What can you be with an MD/PhD

Posted by The PhD Perspective on 10/25/12 10:13 AM

In our post, we’ll tell you what the next steps are and what you can be with an MD/PhD

The path to gaining admission to a dual degree MD/PhD program is long and arduous.  In our previous blog, we gave the ins and outs of MD/PhD admission, and showed you what the success profiles of accepted students look like:

  1. Strong MCAT scores/application (certainly aided by MCAT prep/admisoons consulting)
  2. Strong background in and commitment to research

The path through this program is also long, hard, and can seem impossible at times.  But, what exactly is the end goal?

What exactly happens after I’ve finished the MD/PhD program?


Residency or not?

Upon completion of medical school, you’ve got that MD (along with the PhD).  BUT your training isn’t over just yet.  The next step is more specialized training in a residency program.  Here, you’ll hone your skills and increase your knowledge of a particular area.  Perhaps working with children is your passion, in which case a residency in pediatrics may be the right fit for you.  Psychiatry may be a viable choice for you if the inner workings of the mind and human behavior fascinate you. This is the opportunity to build a strong knowledge base in your field of interest.  Stay tuned for considerations on how to choose a residency.  But, unlike your medical school counterparts, research is a serious consideration when choosing a specialty.  Some residencies are more amenable to conducting research during these training periods (and in fact require it), while others (because of their clinical responsibilities) do not provide protected time for research.  As an MD/PhD student, research is an integral part of training and your career.  Like any skill, the more time you spend away from it, the rustier your skills become.  In general, MD/PhDs choose those specialties which tend to be amenable to research, and shy away from those with more clinical time (pediatrics, medicine, pathology vs. surgery).  Even with some time available for research, you won’t be working in the lab to the same extent you did while working on your PhD.  Many students welcome this new situation, splitting time between clinic and the lab.  But for those who find the thought of leaving the lab heartbreaking, there is another option

You DON’T have to do a residency

Every year, there is a small group who decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship instead of completing a residency.  Armed with medical knowledge, they hope to conduct research geared towards making advances.  These individuals, although a minority, have made a personal choice to pursue a research career.

What happens next?

After residency (often followed by a fellowship in a more even specialized field of knowledge), where do we go from here?  Despite popular belief, there are several options:


MD/PhD students most often end up as faculty at major research institutions.  They run research labs and split their time between this commitment, clinical work, and teaching.   We often here of this magic 80:20 ratio, which just means that these individuals spend 80% of their time doing research related activities and 20% of their time doing clinical work.  While this is flexible, years of past experience has suggested that this allows you to get the maximum out of each activity.  Pursuing this path requires a desire to teach and carry out research, in addition to clinical work.  However, this path also means that you will be in charge of running an entire research lab full of people, mentoring and keeping them on track at the same time as managing the practical parts of running the lab and securing funding to keep yourself going.  If you’ve got good management skills and enjoy being a leader, this would be a good fit.


a.Media/Science Journalism

In a world with ever increasing access to information, it can be difficult for laypersons to navigate and process this information.  With a strong background in medicine and science, you would have the skill set to serve this population.  Throughout your training, you would have been sifting through countless pieces of data, and primary literature to make sense of it all, and boil it down to a manageable and understandable message.  These individuals can work t popular science magazines or even on broadcast TV.  If you have a passion for communicating science, this could be a potential career.


Perhaps you have an interest in interacting with people and selling a product.  While there are many non-science folks selling a producing, having a science background gives you an advantage, especially if you are selling a product to scientists.  This career can be personally fulfilling (satisfying your need to work in a team, interact with other individuals, and build new products) and lucrative.  If your communication skills are good, and you crave interaction with people on a regular basis, this could be a viable option.

The jobs outlined here are just a few potential positions.  Having both an MD and a PhD gives you the flexibility to do any number of jobs or combinations of positions. 

What is important is finding the RIGHT FIT for you.  GOOD LUCK!

Tags: MD/PhD admissions