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Physician Scientist (MD/PhD or MD/MPH)

Physician Scientist (MD/PhD or MD/MPH)


What do physician scientists do?

Physicians are medical professionals who diagnose and treat patients, order and interpret a variety of tests, prescribe medications, and perform procedures.  In addition, physician scientists specialize in clinical research which could take the form of bench work (wet lab), computational work, epidemiology, or other types of studies. Upon completion of both degrees, physician scientists typically work in large academic hospitals where they combine supervising a research team with clinical practice.

What training is required?

Individuals can enter a combined MD/PhD or MD/MPH (Master of Public Health) program directly following the Bachelor degree.  The first two years of the MD program are followed by three years in the PhD program or one year in the MPH program; students then complete the remaining two years of the MD program. Residency programs are still required (see information under Physicians).  Alternatively, students could earn a separate PhD or MPH either before or after completing a standard MD program. Many teaching hospitals offer MPH programs tailored to practicing health care professionals. Even without an additional degree, physicians, especially at academic hospitals, may become involved in doing research, obtaining grants to support their work, writing publications, and presenting at conferences.

Students in combined MD/PhD programs are generally supported by a Medical Scientist in Training Program (MSTP) grant from the National Institutes of Health.  This support covers tuition and fees and a living stipend.

How do I best prepare for admission to a program?

All of the recommendations for preparing for an MD, DO, and PhD program apply.  However, gaining admission to an MD/PhD program is even more competitive. Strive for a GPA of 3.9 or higher.   You will need a very strong record of research at the undergraduate level. Co-authorship of one or more peer-reviewed publications, abstracts and presentations at national conferences will be very beneficial.  Generally, fewer than 5% of seats in MD programs are reserved for MD/PhD students.  Because Genetics is a major area of current medical research, your degree in Genetics will be viewed favorably.  We are pleased to have had several recent graduates (all with two or more majors) enter MD/PhD programs.


Morgan Bobb

Education: BS, Global Resource Systems/Genetics, ISU, 2015; MD/PhD program, University of Iowa

Morgan Bobb

If you are looking for a personalized and rigorous training program to best prepare you for your career, I highly recommend the ISU Genetics Program. As an ISU Genetics student, I learned how to solve real-world problems in advanced laboratory coursework, and I was given the chance to apply those skills by teaching laboratory courses and working in a research laboratory studying nerve regeneration using transdifferentiated stem cells. Now, as an aspiring physician-scientist in the University of Iowa Medical Scientist Training Program (a dual-degree MD/PhD program), I am utilizing these critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to conduct research and translate it to improve health outcomes. 



Mariko Sada Peterson

Education:  BS, Microbiology/Genetics, ISU, 2012; MD/PhD program, Emory University, Atlanta

Mariko Peterson

I was a child in Arizona when the Sin Nombre virus emerged and have been interested in infectious diseases since, so when it came time to choose a major at Iowa State, the path was pretty clear for me to choose Microbiology and Genetics. The two fields go hand-in-hand, and are important additions to a scientific toolbox for a career in infectious disease research.  I have since been accepted to an MSTP at Emory University, where I am in my seventh year, and I found that our basic genetics and the transmission genetics courses were helpful in preparing me to apply, and for the basic science portion of my medical curriculum.