The Essential MD-PhD Guide is an all-inclusive guide to the MD-PhD pathway. The book is a collaborative effort between MD-PhD students at McGill University in Montréal, Québec and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The purpose of the Essential MD-PhD Guide is to give an in-depth overview of the MD-PhD pathway—an intensive program of study leading to both MD and PhD degrees—with the ultimate goal of producing exceptional physician scientists who will make meaningful contributions to the medical field.
More than 130 MD-PhD programs are offered in North America. These programs allow students to graduate with both MD and PhD degrees following approximately eight years of medical and graduate studies. MD-PhD programs are intended to produce highly motivated and well-trained graduates who will establish themselves as leading physician scientists in a whole range of scientific and clinical domains. Graduates have the challenging yet rewarding task of identifying research questions at the bedside, studying these questions in the laboratory, and bringing novel therapies back to the patients who need them.
Upon completing their training, MD-PhD graduates often pursue careers at academic medical centers where they provide patient care and lead research laboratories, but many physician-scientist careers are available and provide the opportunity for those who understand patient care and research to make discoveries. Graduates are represented in any clinical domain ranging from primary care and internal medicine specialties to surgical subspecialties, public health, and many more. Similarly, graduates can be found in any research domain ranging from genetics, to epidemiology and health services research, to immunology, oncology—with too many to name! While their clinical and research domains may vary, what MD-PhD graduates have in common is their love of and commitment to both high-quality patient care and innovative medical research.
The Essential MD-PhD Guide provides a thorough overview of the issues facing MD-PhD students throughout all parts of their training. Because each chapter is written by one or more students, a variety of perspectives are presented. Some issues are covered in more than one chapter, allowing for viewpoints from Canadian and US perspectives, viewpoints from trainees of diverse backgrounds, as well as viewpoints from students and graduates in various stages of their careers (medical school, graduate school, residency, fellowship, and faculty). Each chapter begins with a short description of what stage the students were in at the time that the chapter was written. In addition, we begin each chapter with five key take-home messages that are addressed in detail in the ensuing chapter.
The Essential MD-PhD Guide is a must-read book for those considering careers as physician-scientists as well as for students currently enrolled in MD-PhD programs. The book provides a comprehensive review that will allow students to get the most out of their search for and time in an MD-PhD program and which will allow them to position themselves to have successful careers as physician-scientists. The Guide is filled with first-hand experiences and practical advice. It leads the readers through topics such as choosing a program, navigating the early years of medical school, selecting a research laboratory and project, and negotiating the transitions between medicine and research and back again. The Guide also provides advice on choosing clinical rotations, residency programs, and fellowships, as well as the pursuit of different career options for MD-PhD graduates.
As directors of the MD-PhD programs at McGill and Johns Hopkins, it has been our pleasure to work on this collaborative effort. In addition to all the MD-PhD students and graduates who have authored or coauthored chapters, we are indebted to a variety of individuals without whom this book would not have come to fruition. We would first like to thank Matthew Dankner for skillfully leading the early stages of planning and content development. We would particularly like to thank Amir Razaghizad for managing this project. It required coordination of a large number of authors and reviewers. Amir expertly shepherded all the many drafts and revisions to a successful conclusion. We are indebted to our student reviewers including Etienne Maes, Jessica Petricca, Joan Miguel Romero, Judy Chen, Mark Sorin, Matthew Hintermayer, Michael Luo, Owen Chen, Sarah Lepine, Sarah Maritan, Scott Ehrenberg, and Tarek Taifour. We are also indebted to our faculty reviewers including Drs. David Buckeridge, Lysanne Campeau, Jenny Lin, Brent Richards, Jacquetta Trasler, and Pia Wintermark. Special thanks are owed to Dr. Yvonne Hung and Ben Wexler for editorial assistance. Finally, we would like to express our thanks to our families and colleagues for their encouragement and patience during the many months it took to prepare the Essential MD-PhD Guide.
Having careers in which we can provide patient care and conduct research is an honor and a privilege. Balancing what amounts to two separate careers can be challenging. Each requires specialized knowledge and a unique skillset. The MD-PhD career path is not for everyone. For those who decide to pursue this path, however, it is exceptionally rewarding and fulfilling. It is our hope that you will find the Essential MD-PhD Guide to be an indispensable guide that will help you in your own voyage of discovery.
Mark J. Eisenberg, MD, MPH
Andrea L. Cox, MD PhD