MD and research career still feasible?

Is it feasible to want to become an MD and researcher at my age? I know this is a question asked a million times here – but here’s my story. (I apologize in advance if it’s too long!)

Pressured by my family to become a doctor (I’m Asian), I started out as a pre-med in undergrad at an ivy league university, but never completed O Chem or Physics. Up to that point, I had OK grades basically As/Bs in Bio, Chem, advanced Bio and Calculus, and was also a humanities major (religion). I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life and medicine seemed like a huge commitment that I was not ready to make at that point–so I didn’t, despite my family’s dismay.

I finished with a BA in religion and worked in media for a couple years-- and quickly found it incredibly boring and unchallenging. So, I found a research job at the dean’s office of a medical school. I really loved working at a medical school and prestigious teaching hospital as well. A year later I ended up taking both the MCAT and GRE, as I thought I might be interested in pursuing either medicine or psychology. My MCAT was only about 25 (again I hadn’t taken O Chem or Physics) but my GRE was 2080 so I took that as a “sign” that I should apply to psych programs. I got into a masters program at Harvard and PhD program at another top school, and thought that I was done.

Fast forward 8 years later–I found that I still enjoy research, but not psychology. I finished the masters, but left the PhD after a semester (!). My training in psychology led me to various research jobs in the private sector (education technology; not pharm) and I have gained some good research experience and skills. However, as much as I appreciate the work, it does not inspire my truest passions. Over the past two years I have done fundraising for a cancer research nonprofit, in honor of my cousin who died from cancer, and found myself profoundly touched by cancer patients and the MD/researchers who work with them. I also had two brushes with death that put me in the ER twice this year – and it made me all the more passionate about the work that doctors do. So, at the age of 35, I think I might finally have found my calling–and am seriously considering going back to school to become a physician and medical researcher.

I’m now looking at volunteer opportunities in my local hospitals, shadowing friends of mine who are doctors at teaching hospitals, researching post bacc programs, scholarships, etc just to make sure that this is what I want. But I still have a nagging question… is it realistic at my age to want to become an researcher as well as a clinician? What are the expectations for researchers – do you have to have a basic science undergrad and go for an MD/PhD, or will a plain MD do with extra research experience tucked into your summers? What are the options and how much time should I expect to spend? Do you have to go to a “top” school? I’m pretty sure I want to be a researcher as well as be a clinician, so I appreciate knowing what my “minimum” aims should be – like, I assume I should stay in the U.S. for med school, and not do the Caribbean/foreign med school thing.

Also I am already 70K in debt from and wonder whether the HPSP scholarship is worth a look, considering my goals. I have to say that working with military patients sounds really interesting and think it would be an honor to serve and give back. I really could care less about prestige and money. I’m so over that kind of thing (to be honest, I really can’t stand that–from the immature people I encountered in undergrad to my family’s ambitions). I just don’t want to be in an immense amount of debt. What I do want is to be passionate about my career, and use my gifts to help people in difficult situations, and to improve medical treatments or even find cures.

I know this is a lot but I really appreciate all of your feedback!

It’s not impossible, but you have to acknowledge that MD/PhD programs are ridonculously competitive. Less than 180 students are accepted into these programs in a given year. Debt doesn’t matter because Medical Scientist programs pay for your med school and give you an educational stipend during the PhD portion.

In short, it’s not impossible, but you will have to be an extremely competitive applicant to get a look. I remember seeing that most qualified applicants have GPAs north of 3.8 and MCAT scores of 35+.

I do realize how competitive MD/PhD programs are, which is why I ask whether one can do research with just an MD.

It’s been over 10 years since I did pre-med, so it seems I’ll have to start over again, be incredibly focused this time and get straight As and kill the MCAT just to get into med school, much less MD/PhD.

I’ve worked for many MD’s who do research with “just” an MD, but the opportunities available if you do the combined program seem more abundant from residency choice to career options.

There’s also a few ways to earn both the MD/PhD, with getting admitted straight out being just one of them. Some programs allow you to transfer in after 1 year in either a PhD or MD program. Others allow you to complete the PhD in residency. Still others allow you to take a leave of absence after say 2 years in a MD program to complete your PhD.

BTW, I also have a degree in Religion and I only point that out because I come across so few people with that background!

What kind of research were you doing with the MD’s?

It’s nice to meet another person who did religion major+pre-med. Honestly, I am glad I took the opportunity to do a humanities major in undergrad. It’s amazing to me that some people know right away that medical school is right for them as an undergrad at 22 or younger. At that age, I knew I was definitely not ready for that commitment.

TONS! Breast and prostate cancer, neonatal nutritional deficiencies, AIDS (this on ehad no clinical duties), to name a few. The possibilites are endless for MD onlies doing research which is why I see the PhD only as somewhat obsolete.

That is very, very encouraging !

I think the medical route would be good for you. You have the research experience, and you want to apply it to clinical experiences, so go ahead.

Don’t let the age thing keep you back; I am 10 years older than you, and I originally wanted to to a MD/PhD; in some ways, I still do. (There is also pathdr2b, another member who is close to my age and wants to do MD/PhD, too). But my grades are not competitive; I am a poor test-taker, and since grades are usually based on tests, my chance at even going in for an MD or DO is doomed. I haven’t given up yet, but I am close.

Just don’t fall into the trap/pit that I find myself in. I am unable to get myself out of it.