MD vs. PhD vs. MD/PhD : what's best for research?

Robert Fuller fuller at
Fri Dec 17 01:20:18 EST 1993

wilesm at (Marc Wiles) writes:

>Personally, being a PhD myself, I feel that a PhD degree for a research
>career in the biomedical arena is invaluable.  While I have met and worked
>completing an MD and entering into research.  Fundamentally, a PhD lives
>and breathes research for the duration of graduate training and
>post-doctoral training.  In contrast, an MD is focused initially on
>learning how to be an effective physician first.  I am not saying this is
>As to the MD/PhD degree, for some, it is a fine idea.  However, I do have
>a problem with compressing both graduate degrees into the limited time
>frame of such a program.  This is not to be a purist, but there's an awful
>lot to learn as a PhD even within the 5-7 average time taken to attain
>that degree.  I don't see how an equivalent level of experience can be
>garnered as a function of the combined degree program.  Actually, one of
>my friends who is an MD/PhD has made the comment that in some respects he
>is neither an excellent MD nor an excellent PhD...the reason being that
>his loyalties are split between the two perspectives....his comment was
>also that he sees himself falling behind clinicians who spend 100% of
>their time with patients and that he similarly lags behind PhD researchers
>who spend 100% of their time on research.  It was an interesting observation.

>As I said, these are my opinions and my $0.02.  This is not intended as
>flame bait.

>Dr. Marc E. Wiles
>George Washington University Medical School

As an MD/PhD student, I must agree with ALL of what is said above.  Research
thinking is a lot different from 'medical' thinking.  With an MD, there are
inherent responsibilities which are fundamentally not research related which
have to be given high priority.

I also agree with the time compression comments above--many degree programs
do not provide the full 'experience' that obtaining each degree separately
has to offer, simply due to the pressure of a time deadline.  That time
deadline is mandated, by the way, university policy, or as is offen the
case, by federal 'rules' which the university has to obey to receive
government funding from certain sources (MSTP, for example).  Please,
no flames!

Not all universities enforce (or even encourage) a typical 5-7 yr. tenure
(unless the student is in one of these programs which require it for
funding to the university).  The University of Illinois-Urbana is one
such campus, and there are others, where each department (medical and
graduate) has its requirements met independently, very few of which are
met concurrently (if any at all, depending on your graduate area).

As a combined degree student, I do feel like I'm doing a partial job in
both discilines, and not particulary a great job in either during those
times of year in which I *attempt* to do both.  Perhaps this is limited
by my desires to 'have a life' and not turn into an academic zombie....

Personal flames are welcome, I suppose (if you must), but please clog my
mailbox and not the net.  Thanks.

These are just my opinions and do not reflect anything official relating
to the University of Illinois!


Robert Fuller                                  | 
r-fuller at (fuller at   |  Pardon me, do you have
Department of Chemistry, College of Medicine   |    any P. aeruginosa?

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