In modern medicine the battleground in the fight against many diseases is found at the molecular level. Answers to centuries of mystery hide on the surface or interior of cells or in the DNA of the human genome. One discovery could halt the rampage of AIDS through underdeveloped countries.Another could give hope to cancer patients who have been told no cure can help them. And you could be the one making these historical discoveries. The future of discovery demands a group of talented scientists with training in both basic sciences and clinical medicine. The goal of the combined dual degree MD/PhD program is to provide outstanding aspiring physician scientists with broad biomedical training. This experience consists of rigorous research training in the basic sciences, resulting in a PhD, complemented by inter-related clinical training that leads to the MD degree.
The MD is combined with a PhD program offered by the Graduate Program in Life Sciences (GPILS) in the following areas: Biochemistry, Molecular Medicine, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Neuroscience, Toxicology, Epidemiology and Public Health.
The Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) is an integral part of the School of Medicine, under the aegis of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies. The main elements include the Program Director, Associate Program Director, Program Manager and Advisory Committee of the Program. The Admissions Committee plays a very important role in interviewing and recruiting as well as advising and guiding the students.
By understanding the medical needs of society and related research opportunities, physician scientists who are graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine MSTP are well equipped to become future leaders in medical research.
Is Medical Scientist Training Right for You?
The purpose of medical scientist training programs as described by the NIH is to “encourage and support the training of students with outstanding credentials and potential who are motivated to undertake careers in biomedical research and academic medicine… the majority of them pursue careers in basic biomedical or clinical research.” Where does this motivation arise? Why not pursue the shorter training path of a single degree—after all, medical doctors successfully conduct research too. Obviously there are no single answers to these questions. Below, however, are some points to consider.
First, the purview of the science curriculum in medical school is too broad for a student to be able to focus on any one area in great detail. Thus, from a practical perspective, graduate training provides an unparalleled opportunity to thoroughly explore a subject. It is the time to develop research skills, both those relating to techniques as well as those relating to effectively communicating about science, and to meet peers and mentors in your area of interest. While it is true that medical doctors may pursue research careers, many of them will not have the advantages of such training and networking.
Another consideration is the value of a dual degree program compared to the acquisition of each degree separately. An integrated program is constructed to enhance both halves of the training experience of someone who wishes to join the clinical research community. Maryland offers a monthly seminar series given by physician scientists on campus and graduate students in the program, a research oriented course for our students in the medical school years, and a clinical problem-solving course for those in the graduate school years. Through these activities, a student is able to better see connections between the different components of their training, and never to suffer diminishment of their awareness of the connection between basic and applied science. Completing sequential degrees may not offer such opportunities for cross-pollination.
Finally, a simple desire to treat people coupled with a love for science are not usually sufficient driving forces to flourish in a Medical Scientist Training Program. Rather, for some, the reason to pursue a dual degree is a personal need to be at the forefront of biomedical sciences. Others may want to open entirely new avenues of treatment to extend the therapeutic ability of all doctors. Students in our program elucidate key cellular mechanisms, looking toward drug targets and other disease interventions.
Hence, an MSTP is for someone who is constantly curious. It is for someone who is unsatisfied by simply being told the answers. It is for someone who seeks to shape the future of medicine. Is it for you?