Sunday, August 2, 2009

The MD-PhD program timeline

In order to understand where I am right now in my MD-PhD training, you need to understand how MD-PhD programs work. For those of you considering this career option it is good to get a feel for the time commitment involved and the way in which you go about obtaining the dual degree. While a few people do the degrees independently of one another, this usually wastes time. Programs that offer both degrees attempt to streamline the process as much as possible. There are also usually financial benefits to choosing to obtain both degrees as part of a dual degree program (I will discuss those in another post).

Although there are slight variations between programs, the basic schedule is as follows:
Summer before medical school : Research rotation in a lab of your choice
First year of medical school: exactly the same as your MD only peers. Sometimes one or two graduate courses are thrown in.
Summer after first year of medical school: Research rotation in lab of your choice
Second year of medical School: Same as MD only peers. Take USMLE step 1 (first of several licenising exams)
Summer after second year of medical school: Research rotation in lab of your choice
Year 3-6: Join at one of the labs in which you rotated and perform thesis research. Time varies but the goal is for a 3-4 year thesis
Return to Medical School for one and a half years to complete MD degree.

At this point you are awarded the MD-PhD and you have several options. Most choose to do a standard residency, or a 'fast track' research oriented residency. A small minority of students who do not want the option of having a clinical career go straight to a postdoc.

All in all it's 7-8 years before you even hit residency. Time commitment? heavy. But in the end you can speak two languages, you're an MD and a PhD. You can bridge two worlds. Is it for everyone? Definitely not. But for some of us, we can't imagine our lives any other way.

So where am I? Year three. About to select a thesis lab. I got married in middle of second year and I'm beginning to consider starting a family. To complicate things, I married an MD-PhD classmate. It's difficult sometimes to be in a household of two students,but as I said before, even in the toughest of times, I can't imagine it any other way. For one thing, I never would have met my husband. For another, I would never have been satisfied with my career. I would hate to go through life thinking I could have done something better, something more. So when I'm rushing out of work to cook for shabbos or puzzling over life on a two-student budget I just remind myself that in any other situation I would be wasting my potential and not following my dreams. These are the choices I made and I am proud of them. They are not the right choices for everyone, and hopefully this blog will provide you with more information to base your decision on.

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