Yup! It’s possible! If you’re looking to become a physician, but still want to have a heavy focus on research, then maybe you should look into MD/PhD programs.
What is an MD/PhD Program?
An MD/PhD program essentially leads you to earn a combined degree where you complete both medical school and PhD training (often in an area of biomedical science, but your focus can also be healthcare economics, healthcare and society, etc.). MD/PhD programs provide training in both medicine and research, and are specifically for people looking to become physician-investigators or physician-scientists.
Typically, students complete the first two years of medical school (where you learn all the scientific basics, anatomy/physiology, etc.), then transition into PhD training (3-5 years), and lastly complete their third and fourth years of medical school (where you complete your clinical rotations in a hospital). This means that MD/PhD programs last 8 years, excluding the time for residency for whatever specialty you decide to pursue.
Because there’s such a large time commitment if you decide to pursue an MD/PhD, many of the programs offer significant financial aid. Others are completely free and offer a living stipend. But, this financial investment on their end is made because they expect you to be highly involved in research and contribute your life’s work to science.
MD/PhD programs tend to be slightly more competitive than regular medical school admissions. According to the AAMC, an average matriculant at a medical school has a GPA of around 3.7 and an MCAT score of 515. Matriculants of MD/PhD programs have an average GPA of 3.8 and an MCAT score of over 517.
What are Physician Investigators/Scientists?
Physician scientists typically work in academic health science centers and have a high impact on health care through discovery, translational and clinical research, and clinical practice. Physician scientists often act as a bridge between scientific investigation and patient care, and “brings clinically relevant questions into the research arena to drive investigations into pathogenesis, prevention, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease” (Princeton).
How Do I Know if I Should Become an MD/PhD?
Well, first off, you have to love research. If you have very little or no interest in research, then don’t bother applying to an MD/PhD program because about 70%-80% of your career will be in academia. If you have some interest in research, you can still be involved in it as just an MD; there are plenty of opportunities, especially if you end up at an academic center. Many MD physicians who want to be involved in research pursue fellowship or a research year after medical school, so that’s another option if you’d still rather focus on patient care.
Don’t become an MD/PhD for the “prestige.” Yes, technically you’re a “double doctor.” But that won’t give you any more privileges than an MD; an MD and a MD-PhD just have different career focuses.