Approaching the question “Why MD-PhD”

MD/PhD admissions
By Maya T.

The “Why MD-PhD?” question should be approached thoughtfully and well in advance in order to best explain your career aspirations and unique journey. Let’s dive into some dos and don’ts about approaching this classic interview question!

DON’T say you couldn’t choose between science and medicine

If you’re applying for an MD-PhD program, it’s clear that you are passionate about both the lab and the clinic. With that said, an MD-PhD program is not only about pursuing both science and medicine, but also about actively finding ways to integrate them through your education and the years beyond. Interviewers want to make sure that you will take advantage of an interdisciplinary MD-PhD training by finding ways in which your research can influence your interactions with patients, and vice versa. 

DO focus on describing what you think the benefits are of an integrated physician-scientist training program

For example, you might discuss your excitement about being able to draw off your clinical experiences to inform how you prioritize designing new therapies for heart disease, as you will be able to directly learn which symptoms patients' find most debilitating. Alternatively, perhaps you will talk about how you wish to utilize artificial intelligence to enhance clinical decision-making, both for other physicians and for yourself. Regardless of your exact interests, make sure you convey how passionate you are about obtaining an MD-PhD, and not just a MD and PhD, individually. 

DON’T say you want to pursue an MD-PhD to pursue a career of 50% research and 50% clinical responsibilities

As mentioned above, an MD-PhD program provides amazing opportunities to grow as a physician, scientist, and, most importantly, physician-scientist. Applicants to MD-PhD programs should be genuinely passionate about pursuing a career that combines both science and medicine. With that said, it is also important that applicants recognize that the traditional MD-PhD research/clinical split is 80-20, respectively. After all, it takes time to dive into the science, apply for grants, and manage a lab! Now, that’s not to say that every MD-PhD follows this split, or that you have to. However, you should make sure that you are able to cogently express that you are aware of what an MD-PhD career path looks like and the demands both research and science will place on your time. An MD-PhD program is a long commitment, and interviewers want to ensure that you have a good understanding of the career trajectories most MD-PhDs take before offering you a spot in their program. 

DO discuss how you plan to integrate research and medicine in your career

This is an excellent opportunity to not only discuss your long-term professional aspirations, but also to show you have a firm grasp of what an MD-PhD program is for. Talk specifically about how you envision balancing science and medicine in the future. For example, perhaps you hope to see patients once a week in the psychiatry clinic while primarily running a lab that researches neuropsychiatric disorders. You might envision your time split 80% research and 20% clinical, as you follow the traditional physician-scientist path. On the other hand, maybe you see a slightly different vision for your MD-PhD. Some students, for example, are extremely passionate about surgery and hope to unite both surgery and science, while also recognizing that this means they will spend more time in the clinic than a non-surgical physician-scientist. It is totally okay, and even encouraged, to discuss these interests. The point here is not to force yourself to fit into some mold of what you think a physician-scientist should be, but rather to show that you clearly understand the demands and training path of an MD-PhD program and have also given serious thought to how you see balancing science and medicine in your future career. 

DON’T just discuss abstract reasons for wanting to pursue an MD-PhD

All people applying for an MD-PhD program have many shared reasons for doing so, especially in regards to the general theme of uniting science and medicine in order to further human health. This is great, and a key reason why MD-PhD programs are so unique in terms of the education they offer. However, remember that your interviewer is probably interviewing many of these other students as well. If your answer to why MD-PhD only hits on the broad training goals of their program, it will likely blend together with that of many other students, costing you a valuable opportunity to stand out.

DO focus on unique and specific experiences you’ve had that have motivated your decision to pursue an MD-PhD

Rather than saying that you think MD-PhDs are able to translate research from the bench to the bedside, discuss how you have personally united your research and clinical interests. How have you personally seen the power of bridging medicine and clinical work, and how would you like to continue this journey? This is also a great time to briefly mention why you are excited about interviewing at a particular program. For example, you might begin by discussing your experience both volunteering with patients on dialysis and doing research on the kidneys, ending with a segue to your excitement about the opportunities to further explore renal pathophysiology with Lab X at the institution you are interviewing at. This is also a great time to reflect on how your personal traits and philosophy might fit in well with an MD-PhD program. If you’re drawn to science because you love problem-solving or want to pursue medical school because you believe in the power of personal interaction to advance human health, say so! This is a great chance to show how your interest in an MD-PhD is motivated by both professional and personal desires.

The “Why MD-PhD?” question is a great chance to display your knowledge of the physician-scientist training path, your motivations for pursuing an MD-PhD in the present and future, and why you are excited about the opportunity to train at a specific program. By taking the time to craft an authentic and polished response to this classic interview question, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a MD-PhD trainee!

Cambridge Coaching has the most qualified team of medical school writing coaches available anywhere.  Our team is composed of MD, MD-PhDs, and professional writers because we understand that the best coach is going to help you produce a dazzling AMCAS essay, as well as a suite of supplementary materials that provides a persuasive, integrated argument for why you belong in medical school.

The challenge of the medical school application process isn’t just due to the workload, either. It has to do with the sheer competitiveness of the system. You can’t take anything for granted; every aspect of your application has to be solid - your GPA, your MCAT, your recommendations, your interviews, your activities, and your personal statement. That’s why we go beyond the usual options and offer coaching that covers the entire application, not just your personal statement. While we are happy to work with clients on a single essay or drafts, we find that we achieve the best results with clients who work with us throughout their application process - from the MCAT through to the admissions deadlines.

Maya graduated Columbia University with dual degrees in Biology and Computer Science. She began her first year at the Harvard-MIT MD/PhD program (Health Sciences and Technology MD track) in 2020.


academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT college admissions expository writing English strategy MD/PhD admissions writing LSAT GMAT physics GRE chemistry biology math graduate admissions academic advice law school admissions ACT interview prep language learning test anxiety career advice premed MBA admissions personal statements homework help AP exams creative writing MD test prep study schedules computer science Common Application mathematics summer activities history philosophy secondary applications organic chemistry economics supplements research grammar 1L PSAT admissions coaching law psychology statistics & probability dental admissions legal studies ESL CARS PhD admissions SSAT covid-19 logic games reading comprehension calculus engineering USMLE mentorship Spanish parents Latin biochemistry case coaching verbal reasoning AMCAS DAT English literature STEM admissions advice excel medical school political science skills French Linguistics MBA coursework Tutoring Approaches academic integrity astrophysics chinese gap year genetics letters of recommendation mechanical engineering Anki DO Social Advocacy algebra art history artificial intelligence business careers cell biology classics data science dental school diversity statement geometry kinematics linear algebra mental health presentations quantitative reasoning study abroad tech industry technical interviews time management work and activities 2L DMD IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs Sentence Correction adjusting to college algorithms amino acids analysis essay athletics business skills cold emails finance first generation student functions graphing information sessions international students internships logic networking poetry proofs resume revising science social sciences software engineering trigonometry units writer's block 3L AAMC Academic Interest EMT FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Health Professional Shortage Area Italian JD/MBA admissions Lagrange multipliers London MD vs PhD MMI Montessori National Health Service Corps Pythagorean Theorem Python Shakespeare Step 2 TMDSAS Taylor Series Truss Analysis Zoom acids and bases active learning architecture argumentative writing art art and design schools art portfolios bacteriology bibliographies biomedicine brain teaser campus visits cantonese capacitors capital markets central limit theorem centrifugal force chemical engineering chess chromatography class participation climate change clinical experience community service constitutional law consulting cover letters curriculum dementia demonstrated interest dimensional analysis distance learning econometrics electric engineering electricity and magnetism escape velocity evolution executive function fellowships freewriting genomics harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science hybrid vehicles hydrophobic effect ideal gas law immunology induction infinite institutional actions integrated reasoning intermolecular forces intern investing investment banking lab reports letter of continued interest linear maps mandarin chinese matrices mba medical physics meiosis microeconomics mitosis mnemonics music music theory nervous system