They may also conduct research on medical education.

Healthcare administrators: MD/PhD graduates may work in hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare organizations. Their role is to manage the organization’s operations and ensure that it provides high-quality care.

Industry scientists: MD/PhD graduates may work in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or medical device companies. Their role is to develop new products or improve existing products.

Writers and editors: They may write about medicine or research for newspapers, magazines, or websites. They may also edit medical textbooks or journals.

Entrepreneurs: MD/PhD graduates can also start their own businesses. They may create a company that develops new medical products or provides healthcare services.

What are the research opportunities available to MD/PhD students?

MD/PhD students can conduct research in various biomedical science fields, such as genetics, molecular biology, immunology, and neuroscience. They can work with world-renowned researchers, participate in collaborative research projects, present their research findings at scientific conferences, and publish it in peer-reviewed journals.

Here are some specific examples of research opportunities available to MD/PhD students:

  • Conducting research on a new drug for cancer
  • Developing a new diagnostic test for a disease such as Alzheimer’s
  • Studying the genetic basis of a rare disease
  • Investigating the effects of climate change on human health
  • Designing new ways to deliver vaccines

These are just a few examples of the many research opportunities available to MD/PhD students. The specific options available will vary depending on the program and the student’s interests.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do MD/PhD programs support their students’ professional development?

MD/PhD programs typically offer a variety of support services to help students develop their professional skills, such as career counseling, mentorship programs, professional development workshops, networking opportunities, and financial support for research expenses.

What resources are available to help students balance their medical and research training?

MD/PhD programs typically offer a variety of resources to help students balance their research and medical, such as flexible course schedules, reduced teaching loads, research leave, mental health counseling, and financial assistance for childcare.

What are the expectations for MD/PhD students regarding research productivity?

The expectations for MD/PhD students in terms of research productivity vary from program to program, but they typically include publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals, presenting their research at scientific conferences, and obtaining funding for their research.

What are the opportunities for MD/PhD students to collaborate with other researchers?

MD/PhD students have many opportunities to collaborate with other researchers, such as working on collaborative research projects, participating in research conferences and workshops, and networking with other researchers

Is an MD/PhD program right for me?

Whether an MD/PhD program is right for you depends on your very personal goals, interests, and circumstances. Here are some factors to consider:

Your career goals: If you want to pursue a career in academic medicine or research, an MD-PhD program can be a great way to achieve your goals. You will have the skills and knowledge to conduct research and provide clinical care. Before you decide, ask at least 2 doctors and 2 researchers, “Is md phd worth it?” to get more background information.

Your research interests: If you are passionate about conducting research in a biomedical field, an MD-PhD program can allow you to do so. You will be able to work on cutting-edge problems in medicine and significantly contribute to a specific medical field.

Your financial situation: MD-PhD programs are more expensive than classical MD or PhD programs. You will need to factor in tuition, fees, and living expenses.

Your time commitment: MD-PhD programs are longer than classical MD or PhD programs. They typically take 7-8 years to complete. You will need to be willing to commit to a long and demanding schedule.

Your personality and work style: MD-PhD programs are challenging and demanding. You will need to be able to juggle the demands of clinical training, research, and coursework. You will also need to be able to handle stress and burnout.

Before you start, find a comprehensive list of schools offering MD-PhD programs in your target countries to create a full list of options.

If you are considering an MD-PhD, you should definitely talk to current students and alumni before you choose the program. They can offer valuable insights into the concept or vision of the program director that will shape your graduate education and research career.


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