As I’ve written about in some of my previous posts, I’m working in a research lab this summer. I haven’t done any research per se – I don’t have the science background for that yet – so I’ve been doing basic things like changing cells’ media, passaging cells, running gel electrophoresis, etc. (I learned all of that from scratch … I even needed a pipetting refresher when I started in May! )

Anyway. I LOVE it. And not just the manual aspects of it – I love learning about the biological / chemical / physiological reasons for why things happen. I even find myself puttering around on PubMed … yes, I’m a nerd.

Now before anyone tells me to go get a PhD and do research … I love the clinical aspects of medicine as well. And I’m very dedicated to getting an MD. That is my priority.

The thing is, I’m thinking … maybe I want to do both. I know you can do research with an MD alone (no PhD). But your research options (and skills) are much greater with a PhD. And while this would NOT be my motivation, it doesn’t hurt that the NIH pays for your school (+ living stipend) if you do the MSTP (medical scientist training program).

I would face some challenges. I don’t have a science degree or a research background, for one. Although I’ve talked to the director of the lab where I work and he’s willing to go to bat for me and apply for funding to get me a (paid) position for next summer to do my own research project. I’m doing a formal post-bac starting this fall and could take some upper-div science courses to try and make up for my lack of a science degree.

The average stats for the MSTP programs are pretty steep and competitive – something like a 3.75 GPA and a 35 MCAT, if memory serves. But my undergrad GPA was a good bit higher than 3.75, and so what I’d need to do is keep it there in my post-bac and do really well on the MCAT.

One of my biggest fears was that my husband would think I’m nuts, but he thinks this is actually an interesting idea. So that’s good.

So my question is … anyone else considering an MSTP (MD/PhD)? Or if not, any thoughts, advice, etc.?

Thanks in advance.

You are correct - getting into a MSTP program is VERY competitive. The number of funded slots is fairly small - at OSU, they only accepted around 4-5 students into the MSTP per year. And, part of whether or not you are a good candidate for a school (or vice versa) is whether or not they have a faculty member who is a good match for your research interests and is willing to mentor you.

Realize that the MSTP is very rigorous. At OSU, the students are expected to do a certain amount of hours per week in the lab while at the same time completing their med 1 and med 2 coursework. They then take 2 years off to work on their PhD before starting their clinical years (not sure if this is the same at all schools or not).

I guess my advice would be to find someone who finished a MSTP recently or is currently involved in one and get their input. I would also contact a few schools that offer MSTPs and see what you would need to do in order to make yourself competitive. All of the MSTP students I met had well established research interests prior to starting the program, most of them having been involved in publishing papers as undergrads. I’m thinking that your biggest challenge in getting into a MSTP program is going to be your lack of a science/research background. I’m not sure one summer of doing your own research project is going to be enough to make yourself competitive.

Thanks for the honest input, Emergency. I know I’m way behind on this, and I may not even have a shot at an MSTP (unless, for example, I took an extra whole year before med school and did my own research). I guess I’m just investigating at this point to see if I do.

I’m establishing some connections at the university where I’m doing my research work this summer, so that’s definitely a plus. I have no idea if it’ll be of any help later on, but it can’t hurt. I’m also hoping to talk to the director of the MSTP there sometime this summer to get her advice. I’ll see where it goes.

Thanks again.

A brief update: I’m meeting tomorrow morning with the assistant director of the MD/PhD program at the university where I’m doing the research lab work this summer. I’m a tad nervous, but also excited, well, just because. And I figure that I have nothing to lose from this encounter. I’m preparing my list of questions and honing my “story” right now. Wish me luck!

So … I met with the assistant director of the MSTP (officially NIH-funded MD/PhD program) at the university where I’m doing my lab work this summer. I went in with my transcript and resume, fully prepared to hear, “Hell will freeze over before you have a chance in our program!”

I laid out, as positively as I could, my background in journalism, my (very good) GPA, my current lab work and intention of doing my own research project next summer, my reasons for wanting to do medicine, why I am considering MD/PhD, and so on.

And then I popped the question: “Based on my background, could I be a competitive candidate for your program?”

Her response: “Well, in fact, you would be a FANTASTIC candidate for our program!”

I immediately perked up, of course! We had a wonderful hour-and-a-half conversation, talking about all kinds of things. We talked about the program, of course, but also some about both of our personal backgrounds. Yay for making a personal connection with the person who would be (potentially) first eyes on my application! (If I do decide to do MD/PhD)

As I prepared to leave, she picked up the folder in which I had placed my resume and copy of my transcript. “Do you want these back?” she asked. I said she could keep them. “Well,” she replied, “I have a file that I call ‘potentially very good applicants,’ and I’m going to put this in there.”

I most definitely left with a smile on my face, completely on cloud nine.

Of course, this does not guarantee anything. And I have a lot to do: I haven’t even done my pre-requisites yet. But the fact that this woman sees my past as an asset, not a detractor, to my success in an MSTP, was quite encouraging. As was the fact that my plans for the next two years, in her opinion, would indeed prepare me for the program.

Anyway … just wanted to share the good news.

Congrats on that meeting! This process really is about who you know!

Glad your meeting went well and I hope you came out of it with lots of good information and questions answered!

You can do anything you want

You can’t do everything you want

the rigors and length of MD/PhD are like medical school but even more so. While you opportunity to do so, be sure you explore yourself, your life, your family, and fully understand the impacts and implications of this nearly all-consuming path.

I do not say this to dissuade but rather to ensure that those here on OPM enter their journey’s with eye’s wide open seeing not simply the bright opportunities but the many dark and lonely miles that a path such as an MD/PhD.

That sounds like a fabulous meeting! Like pushing on what you thought would be a wall and finding a door…

Best wishes on your journey!