How to MD/PhD programs differ?

Not all MD/PhD programs are the same.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there are 125 schools that offer MD/PhD training in the United States. There are also a few DO/PhD programs, though I could not find a comprehensive list of these.

These programs vary quite a bit. I was certainly not aware of all of the things to consider when deciding where to apply for MD/PhD training. This is just a general overview of some of the major ways programs can differ based on what I know and is by no means a comprehensive list of the variations that you’ll find.

Structure

The “assumed” structure of a MD/PhD program is what we call a 2-4-2. This means that students take the first 2 pre-clinical years of medical school, take USMLE Step 1, then take a break from medical school to complete their PhD in hopefully 4 years (sometimes more, sometimes less), and after that they return to medical school to complete their 2 clinical years.

I say the “assumed” structure because my MD/PhD program is one of those that is quite different. We begin with our PhD and progress through our PhD training on the same timeline as PhD-only students, except that we also take the first year of medical school decompressed during that time. Check out my post My MD-PhD timeline for how that worked out for me. Only after completing our PhD do we continue with our second year of medical school, take the Step 1 exam, and then go on to our 2 clinical years of medical school.

I have not heard of another school that does it quite like mine, but I have heard of one that has students take their first year of medical school all at once, then take a break for their PhD, then return to do their last 3 years like my school.

While some schools – like mine – frontload research training in their MD/PhD program, others have a structure that puts more medical training before students do their PhD. As some schools are shortening their pre-clinical curriculum to 1.5 years, students are able to complete a couple clinical clerkships to solidify their medical knowledge before transitioning to their PhD phase. Other schools have students complete the first 3 years of medical school (through their core 3rd year clerkships) before doing their PhD and returning for their 4th year of medical school.

There’s pros and cons to all of these approaches. I liked doing more research first so that I could approach my medical training from a research perspective. Now that I’ve done more medical training, I feel like it also would have been nice to have at least the first 2 years of medical school done before doing my PhD so that I could approach my research from a more clinical perspective. This is why it is important to research all of the schools you’re considering and, importantly, try to talk to students at those schools to find out what they think about their program. Regardless, all of these should, on average, take 8 years to complete.

Size

MD/PhD programs also dramatically differ by size. So, depending on where you go, you may or may not be part of a large community of students going through the same challenge of being both a medical student and graduate student. Of the 125 schools on the AAMC list, some of these have quite large MD/PhD programs. For example, Washington University in St. Louis has approximately 200 MD/PhD students. On the other hand, some of the schools listed only have a listed option for students to do a MD/PhD training without any listed students in the program on their webpage.

I began in a cohort of 10 MD/PhD students. At the time, my program had 120+ students overall and had been training MD/PhD students since the 1970s (so we had a large alumni network). I enjoyed having this larger community. With 125 students in the M1 class, it meant that there was at least a few other people in the room who understood the challenges of balancing MD and PhD training. We have had yearly retreats to facilitate community building and collaboration across the campus. These have slowly shrunk in size due to our campus of our college of medicine closing down, but our sense of community remains. I’m in the last graduating class from our campus, and all 12 of us are MD/PhD students, which is a quite unique experience.

If you end up at a smaller program, there’s other sources of community including the #DoubleDocs hashtag on Twitter and the American Physician Scientists Association (and their Twitter lists) that you can use to find fellow physician-scientist trainees.

My MD/PhD program at our 2019 retreat.

Funding

This is so important. Medical training is ridiculously expensive and committing to the extra years of research training cuts away at your years where you can make actual attending physician-level money. Luckily, *most* MD/PhD programs that I’m aware of offer tuition waivers to relieve the burden of medical school debt. However, I have heard of at least one program where students are responsible for a portion of their medical school tuition.

Importantly, all programs should provide a stipend for all years of training. Usually, these are similar to the stipends of normal PhD students, so somewhere around $20,000-$30,000 for the year (this depends on the school, department, and cost of living in the area). Some programs have a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) grant, which they use to fund their students and provide a stipend throughout the entirety of their MD/PhD training. People often use “MSTP” as an equivalent of the term “MD/PhD program”, but there are only 50 schools with this funding status. So, these terms are NOT the same (as a non-MSTP MD/PhD student, this is definitely a pet peeve).

Other programs rely on different funding mechanisms to support their students. For example, my program provides a stipend while we’re in our medical school years, but during our PhD years, we are funded like any other PhD student. This means if our advisors are able to afford a research assistant appointment for us, then we get our stipend that way. Otherwise, we have to work as teaching assistants on top of doing our research to get our stipend. PhD programs often have teaching as a requirement for getting a PhD, so this was fine for me though I did have to do more than my department required. Some MD/PhD programs waive these teaching requirements.

Another funding option that MD/PhD students are encouraged to apply for is the Ruth L. Kirchstein Individual Predoctoral National Research Service Award (NRSA). The F30 award is specifically for MD/PhD and other Dual Degree Fellowships. There is also a F31 award for predoctoral students but not specifically those also completing a medical degree. Note that these are funded by the National Institutes of Health and are only available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents. I was fortunate to be awarded a F30 grant and will hopefully be able to write more about these awards in another post and will update with a link when it is published.

Other things to consider

Is the program in an area of the country that you want to live? Are there people doing research there that you’d want to work with (see my post How to pick a research lab)? How good are the hospitals that you’ll train at? Are there opportunities to experience rural/urban health? Do they effectively promote diversity and inclusion in their program/at their campus? Do students feel like the administration listens to them?


Featured photo: Adapted from @MDPhDToBe on Instagram

Almost Docs: How to pick a research lab

This was originally shared on www.almostdocs.com (which no longer exists???) While I thought I had re-published all of my important articles from that site last year, I guess I missed this one. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Please note that I wrote this in 2014!!!

Whether you’re a pre-med who wants to build your resume for medical school, a medical student who wants to fill a free summer, or a graduate student, you’re probably going to be doing research. Before you jump in to trying to join a research group, I am here to warn you that not every research environment is equal (as I’ve learned the hard way, which sort of makes me an expert so you probably heed my warning). If you do it right, there is a lot to consider when finding a research advisor that is best for you, which is ultimately what’s important.

If the thought of picking a research advisor makes you feel a little like this:

Then this list of considerations is for you.

1. What area of research do you want to be in?

First things first, you need to narrow down your options. Often this will be in your major or graduate program area, so hopefully you’ve already had a chance to reflect on this. Do you want to do biology or engineering or anthropology? Whatever it is, look for professors who are doing research in that area.

2. Does your personality fit with that of the Primary Investigator (PI)?

Before asking to join a lab, it is essential that you reach out to the PI (or the professor in charge of the lab, for those who do not know). Talk to them about their research and the lab environment and by doing so, try to gauge how well you would work together. The PI will be your primary advisor in the lab and you need to make sure that you will be able to work with them and be successful.

3. How involved is the PI in their students?

Some PIs expect a detailed schedule of their students’ work and oversee it closely while others lay back and don’t keep a close watch on their students at all. Of course these are the extremes, but you will find PIs along a whole spectrum of involvement. Depending on your work ethic and confidence, one extreme or the other may be better for you. It is important to understand how you work to understand what you’re looking for in a PI. Remember, if a PI is more laid back, you will have to be more driven and independent to get the work done. On the other hand, if you’re more independent, a PI that sort of hovers will be quite frustrating.

Also, ask the students in the lab about the PI. You may find out even more information to sway your decision (such as if the PI has a short temper – true story).

4. How much do students have control of their own project?

This related to #3 and mostly pertains to those students in graduate school. To become an independent researcher (as is the goal of graduate school), you need practice planning your own research. If your PI doesn’t let you do much of the planning, you won’t get this experience and you might get stuck doing work that you do not want to do.

5. Do students get adequate guidance?

How often do students in the lab meet with the PI? Are there regularly scheduled individual meetings? Do they have to present regularly at group meeting? Does the PI have an open door policy? Is the PI always traveling? Are there senior scientists, post docs, or senior grad students in the lab that can provide guidance as well? Research is based on mentorship and you need a mentor that will be available to you.If you’re new to research, especially, figure out whom you will be working with and if you will be able to work well with them. Will they be a strong supporter of your development as a researcher?

6. How large is the lab?

A large lab may mean getting lost within the students and not having adequate access to the PI, but it also means having lots of students to rely on and work with as well as greater resources. A small lab likely means a more personal environment but possibly less equipment. Will a small lab be adequate for the research that you would want to do? How personal of an experience do you want?

7. Do you get along with the students?

You will likely be spending most of your time with the other students in the lab rather than the PI. It is quite important that you will be able to get along with them otherwise working in the lab may not be the greatest experience. How close are the students? Are there cliques? Does your personality fit within the group? Do they like to chat? Do they like to chat so much that it affects work time? Do they hang out outside of lab? Being social and working well together is great. Being too social and not getting enough work done is not so great.

8. Will they pay you?

Oh, the ever so important issue – money. As a novice to research, it is often expected that at least initially you will be volunteering in the lab. Perhaps if the PI has enough money, they will be able to pay you eventually, which is an important thing to figure out early on. For graduate students, this will determine whether you will have to do additional outside work to make your money.

9. If you’re a grad student, will you have to TA?

Going along with #8, the usual way for graduate students to earn their stipend other than being paid by their PI is to serve as a teaching assistant. Of course, this takes away time for doing research, which is what you’re there to do (unless you’re an awesome person who also likes to teach!) Many programs require at least some TA experience, but depending on the PI’s funding level you may need to do more than required. Also, if you’re not comfortable with teaching/have no interest in doing it, you also may not want to join a lab that will require it for your pay.

10. How well funded is the lab?

Money isn’t just essential for your pay; it is essential for the research. Does the PI have enough money to do the work that you will be doing or will you be restricted by funds? This can likely affect your success in the lab if you cannot do the work that you need to do to get results.

10. How much time is expected from you?

Does the PI want 10 hours a week or 70 hours a week? Do they not care about the time as long as you get the work done? Do they require you to work on weekends? Most of us try to have lives outside of lab, so this is an incredibly important consideration and the required time can vary drastically.

11. How long does it normally take for students in the lab to complete their degree/publish a paper?

Being published is a major measure for the success of a researcher. If you want to publish as an undergrad or a medical student, it is important to try to feel out the chance that you would get published from your work in the time that you have. If you are a grad student, you want to make sure that you will be able to publish in an adequate amount of time since you usually need to publish to get your degree.

12. Where does the lab normally publish?

Not every research journal is equal. Some hold much more prestige than others and many people look at where people publish as a marker of their success not just if they publish. If this is important to you, look to the PI’s papers and see where they tend to publish. It is important to note that often publishing in the top journals requires much more data, which means it likely takes longer to produce a paper for journals of that caliber, so that might also be a deterrent.

13. What is the specific research topic in the lab?

Finally, we’ve reached the topic that many make a mistake by considering too greatly. Sure you picked a field of research in your first consideration, but you haven’t yet considered the exact topic in the lab. There’s a reason – it honestly isn’t that important as a trainee. If you’re going to be doing research as your career, then you’ll have more freedom to study what you want, but as a trainee, the most important thing is becoming skilled as a researcher. Maybe you want to study RNA splicing in liver development but you end up studying signaling pathways in neurogenesis. Guess what, you’re still doing research and getting the experience that you need to move on to the next step in your career path. Picking a broad topic within your field of choice – such as cancer like me – can be a good idea as a basis for your career, but don’t pick a specific area that restricts your choice of labs, which may make it harder to find a lab that fulfills the other considerations.

Now with this guide, go forth and find a research lab that is best for you and discover great things!

Almost Docs: How I Found an Online Community

This was originally shared on www.almostdocs.com (which no longer exists???) in May 2018. Twitter is a great place for connecting with other folks in the medical profession, so I thought I’d share it here!


I didn’t know much about MD/PhD programs as an undergraduate. I found some resources online and met with the program director at my school, but I didn’t really have easy access to any current MD/PhD students to go to for advice as I was preparing to apply to medical school. I also didn’t know many pre-meds or join any pre-med clubs. I hadn’t planned on going to medical school until late into undergrad, so I didn’t have a supportive group that would be going through the same grueling process that I was about to undertake. So I went to social media.

The summer I applied to medical school, I made a Twitter account specifically for connecting with the medical community. Twitter was an ideal platform for this purpose because of the short character limits for posts, the ability to make public posts and follow others who do not necessarily have to follow you back, the easy ability to retweet (or share) another account’s post on your own timeline, hashtags to connect posts to those of related content, and handles that allow you to establish your identity while also maintaining anonymity if desired (for example, I started being known as only pre-MD/PhD Life). While other social media sites have incorporated some of these aspects, Twitter remains the best site I’ve found for a robust discussion within a broad community.

I began by finding other pre-med accounts to follow. I did this by searching for those that had “pre-med” in their name or bio and then going through their following list to find others. Soon some started to follow me back. We would comment in response to each other’s posts and encourage each other when things didn’t go as planned. Some of these people I’ve even met in real life. Many of these people have since started med school, finished grad school, and are now in residency, and it’s been an absolute joy to see them progress through their training. I’m glad to learn from this community that has supported me since my early days of pursuing medicine.

Yet, here I am, 5 years in and still in the graduate phase on my MD/PhD program, which is one of the challenging things about this training pathway. As a MD/PhD student, the people who started med school the same time as me could nearly be practicing physicians by the time I step into the clinic as a 3rd year medical student! Therefore, I needed to have a community of physician-scientist trainees who could understand the more unique aspects of our training that those in other tracks could not. There were a few of us who found each other on Twitter, but it was harder to find those who could provide insight from further along the training path in my early days on Twitter. I joined a local MD/PhD trainee community upon beginning my program, but that still didn’t give me a global perspective on what it’s like to be a physician-scientist in training.

There’s an added benefit when trainees from different institutions come together. They can learn about the different ways their programs ultimately train them for a career as a physician-scientist. For example, mine starts in the PhD portion, others start with med school and transition to the PhD two years in, and some have even moved part of the clinical rotations to before the PhD. There may be things that other programs do to help their students develop into physician-scientists that mine doesn’t and vice versa. Such a community can provide support and diverse insights, which can help identify ways by which our training and medicine in general can be improved.

To help facilitate this discussion, the hashtag #DoubleDocs was recently adopted by the physician-scientist trainee community to connect trainees from undergraduate to residency and beyond. It was designed to be inclusive to both MD and DO trainees as well as those who have chosen to pursue a PhD and those who pursue other paths for research training. It does not mean double doctorates, but docs who are doubly in the research and medical worlds. What is special about this hashtag is that it rose organically from the physician-scientist trainee community as a way to stay connected. Unlike other hashtags, it is intended to have a specific focus on the training aspect of physician-scientists.

Taking this a step further, I, along with my colleagues in the American Physician Scientists Association, utilized Twitter’s list feature to make it easier for physician-scientist trainees to find each other. On the APSA twitter account (@A_P_S_A), we now have public lists for students at different stages and pathways of training including pre-med, MD/DO students, MD/DO-PhD students, Residents and Fellows, and established physician-scientists who can be resources for trainees. People can subscribe to these lists to find the Twitter accounts of other #DoubleDocs.

In the span of a few days from the start of this hashtag, I made nearly 100 new connections to trainees across the globe that have a similar career goal and unique training path, which highlights the power of Twitter to bring people together. Social media can get a bad rep, but it can also be quite useful! #DoubleDocs is just one hashtag, but so many others exist that can help people find a community!


If you like my writing, please consider following my blog. There’s a link near the top of the side bar to do so. Also, feel free to like my Facebook page (MD, PhD To Be), follow me on Twitter (@MDPhDToBe), and follow me on Instagram (MDPhDToBe). I am trying my best to remain active in each of these channels throughout my training! Any questions, comments, or requests for future blog posts can of course be directed to me from any of these locations or directly emailed to me at via the connect page. Thank you for reading!

Almost Docs: 10 Reasons Why Being a Medical Student is Awesome

This was originally shared on www.almostdocs.com (which doesn’t exist anymore???) in April 2014. I’m sharing this again because it’s important to remind ourselves that what we’re doing is actually really great!


In a recent medical school class, one of my lecturers told us, “The best days of medical school are the day you get in and the day you graduate.”

We all laughed, but it was sort of a painful laugh as we hesitantly looked around the room to see how others reacted to the thought…

The underlying message of that statement that we all know too well is medical school is hard. It is way more work than you’d ever think you’d handle, which means a lot less sleep and a lot more stress. It separates you from your friends and family. The time you once had for things you enjoy seems to be sucked away. You may even find yourself in the wee hours of the night after weeks of sleep deprivation cramming for a few exams and questioning why you’re putting yourself through all of this.

And yet, it’s awesome.

It may not seem that way when you look around at your piles of books, notecards, lecture notes, empty energy drink cans, ramen packets, and building debt, but in comparison to other things, it’s pretty great.

Not convinced? Here’s 10 reasons to make you believe otherwise.


#1. You never have to worry about finding something to do.

Your to-do list is never ending, but it’s so much better than sitting around twiddling your thumbs. If you don’t believe me, set aside a free day to not work on anything for school and see how crazy it makes you.


#2. You get to do a variety of things.

Sick of studying for one M1 class? Study for another class or work on stuff for research if you’re a MD/PhD student like me. Research bringing you down? Go back to studying for your medical school classes. Don’t want to learn about the renal system any more? Good because the test is done and the class has moved on to endocrine system. You have so many things to do and study that you can always change up what you do to keep things exciting while continuing to be productive!


#3. You learn to get the most out of your time.

Do all the things.png
Do all the things.

Planning out your research so you have an incubation step during the time you have to go to class, a seminar, or TA? Of course. Studying notecards during centrifuge steps? Duh. Reading papers during breaks in classes? Always. Going through lecture notes on the bus? Yup. Add on normal people things like buying groceries, doing laundry, and paying bills and you’ve really got to multi-task. This way you’re forced to learn how to optimize your time and get as much done as you physically can.


#4. You may even get to defy the boundaries of time.

Whether you’re balancing medical school and graduate school classes, being a teaching assistant, and doing research like me, or simply dealing with the heavy load of medical school itself, there’s definitely more to do in the day than you have time for, but somehow, you can find a way to make it all work out.

Channeling my inner Hermione, I’ve had to do just that with the grad school and medical school allowing you to register for classes that sometimes meet at the same time. Luckily, I can get by without a time turner since the medical school podcasts the lectures instead and therefore maximize the number of classes that I can take at once. If your school podcasts your lectures, you can surely do the same!


#5. You don’t have to worry about finding a job for a very long time.

Where am I going to be for the next 4 years as an MD student or 8 years as an MD/PhD student? Right here. What am I going to be doing? Exactly what I’m doing now. You’ve made it through the competitive admissions process, so you don’t need to be job searching like your fellow college graduates.


#6. You learn to understand more about others than they seem to understand about themselves. 

Patients may not always tell us everything that we need to know, and we’re taught early to figure out what they’re not telling us from their history and their tendencies during your interaction. You learn to see the subtleties in a person’s ways and learn how to interact with them to get the best outcome in their health. But this can carry on to your personal relationships and help you understand more about the people you deal with day in and day out as well.


#7. You don’t have to take any more lib eds.

Yeah that’s right. No more wasting time with classes that you have to sit through thinking, “When am I ever going to need to know this?” Now the answer is “When you’re a doctor.”


#8. You get to tell people that you’re a medical student.

Med Students.png
What medical students do.

This usually impresses people and only sometimes makes them think you’re crazy.


#9. You get to meet a lot of cool people.

 Try talking to your parents or friends back home about signaling pathways that lead to T cell activation or the pharmacologic mechanism of any drug and they’ll probably just blankly stare back at you. But talk to your medical school friends about the same thing and they’ll not only understand but they’ll keep the conversation going. Medical school teaches us a sort of new language that most people don’t know but luckily your peers do. Seriously, look around the room and bask in the awe (and sometimes the terror) that you are surrounded by future doctors.

Taking it a step further, if you’re also in graduate school like me, you also get to know a lot of graduate students who are on their way to being doctors of a different type. These people share your love of discovery and become your support system through the struggle that is the PhD. Who knows, maybe one of them will even make a breakthrough discovery that changes the way we look at biology or treat disease. These are awesome people to know and you really can’t make it through without them.


#10. You get to learn a lot of cool things.

 The human body is frustratingly – yet beautifully – complex and you get to spend your life learning about it. Lucky you. While the amount that you’re expected to know about it can be overwhelming at times (and by times I mean always), you are incredibly fortunate to be living in a time when we know as much as we do. Can you believe that there was a time that we didn’t know how the heart, lungs, or kidneys worked? A time when we didn’t realize that something as simple as washing hands would decrease spread of infectious disease particularly in hospital settings? Sure, we have a long way to go, but we’ve already come such a far way, and you get to benefit from the hard work of others who once struggled to discover what you’re now learning.

So Amaze
So amaze. Wow.


If you like my writing, please consider following my blog. There’s a link near the top of the side bar to do so. Also, feel free to like my Facebook page (MD, PhD To Be), follow me on Twitter (@MDPhDToBe), and follow me on Instagram (MDPhDToBe). I am trying my best to remain active in each of these channels throughout my training! Any questions, comments, or requests for future blog posts can of course be directed to me from any of these locations or directly emailed to me at via the connect page. Thank you for reading!

Study Tips for the MCAT (More on How I Prepared in a Month)

Nearly a year ago to the day, I wrote my highly popular blog post “How I Prepared for the MCAT in Only a Month.” I wrote it with the intent to show others that the MCAT does not have to be as scary as it seems, and I’m glad it has received such a positive response! Since then, a great number of my readers have reached out to me for advice about to how to study for the MCAT. Therefore, while the test has changed since I took it, I have decided to write this follow up post to offer some more tips that will be applicable to those taking the new MCAT as well as anyone facing a big exam. Within this post, I will cover my general strategy for studying – plan, practice, and personalize – as well as address some general concerns about the exam.

Plan, Practice, and Personalize

Plan

The MCAT covers an overwhelming amount of information. This makes it difficult to even determine where to begin. Whether you have 4 weeks or 4 months to prepare for the exam, it is best to start by sitting down, looking at your schedule, and planning realistic checkpoints for your progress. When I planned, I set aside the first half to cover all of the information necessary (with equal time devoted to each section) and the second half to polish up my knowledge and testing skills. This last part is the most important – knowing the information is important but being able to apply it in a testing situation is just as important.

Practice

This is that important part that I just mentioned. You need to do practice problems and then keep doing practice problems. As I’ve written about in my Almost Docs article 5 Precise Techniques to Become the Most Effective Learner Ever, it is important to study in the format of the exam – i.e. if you were taking an exam with free response questions, then you should prepare by doing free response questions. Since the MCAT is a multiple-choice exam, you should prepare by doing multiple-choice questions.  There is a great deal of practice exams available for the MCAT. Make sure to check them out.

On top of that, do these problems over and over. Another point made in my article is that you need to learn, forget, and relearn the material to better retain the information. Therefore, doing practice exams with enough time between to forget the questions will help you get even more out of them (especially when you have to pay for the practice exams!)

One concern I’ve noticed is whether to do a complete practice test or do one section at a time. Mostly I’ve heard people talking about doing the former, not as much the latter, but both can have their benefits. In fact, I’m a proponent of the latter.

The MCAT is a pretty long exam (and it’s only getting longer). One its challenges is keeping focused and on top of your game throughout the entire test. If you read my previous post, you’ll have found that about halfway through all I could think about was what food I wanted to eat (oops). Doing complete practice tests can help you improve your endurance for testing to handle the mental strain for such a long period of time.

On the other hand, doing just one section at a time keeps you focused on the information covered in that section. If you’re studying biology this keeps you focused on biology, for example. This will especially come in handy for the last part of the strategy – personalize.

Personalize

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is important to identify these to make your studying most effective. I did this by thoroughly going through each practice question with an emphasis on those I got wrong or those that I got right but was unsure of my reasoning. Most practice tests have explanations for the answers given – work to understand these! I kept one word document specific for taking note of these explanations that served as a personalized high yield set of notes that I looked back at as the exam approached. By doing just one section at a time, I was able to better remember my reasoning for my answer so that I could determine if it matched that given. This also helped me figure out what areas I needed to go back and study more so that I didn’t waste time looking at subjects that I was more comfortable with.

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While this is a general description of how to study for the MCAT, it can be applied to any section whether its verbal reasoning or physical sciences. The main point is identifying your weaknesses and putting your focus on those so that you don’t waste effort on studying your stronger subjects. This will make your preparation for the MCAT as efficient and effective as possible.

With that, grad school and med school calls! If you look back at my posts on the blog, you’ll notice that there hasn’t been one in quite a while and those two things are to blame! If you have any questions about the MCAT that would be helpful for me to address to help others, feel free to put them in the comments or send me an e-mail. Happy studies!

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This is just the beginning!

If you like my writing, please consider following my blog. There’s a link near the top of the side bar to do so. Also, feel free to like my Facebook page, MD, Phd To Be, and follow me on Twitter, @MDPhDToBe. Any questions, comments, or requests for future blog posts can of course be directed to me from any of these locations or directly emailed to me at mdphdtobe@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

Why Medicine?

Q (from ask.fm): Why do you want to become a doctor? Did you ever consider any other profession?

For a time in my life (primarily during the med school application and interview process) I HATED this question simply because I was asked it oh so often. But really I LOVE this question. I love it because it makes me sit back and think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I’ve seen the quote “Medicine is for those who couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” by Luanda Grazette spread throughout twitter and time again by premeds and med students alike, and I simply do not agree. At least with respect to my own situation.

Since I have begun seriously considering my future (which started in late elementary school since I have always been nearly too obsessed with planning out my future), my career goals have consisted primarily of medicine, pharmacy, and research though at a younger age interior design and architecture were also top candidates. During this time, politics and business leadership also drew my attention briefly because I felt I could make a difference in those positions.

Making a difference. That’s the source of all of these career goals (minus architecture and interior design… I just wanted to make pretty houses). In medicine and pharmacy, I could make a difference in individuals’ lives through improving their health. In research, I could potentially discover something that would make a difference in our fundamental knowledge that could be applied to making a difference in many lives. In politics, I could make a difference by instituting policies that had a larger benefit for the nation with special interest in healthcare policy. And in business leadership, I could help bring a company success and target the goals of the increased revenue to giving back to others with particular interest in nonprofit charitable organizations.

As I explored these career options, my interests became more refined but I took something from each one. My interest in pharmacy holds true as I hope to have my research relate to the development of therapies. My interest in politics holds true as I am still particularly interested in healthcare policy and hope to be able to use my position as a doctor to educate others and make a difference in the way our healthcare system is set up. My interest in leadership holds true as I take the leadership skills for business and apply them to some day running my own lab. In fact, it is pursuing these other interests that I believe will make me a stronger doctor.

So why medicine specifically? First of all, the human body is beautifully complex and it is an amazing challenge to understand and seek to control its processes and especially its pathology. It is a challenge that I find absolutely invigorating and I believe it will keep me enthused about my work until the day I die. Second, it connects me to others and gives purpose to my work. It allows me to help others achieve their most basic need – good health.

I can imagine myself doing many things, but I have CHOSEN medicine because it is simply the best choice for me.