Apparently the MCAT is Important

The head of the premed committee at my institution had quite a few things to say to me earlier this week. He seemed to think that a big MCAT score on the board was something of a gamechanger and altered the way that I should look at schools. Apparently, my exam score, GPA, letters of recommendation, and research / work experience give me a very strong application and, assuming I don’t tank my interviews, he felt confident I was going to have my pick of several offers next year. When I asked about schools he was thinking would be wise to apply to, he started spouting off places like UCSF, UCSD, Stanford, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and so forth. I was really taken back because for the last two years I’ve know him, every time I walked out of his office I felt like he thought I was a joke. His inability to tell people what they want to hear is legendary. This time I went to see him, I heard phrases like “Run like the wind” quite a bit. From his perspective, I have a significant opportunity here which a lot of people don’t normally have.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with the physican I’ve been doing research with. We were talking about some of my goals in medicine and I told her that I really wanted to wind up at an academic institution, with a significant amount of teaching and collaboration. She asked me if I had considered the MD / PhD route. I remarked that I had considered a PhD several times since I graduated and that I had turned it down because I felt that it really narrowed ones focus and that sort of turned me off to it. In her opinion, that is a flawed understanding of the way that the dual-degrees function in medicine. In the medical field, the dual-degree functions in a somewhat different manner than it does in the hard sciences and doesn’t necessarily constrain someone to one very narrow slice of the profession. Additionally, from her perspective, dual-degrees among the faculty of most institutions is becoming more the rule rather than the exception. This of course got me thinking, because every one of my professors and classmates has asked me why I’ve not considered the dual-degree. Well, now I am.

This is all rather strange for me. Up until now I’ve been thinking of myself and my candidacy for medical school from the perspective of an underdog. I think that may be a bit of a mistake – if there is an opportunity here, I don’t want to waste it.

With that as a bit of prologue, I have a couple of questions that I’d like to crowd-source some advice on.

  • Is a dual-degree (or an MD with a post-doc or fellowship) more or less the standard approach for a person with my goals?
  • What are the most important aspects of a combined program to consider?
  • Are there limits on what fields a person is able to pursue their PhD in?
  • In general, what advice would you give to someone in my position looking at selecting schools to apply to, both for MD and MD-PhD programs?

If any of you guys have some advice, I’d love to hear it. Thanks.

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3 Responses

  1. Yep, this is pretty much how all pre-med advisers are. It’s not personal. There are a lot of kids who stink it up on the MCAT even though they talk a big game, and the advisers probably learn to take people with the grain of salt.

    1. What are your goals?
    2. How well their applicants match and in what, what % of graduates are still doing research, what is the average time to graduation, how big a name school is it — i.e. what kind of research $ do they have, and how big a selection of PIs will you have.
    3. Depends on the school. Most do basic science (cell bio, neuro bio, developmental bio). Some allow you to do engineering as well (may have different funding mechanism, you should find out from the program you’re applying to –> this path isn’t as common though there are several people doing this at my program. Not many places do non basic science (i.e. Epi, Public Policy, Psych, Anthro, Sociology, etc.), but more do now than when I applied. You should check with each school you apply to specifically.
    4. Ugh. Don’t know what to tell you here. This is what I did, and I pretty much applied MD-PhD to any school that had a PhD in something I wanted to do (Epi, Policy, etc.), and MD only in the ones that only took basic science applicants. I only got interviewed 2 places for combined degree. I hear things are better now.

    I could write a novel on this subject… feel free to email me if you have questions about the process.

  2. OMDG is a much better person to advise you (go through my blog and she probably advised me on everything of major significance when I applied), but I was always wondering why you haven’t thought about MD/PhD before 🙂

    If you like, email me and we can perhaps get in touch about the application process, considering I JUST went through it and am helping out with admissions at my institution.

  3. Check your email, I left you my thoughts. We bloggers gotta stick together.

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