Are MD-PhD Programs Meeting Their Goals? An Analysis of Career Choices Made by Graduates of 24 MD-PhD Programs

Brass, Lawrence F. MD, PhD; Akabas, Myles H. MD, PhD; Burnley, Linda D.; Engman, David M. MD, PhD; Wiley, Clayton A. MD, PhD; Andersen, Olaf S. MD

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181d3ca17
Career Choice
Abstract

Purpose: MD-PhD training programs provide an integrated approach for training physician-scientists. The goal of this study was to characterize the career path taken by MD-PhD program alumni during the past 40 years and identify trends that affect their success.

Method: In 2007-early 2008, 24 programs enrolling 43% of current trainees and representing half of the National Institutes of Health-funded MD-PhD training programs submitted anonymous data on 5,969 current and former trainees.

Results: The average program enrolled 90 trainees, required 8.0 years to complete, and had an attrition rate of 10%. Nearly all (95%) of those who graduated entered residencies. Most (81%) were employed in academia, research institutes, or industry; 16% were in private practice. Of those in academia, 82% were doing research and at least 61% had identifiable research funding. Whereas two-thirds devoted more than 50% effort to research, only 39% devoted more than 75% effort. Many with laboratory-based PhDs reported doing clinical, as well as basic and translational, research. Emerging trends include decreasing numbers of graduates who forego residencies or hold primary appointments in nonclinical departments, increasing time to graduation, and expanding residency choices that include disciplines historically associated with clinical practice rather than research.

Conclusions: Most MD-PhD program graduates follow career paths generally consistent with their training as physician-scientists. However, the range of their professional options is broad. Further thought should be given to designing their training to anticipate their career choices and maximize their likelihood of success as investigators.

Author Information

Dr. Brass is professor, Department of Medicine and Department of Pharmacology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he directs the MD-PhD program. He was 2007 chair, MD-PhD Section, Association of American Medical Colleges Group on Graduate Research, Education, and Training (AAMC GREAT Group).

Dr. Akabas is professor, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, Bronx, New York, where he directs the MD-PhD program. He is co-chair, Data and Analysis Committee, MD-PhD Section, AAMC GREAT Group.

Ms. Burnley is director, Administration and Finance, Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Combined MD-PhD Program, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. She is co-chair, Data and Analysis Committee, MD-PhD Section, AAMC GREAT Group.

Dr. Engman is professor, Department of Pathology, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, where he directs the MD-PhD program. He was 2008 chair, MD-PhD Section, AAMC GREAT Group.

Dr. Wiley is professor, Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he directs the MD-PhD program. He was 2009 chair, MD-PhD Section, AAMC GREAT Group.

Dr. Andersen is professor, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University, New York, New York, where he directs the MD-PhD program. He was 2005 chair, MD-PhD Section, AAMC GREAT Group.

Please see the end of this article for information about the authors.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Brass, University of Pennsylvania, Room 915 BRB-II, 421 Curie Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19104; telephone: (215) 573-4669; e-mail: brass@mail.med.upenn.edu.

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges