Internal Medicine Physician Scientist Training Programs – How do programs compare?

The following is how I approached identifying and comparing internal medicine research pathway programs. The purpose of this post is to offer a clear and comprehensive approach to selecting your potential future academic home; however, this is not necessarily the approach that will work for everyone. Please reach out if you have found other helpful resources or have another way to approach this big decision!

Identifying Programs

There are a lot of internal medicine programs to choose from (at the time of preparing this post my count is 559). The best resource I found to identify residency programs in general was Residency Explorer. This resource has options to narrow down programs by factors such as geographic location and visa status and allows you to put in your info (e.g., Step scores, # of research experiences) to see how you compare to trainees at that program.

To further narrow down programs, I selected based on subspecialty interest. I identified programs that offered my subspecialty of interest using the ACGME Program Search. Gasteroenterology narrowed down my list to 227 programs. Transplant hepatology narrowed down my list further to 59 programs. I’m not 100% sure I want to do transplant hepatology specifically but I knew I wanted to train at a place that offered the fellowship so that I could be exposed to the fascinating world of medical management of liver transplant. Plus, it was easier to start with a list of 59 programs rather than a much larger list.

Next came identifying programs that offer research pathways. Unfortunately these come by many names – “Physician Scientist Pathway”, “Physician-Scientist Track”, “Science in Residency Program”, “ABIM Research Path”, “Physician-Scientist Training Pathway”, and “Resident Research Path” to name a few – and thus do not allow for a simple search. Instead, I had to go to each of the internal medicine residency websites at the locations with my fellowship(s) of interest to see if they listed some sort of research pathway as an option.

Between my subspecialty interest and interest in a research pathway, I had narrowed down my options to 38 programs. Once I had these 38 programs, I then directly compared their research pathway programs.

Tip: Create a table in an excel document to organize your list of programs! My list started with all of the programs with transplant hepatology fellowships and some programs in key geographic locations that I was interested in with gastroenterology fellowships but without transplant hepatology fellowships. I then had columns for 1) has transplant hepatology fellowship and 2) has research residency pathway that I could use to filter down to find the programs that met both criteria.

Comparing Programs

I next organized information about each program in the categories: Goal, Eligibility, Structure, Mentorship/Research, Funding, Fellowship. Not every website had information that fit within each of these categories, but these were the categories that were most consistently discussed across programs.


All of these programs want to train physician-scientists, but the stated goal of the programs varied. For example, some only spoke to training laboratory scientists, while others had much broader stated interests in training physician-scientists committed to clinical, translational, and/or basic science investigation as well as clinical practice. Some specifically spoke to their goal of helping trainees get their first faculty position. Others spoke to helping candidates become future leaders in academic medicine. In some cases, programs noted how they aimed to help trainees achieve their goals, such as by providing early and individualized support to highly motivated trainees. In some cases these were stated as the specific goals of the program, in other cases I noted what I perceived to be the goal of the program based on what was highlighted close to the top of the page.


With so many programs, you need to be strategic about where you apply. Applying to fewer places where you are a better fit may be just if not more effective than casting a broader net and applying to programs where you are not a top candidate. Some programs specified that they are designed for MD/PhD students only, others expanded this to include MD students with extensive research experience. This was also important to note because it helped me think about the qualities I wanted to highlight in my application – commitment to a career in academic medicine as a physician-scientist, anticipating independent research careers, strong research background. Some even specifically stated that they strongly support the advancement of women and underrepresented minorities in research and clinical careers, which is very important to me


On Board Certification — The American Board of Internal Medicine is the body that offers certification for internal medicine specialists. While certification is not required for practicing internal medicine, it is the highest standard in internal medicine and its 21 subspecialties and so is typically pursued. As stated on the ABIM website, “Certification has meant that internists have demonstrated – to their peers and to the public – that they have the clinical judgment, skills and attitudes essential for the delivery of excellent patient care.”

The general requirements for board certification are as follows:

“To become certified in internal medicine, a physician must complete the requisite predoctoral medical education, meet the graduate medical education training requirements, demonstrate clinical competence in the care of patients, meet the licensure and procedural requirements, and pass the ABIM Internal Medicine Certification Examination.”

Specifically the graduate medical education training must:

“The 36 months of residency training must include 12 months of accredited internal medicine training at each of three levels: R-1, R-2 and R-3.”

However, the internal medicine training can be shortened in the context of the ABIM Research Pathway. This pathway requires three components:

  1. Internal Medicine Training – 24 months of accredited categorical internal medicine training (a minimum 20 months must involve direct patient care responsibility)
  2. Clinical Subspecialty Training – 12-24 months depending on the subspecialty
    1. 12 months: adolescent medicine; allergy and immunology; critical care medicine; endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism; geriatric medicine; hematology; hospice and palliative medicine; infectious disease; nephrology; medical oncology; pulmonary disease; rheumatology; sleep medicine or sports medicine
    2. 18 months: gastroenterology, hematology/oncology, pulmonary/critical care medicine, or rheumatology/allergy and immunology
    3. 24 months: cardiology
  3. Research Training – At least three years of research training at 80 percent commitment

In general, internal medicine residency programs aim to meet the requirements for internal medicine board certification. Some residencies, especially those with research tracks, offer an option to meet the ABIM Research Pathway requirements for internal medicine board certification. However, the format by which they meet these requirements vary.

Within these requirements, there are variations in structure by which programs offer research pathways. Some offer specific rotations for all members of the pathway to think about science at the same time. Some have retreats or special curricula for the physician-scientist trainees. This might include ethics courses, statistics courses, or other types of training. There may be seminars throughout the year or journal clubs, or other opportunities to meet with faculty and outside experts. Within the structure of the program it can also be helpful to now how short-tracking may affect flexibility/rotation schedule. Some programs promote research electives during residency while others advise trainees to wait for fellowship.

If a program does guarantee fellowship, how is it incorporated into the schedule? Does fellowship come immediately after residency with research at the end? Do you start your protected research time after residency and then do fellowship after that? The argument for this being that you can get more data early on and then wait for grant results/revise your grant while you’re doing your clinical training (if you have the time…) Does the fellowship somehow get split around the research years? A GI program told me they typically have trainees do the first year of clinical training, then the research years, then have you do the final 6 months of clinical training at the end to get you ready for being an attending. This may be both institution and fellowship-specific and so may not be clearly delineated on their websites.


Can’t do science/be a person without that cold hard cash. Funding in many different ways may impact your decision. Most of all is your stipend, which may match that of your purely clinical-training colleagues, though there may be an additional stipend. On top of that, it is important to ask if there’s extra funds available to support research/travel. As you progress into your research years, you may also want to know if programs have T32 fellowship support or how successful they are at helping their trainees get F32 grants. As you begin to think about getting a faculty position, it will be important to get a K award and be training at a program with a good success rate at helping their trainees get this elusive grant. On top of this, some programs outline their process of helping trainees get funding, such as 1:1 meetings, establishing mentorship committees, etc. I also often noted how well funded is the institution in general, if it was mentioned on the residency’s page (I otherwise did not seek this info out).


Some but not all programs I found guaranteed fellowship. In most cases, they did offer the short track that was dependent on going on to do fellowship either at the institution or elsewhere. There are positives and negatives of having guaranteed fellowship. First of all, you of course are guaranteed fellowship, and you do not need to be going through another application process in just a couple of years. You also can begin to build relationships at the institution that you know will carry on into your fellowship and research years. On the other hand, it is a lot more work to change your mind, whether to switch fellowships or even switch institutions for fellowship. If fellowship is not guaranteed, it can be helpful to know the match rate for residents into your specialty of interest and how many programs they typically need to apply to compared to the general categorical resident.

If you are guaranteed fellowship at the program, it is important to know if the fellowship you’re interested in is actually participating in the research pathway. I was turned down by a couple research pathway programs just because the GI fellowship was not accepting research pathway trainees that year and this was not stated on the website. Some places did specifically list which fellowships were available through the program, which was quite helpful.

How to apply

For my sanity/organization, I also took note of any instructions listed on the website for how to apply. There were quite a few different ways that programs preferred to be made aware of your preference. Putting these instructions into a separate document gave me a list to go through and make sure that I was expressing interest in the correct way and made it so I didn’t have to go back to all of their websites later to find this information.

  • ERAS: Some programs had a separate program code specifically for their research pathway. Almost all of the programs I looked at allowed you to apply to both the categorical program and the research pathway.
  • Personal Statement: Some programs wanted you to write in your personal statement that you were interested in the program and which fellowship you were interested in (see the end of my residency personal statement post for how I included that information). I typically did this for programs unless they specifically asked for this information in a different format.
  • Supplemental Application: A few programs had a supplemental application that typically asked you to write about your research and career interests. Sometimes the programs also had you upload examples of your scientific work.
  • Statement of Interest: These were often included in a supplemental application or were sent in an email to the program director or program coordinator. In general, I tried to write a brief overview about myself and my research experience/interests and why I was interested in the program/why the program was a good fit for me (including but not limited to the faculty at the program who could serve as potential research mentors). If there’s interest, I can share an example of one of these some day…
  • Delayed Application: Some programs did not formally consider trainees for the research pathway until the middle of their intern year, but they still did outreach/let you learn for about their research pathway during the residency application process. In this case, no application materials were necessary.

Choosing Where to Apply

For me, the biggest things that narrowed down my list were the number of potential research mentors available at each institution and geography. After all of these years of training, I have a general idea of what kind of research I want to do in the long run and I want to make sure I have many options for mentors available at each institution, as sometimes people leave or are just not the kind of mentor that you need. I had a hard time finding 3 potential mentors at some institutions, which ultimately took them off my list. I also mostly wanted to stay either in the midwest or north east. I didn’t even consider the structure of the internal medicine program itself, for better or worse. You may weigh factors differently.

Upon selecting where to apply, I categorized my programs generally into a top half and a bottom half based on how interested I was in the program/how I generally felt like they were a good fit for me (not necessarily how good of a program they were overall as determined by some kind of somewhat objective measure). Interestingly, a higher proportion of the programs in my top half offered me interviews, suggesting that my gut feeling was reflected in their assessment of me as a good fit for their program. Trust your gut and good luck!!!


Post-graduate opportunities for MD/PhD students (residency research tracks)

After MD/PhD training, what do you do? The world is in fact your oyster 🦪, but in this post I’ll outline how you can continue on the physician-scientist pathway while also continuing your clinical training.

First, a note. You do NOT need to continue to practice medicine as a physician-scientist. Aka you do not need to go to residency. You go to residency if you actually want to provide care to patients as a physician. If you just want to have your current level of medical training (MD/DO/MBBS) inform your work as a researcher or in another space (i.e., academia, industry, government, or elsewhere), you do NOT in fact need to go to residency (save yourself the time – this is already a long road 😫).

This is a post for if you do want to practice clinical medicine and the next step of your journey is residency. In this case, there is a division of paths based on the specialty you plan to practice. I am going into internal medicine, so that is my bias, but here I will try to link to resources that can be helpful for hopeful physician-scientists in other areas of medicine, though my advice and experience is coming from the perspective of internal medicine.

Typically, you apply to residency at the beginning of the 4th year of medical school. Applications are due in September through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) and interviews are scheduled from October through January. To further explore specialties in general, check out the AAMC Careers in Medicine resource (link).

Research in Residency

If you’re interested in wet lab research (e.g., biology, chemistry) or other research that is more time consuming, you may want to look for a program that has dedicated time for research. These come by many names. Depending on your chosen specialty, I recommend searching residency program websites for how they describe their research opportunities during residency.

In internal medicine, I found programs titled “Physician Scientist Pathway”, “Physician-Scientist Track”, “Science in Residency Program”, “ABIM Research Path”, “Physician-Scientist Training Pathway”, “Resident Research Path”, for example. Basically, there’s a lot of different names, so a google search for one of these terms will not bring up all the programs that fit the same description.

Despite the variances in names, these programs often followed a similar format. In internal medicine, that format is based on the American Board of Internal Medicine’s (ABIM) requirement for internal medicine training. There is a specific research pathway approved by the ABIM that is recommended only for physicians who intend to seriously pursue a career in basic science or clinical research. Within this pathway, there is an option to “short track” residency training to 2 years of internal medicine training instead of 3, with a required subspecialty fellowship training of 12-24 months of clinical requirements (length depends on subspecialty) plus 3 years of protected research time. This protected research time is really the important part of this training because this is setting the basis for your future research/lab. It is possible that other specialties have similar policies that dictate how residency programs may be able to shorten your physician-scientist journey.

The Long Road

This certainly sounds like a long time, especially after 8-9 years of MD/PhD training (some people can get into these pathways without the PhD but they have usually spend a number of years doing research outside of medical school that yields publications, so that is often almost a similar amount of time). Let me put this into perspective:

I can go through the ABIM research pathway, where I do 2 years of internal medicine training, 1-2 years of subspecialty fellowship clinical training, and 3 years of protected research training, for a total of 6-7 years of postgraduate training as a physician-scientist trainee. I may need 1-2 more years of research to get funding/papers that would make me competitive for a research position, but then I’m still on the track for an academic research position.

Alternatively, I can *just* complete my clinical requirements of 3 years of internal medicine training and 2-3 years of fellowship training, for 5-6 years of postgraduate training as a physician.

Or I can opt not to practice medicine but I still want to do post-doctoral research in a lab with hopes that I can get an academic faculty position. As an example, one of my grad school professors once shared the length of time applicants considered for faculty positions in our department had spent in their post doc training. These varied from 4-10 years, with an average of 7 years (n = 5).

Thus, you are looking at 5-6 years if you *just* want to practice medicine in a subspecialty, 6-7(+2?) years if you want to do a subspecialty and research, and 7 years on average if you want to *just* do research. It may be longer than some alternate options, but it may be more bang for your buck to do the physician-scientist route.

How to Learn More

It can be hard to know where to begin. So here’s a few of the main resources I used when preparing to apply:

If you have any further questions about this next phase of training, feel free to reach out via the contact tab. I’ll try to continue producing this kind of content and it is helpful for me to know what is helpful for you!

Residency Personal Statement

Back in the day, I shared my personal statements for MD/PhD programs (yes statements! – the MD, MD/PhD, and research statement). Now that I’ve matched to residency, it’s time I share another example personal statement to help those who come after me. If you want to just read my personal statement, skip to the bottom. If you want to understand my thought process around my residency personal statement, keep reading.

Unlike applying to medical school, where I was trying to get any school to “Pick me. Choose me. Love me”, when it came to the residency personal statement I had a more specific ask in mind. I knew the specialty I intended to pursue and had a more clear vision for the career I hoped to have. I also had a more developed 🌟story🌟 of how I came to be the person that I am and how my vision for my future has been shaped. This both made it easier and harder to write.

For context, I applied to internal medicine programs, especially those that supported the training of physician-scientists. If they didn’t have a research pathway, track, …thing, I didn’t apply. I also am 99.9% sure that I want to do gastroenterology as a subspecialty and am considering transplant hepatology, so almost all of the programs I applied to had a transplant hepatology fellowship at the same institution so that I could be exposed to this pathway.

Given that context, my goals for my personal statement were:

  1. Show my commitment to internal medicine as a specialty. Even though I am very interested in gastroenterology, I am first and foremost going to be an internal medicine physician (and applied to programs to specifically train me as an internal medicine physician), so I kept my personal statement focused on this. For research programs that requested subspecialty interest within the personal statement, I included my interest in gastroenterology at the end of the statement, though you can also see my interest in gastroenterology through the patient story I chose and my PhD research topic (which doesn’t always have to directly align with your chosen specialty going forward but in my case helped).
  2. Highlight my value of the personal side of medicine. Why am I continuing with clinical medicine instead of only doing research? You maybe thought doing all of medical school would be able to show this, but it is incredibly important to show that you want to do the residency training because you actually want to practice medicine (again, residency programs are training you to actually practice medicine). I showed this by discussing one of my most memorable patients, the connection we were able to form, and how I hope to continue to have these types of relationships with patients – something I would not be able to do if I were to *only* do research going forward.
  3. Emphasize that I have interests outside of clinical medicine and that I am looking for a program that will support my development in these areas. Not only are clinical medicine and research important to me, but so too is advocacy, which is a much less common area of involvement for medical students/residents. I showed my commitment to research by discussing how my experience as a researcher mimics the thought process involved in diagnostic reasoning. My story also includes my introduction to internal medicine as a specialty through the lens of advocacy. Thus, it was a natural flow from one idea to the next and allowed me to make a clear, linear 🌟story🌟.

What I didn’t want to do:

  1. Reiterate my CV. Note that I did not list any of the awards that I received. I did not list all of my experiences in any organization. Instead, I picked a couple of experiences and elaborated more in depth on aspects of these experiences that were not included in my CV. The purpose of the personal statement is to make it *personal*. Reviewers could see the evals I received on my clerkships, but they wouldn’t have otherwise known about how much my relationship with just one patient meant to me. They could see from my CV that I’ve been involved in professional organizations, but they wouldn’t see how the stories told at my first advocacy day in Washington, DC showed me the priorities of internal medicine physicians and how that made me want to go into the specialty. They could see that I got a PhD in Molecular and Integrative Physiology, but they couldn’t see how I valued including a cultural and historical context to my dissertation. It is the *specific details* in each of these that truly added to my application and made my personal statement a 🌟story🌟.
  2. Tell the reader what it means to be an internal medicine physician. The members of the admission committee know what it means to be an internal medicine physician – they are, in fact, one themselves; you do not need to tell them what it means to practice in whatever specialty it is that you are applying. Even when I got close to this – saying internists have a comprehensive yet focused approach to the patient – I pulled it back to talking about myself and how my thought process as a PhD student aligns with that of internal medicine physicians. It is your *personal* statement, so it is ok to keep the focus on YOU.
  3. Go longer than 1 page. The character limit in ERAS does allow you to go beyond 1 page of text, but DO NOT do this. People get bored with longer statements/may not fully read. Keep it short, keep it simple. Also note that 1 page in your word doc may not be the same as 1 page on ERAS. Definitely work on it in a document on your computer, but then paste it into ERAS every now and then to see if it would actually fit on a page when you preview the document.

And now, without further ado,


here is my internal medicine residency personal statement:

One of my most memorable patients was a man I met during my internal medicine clerkship. The gray-haired English professor, with a booming voice, told me in slow, fragmented, but intentional words how he wrote off his weight loss because of a stroke earlier in the year. In a quieter voice, he revealed that he had been having bloody stools much longer than he had originally disclosed and expressed shame for not getting a screening colonoscopy many years ago. Through our daily interactions and my active listening, we had built a relationship in which he felt comfortable disclosing a part of his story that he had not told another soul. The last day I saw him, I wished him well on his hemicolectomy scheduled for the following week – he was diagnosed with stage IIIB adenocarcinoma. It is the utmost privilege to build such a trusting relationship with a patient, to learn parts of their story no one else has known, and to help them navigate their health journey. These relationships motivate me to pursue internal medicine.

My path toward internal medicine began as a first year MD/PhD student when I was already aware that the impact of physicians on their patients’ health, while profound, was limited by factors outside of medicine itself. With an early interest in an internal medicine subspecialty, I attended the American College of Physicians Leadership Day in Washington, D.C. to learn how to be an advocate, with a humble hope that I could help improve the healthcare system for my future patients. As we planned how to advocate on Capitol Hill, what stood out most was that the purpose of our advocacy always went back to how it would help our patients. We shared patients’ stories including one who could not afford their $4 monthly blood pressure medications after losing their job and another diagnosed with advanced cancer because they put off seeing a physician due to lack of health insurance. This patient-centered focus – an extension of the patient-physician relationship – and the broad spectrum of patient stories is what made me decide, first and foremost, that I want to be an internal medicine physician.

Over the next seven years, what has continued to draw me to internal medicine is the rigorous approach of both generalists and subspecialists to every patient. As an aspiring academic physician-scientist, I also value this comprehensive yet focused approach both at the bedside and at the bench. Just as it is essential to begin with a broad differential diagnosis, I began my molecular and integrative physiology PhD dissertation with quotes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the 15th century physician Paracelsus to introduce a discussion of how the understanding of the liver has evolved since the time of ancient civilizations. This was followed by a meticulous biochemical discussion of the scaffolding protein I studied in the liver, expanding what is known of its role in metabolism and cancer. Both views are essential for the process of discovery, to connect seemingly disparate datapoints into a unifying understanding of a patient’s illness and its underlying biochemical mechanisms and then to apply this knowledge to their treatment.

Within internal medicine, I have found a community of advocates and scientists who care for patients how I aspire to care for patients, with a focus on the patient’s whole story and with a relationship that extends from the bedside to the bench and even to the halls of Congress. Since that day in Washington, D.C., I have been an active member in this community, from planning local events to help my classmates learn about internal medicine to speaking on behalf of all medical students on the American College of Physicians Board of Regents. I am looking for a residency program that can be a home for my next phase of training by providing intensive clinical training while also allowing me to develop as an advocate and scientist.

*If personalizing the statement to a program, I would then include only a couple sentences such as about my geographic connection to the area, a clinical interest that would fit there, or potential (up to 3) potential research mentors that I have identified at the institution.