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Can all doctors do research or only MD/PHDs?

runallday4runallday4 Posts: 713Registered User Member
edited November 2012 in Pre-Med Topics
At the moment I'm a high school senior, and while I wait for my ED application results, I'm stressing out a little about what I'm going to do with my future. At the moment med school seems really attractive, but that may just be because I don't know about a lot of the jobs that are out there. I'm thinking of majoring in Math, with either a second major or a minor in biochemistry. I know I don't have to major in bio, but I'm really interested in in, especially in doing research. Now, I'm wondering, are all doctors able to do research, or do only MD/PHDs do research?

I'm asking because, while I think I have a good chance at getting into medical school, I think it's unlikely that I'll qualify for an MD/PHD program, advice?

Thanks
Post edited by runallday4 on

Replies to: Can all doctors do research or only MD/PHDs?

  • 2prepMom2prepMom Posts: 1,006Registered User Senior Member
    MD/PhD programs are generally easier to get in to than MD programs, because fewer students want to commit to the time (6,7,8+ years)

    Research will help your MD medical school application tremendously, so try to find research you like with faculty at your college, or maybe a summer at NIH.

    Both MDs and PhDs are active in research, especially in academic medical centers. The degrees matters little down the road, what matters more is your commitment to research.

    By the way, I did my PhD first (8 years), then MD. Took a long time, but worked out well for me.
  • WayOutWestMomWayOutWestMom Posts: 6,522Registered User Senior Member
    Are you talking about clinical/translational research or basic/lab bench research?

    I'll let others answer re: basic lab bench research since there are others here who are better qualified than me on that topic.

    MDs do engage in clinical research. And some medical schools require and/or encourage straight MD medical students to do a research thesis. Some medical residency programs also require and/or encourage research projects. (For example, D1 is doing her research thesis on surgical meshes and how/why they break down in the human body and how to correct that issue on a molecular level. She's a straight MD student at a rather unremarkable state med school, but one that requires a research thesis from all students. She's working with graduate students in the material sciences and mechanical engineering depts. on this project.)

    As for the qualifiying for the MD/PhD program---it's waaaaayyyyyy to early to even guess if you'll qualify. Or even if you still want to do basic lab bench research in 4 years.

    A research career really isn't for everyone. It takes a special combination of personality, mind set, ability and opportunity to do basic research. (I speak as the spouse of someone who spent his entire life doing basic science research, and as someone who knows a number of basic research scientists.)

    I'd suggest that you take time during your college career and work in a basic science research environment and see if you like it. There are plentiful opportunities open to you on just about every college campus.
  • runallday4runallday4 Posts: 713Registered User Member
    @2prepMom, why do you say they're easier to get into?
    wikipedia wrote:
    Admission to MSTPs is the most competitive of all graduate medical education programs, with only 170 NIH-funded positions available nationwide each year for 1,779 applicants (a 9.6% acceptance rate). In comparison MD-only programs had 42,742 applicants for 18,665 positions (a 44% acceptance rate).[4] Applicants must have strong MCAT scores and GPAs to be considered for positions in MST programs. Reflecting this fact, from 2008 to 2010 the average GPA and MCAT for matriculants to MSTPs was 3.76 and 34.5, respectively. MSTP applicants will often have strong research experience as well. Interviews at MSTPs tend to focus on the applicant's past experiences in scientific research. These may include short research talks or presentations followed by rigorous questioning by an interviewer or interviewing committee. At some MSTPs, applicants may also have to interview with the MD-only program.

    @WOWM, thanks for the info. At the point you're right, I'm really not sure what I want to do, although being an MD, or just a PHD both sound good. I had a little panic earlier today after I realized that I really wasn't sure what I could do with a math major other than teach (which I really don't want to do).
  • i_wanna_be_Browni_wanna_be_Brown Posts: 5,260Registered User Senior Member
    2prepmom,

    maybe back when you trained it was easier to do MD/PhD but given that the average GPA and MCAT of MSTP matriculants is higher than MD (and the schools with MSTP programs are generally the more competitive schools), even if the acceptance rates are little higher, that's a far cry from being "easier" to get into.

    Any MD can do research, but if you want to do basic science research (i.e. stuff in a laboratory), the MD training is simply inferior compared to MD/PhD. That doesn't mean that with enough effort and the right fellowship it can't be done, but you're maximizing your odds of success by going MD/PhD.

    I agree that this is early. First things first, get into college.

    EDIT: Cross posted with above. Turns out the stats are even more staggering than I thought (9.7 vs. 44 is not even close).
  • plumazulplumazul Posts: 1,588Registered User Senior Member
    @runallday,
    I had a little panic earlier today after I realized that I really wasn't sure what I could do with a math major other than teach (which I really don't want to do).

    A math degree is a wonderful thing to have. It opens up many career paths. Both of my parents are mathematicians, and have always had great jobs but never teaching.
  • WayOutWestMomWayOutWestMom Posts: 6,522Registered User Senior Member
    I agree. Lots you can do with a math degree. I have 2 offspring both with math degrees. One is now in medical school; the other is using her math expertise to be the interface/translator between 2 wildly disparate portions of her post-college research group. (Biophysics/biomedical engineering and neuropsychiatry. They really don't speak the same languages at all....) She has found her math skills in high demand in many biology and biomedical groups. (Way too many undergrad--and some graduate--biology students are math-adverse.)

    Other math majors D1 and D2 know have gone into computer systems, artificial intellegence, meteorology, financial analysis, banking, cellular communication systems, power grid analysis, bioinformatics, science program management, public service, and, yes, into teaching math at the high school and community college levels.

    I sympathize with OP. D2 has the research profile to be an excellent candidate for a MD/PhD program, but she wavers back and forth because she really doesn't enjoy the research process all that much. (Or so she says. She still keeps going back to it. I strongly suspect this one will end up in academic medicine....)
  • ecouter11ecouter11 Posts: 1,408Registered User Senior Member
    I actually have talked to/know a number of clinician scientists who've gotten off rather well with just an MD but I feel like they are from a different era.

    One person I worked with became a professor before he was 29, in the biological sciences (with a straight PhD)! That seems nearly impossible now, even for a really talented person since 1-2 postdocs are the norm and even 5+ year PhDs. The sense I've gotten from people I know is that the market for Biomedical science PhDs is pretty saturated and it's extremely tough to get tenure and grants.

    I know some people who have been successful at "young-ish" ages, both PhD or MD/MSc but I've noticed that they always have contacts/have worked with the big name scientists in the facility.

    Being a clinician scientist seems like an insane amount of work, also. The people I know are constantly on the run and sometimes work 70+ hours a week. You really are cramming two jobs into one.

    I, like you, am just in high school so I obviously don't have any real life experience regarding this. That being said, everyone has just told me to explore and keep options open and that sounds like pretty sound advice to me! :)
  • WayOutWestMomWayOutWestMom Posts: 6,522Registered User Senior Member
    Actually you're correct on nearly all counts. However, 1-2 post-docs has been the norm since DH was a newly minted PhD more than 3 decades ago. That's not anything new.

    The 'theoretical' 40-hour work week is just that--a theory. Every successful scientist I know works insanely long hours. And there is a huge glut of biology PhDs, far more than academia and industry can absorb. There have been articles and discussions about the problem in Science and the Chronicle of Higher Education for the better part of decade now. And yes, working for a "big name" can be a huge plus for your career (assuming you don't get on his/her bad side) ---it's called workplace politics and networking to bring in funding. All of this is very much the reality of a career as researcher.
  • ecouter11ecouter11 Posts: 1,408Registered User Senior Member
    I guess the guy I'm talking about either did his PhD really quickly or either did his PhD, 1 postdoc and then got his position. He's very, very smart and he came in with some pretty rare experience (at least back then) so, I guess either one works. This was early 1990s though.

    And alas, it seems like you can escape the cubicle but not the politics!
  • 2prepMom2prepMom Posts: 1,006Registered User Senior Member
    Thanks runalday4, I looked up the data on MSTPs (Medical Scientist Training Programs), which are fully funded NIH programs that Wikipedia suggests translate into nice full ride with free tuition to both the MD and PhD portions, and a 30K a year salary in addition. Only 170 positions are available a year.

    Students can also start MD programs and then combine it with PhD work (after completing basic sciences and usually before clinicals), or do PhD before MD (as I did). Student loans provided my funding. Less attractive.
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