Perspective: Three Crucial Questions When Applying to M.D.-Ph.D. Programs

For all the work you’ll do during your bachelor’s degree and the careful consideration you’ll put into choosing the right doctoral program, it’s important to remember that you’ve only just set out on the journey--and you can change routes.

“I was very anti-premed when I was in college,” says Karla Leavens, now a 5th-year student in the M.D.-Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania. “I really loved biology and science.” But during her junior year, she took an endocrinology course and discovered that she really enjoyed the clinical application of biology. At that point, she hadn’t taken the MCAT or otherwise prepared to apply to medical school, so she went ahead with graduate school applications and continued with her initial plan for a career in research. “I never figured I could switch [degree programs], but I figured I could get some sort of training–go to med school afterwards or … take some clinically oriented classes,” she says.

After she started her Ph.D. in the cell biology and physiology program at Penn, she noticed that many people were doing both clinical work and research–and that was the path she decided to take. She took the MCAT the summer after starting at Penn and applied to the M.D.-Ph.D. program that fall. The following year, 2 years after starting her Ph.D., she entered the M.D.-Ph.D. program. “It really helps to keep options open,” Leavens advises. “Ultimately, it’s your life and your career, and you have to decide what that is.”

Click here to read the whole story, which I co-authored with Skip Brass.