M.D./Ph.D. Program Overview

The Physician-Scientist is a leader who forms the link between basic biomedical science and clinical practice.  In our efforts to both nurture and mold our students to achieve this goal, we focus on providing a flourishing environment through our expertise in training, mentoring and advising, and fostering community. A more detailed curriculum sequence can be found at the bottom of this page. Please monitor this page as the medical school curriculum is changing, with the new curriculum change taking effect  for the 2015 academic year.


We strive to achieve continuity of Physician-Scientist training throughout the student’s training,  as highlighted below.

1.  Medical School Years 1 & 2 (BUSM I & II): The integrated problems course has special MD, PhD sections.  Students critique the same cases as the MD students, but MD/PhD students are able to enhance this experience by learning the format for designing experiments and writing grants.  Students learn to take a clinical case, present the essential clinical material (chief complaint, history and physical, basic lab values, tests, etc.), present it cogently, then develop a translational research question from the clinical question.  This enables one to learn the basic elements of a research plan, including the rationale, hypotheses, aims, the dependent and independent variables, positive and negative controls, and power analyses.  Year 2 is similar to Year 1, except that students now go from a concept to the clinical trial phase.  The goal is to train our Physician-Scientists to design experiments and write grant applications.

2.  Laboratory Rotations (Summer Pre-BUSM I or, Post-BUSM I): Students complete a requried 8-10 week lab rotation before formally entering the research years of study.  Students receive a $4,000 stipend for this effort.

3.  Research Years: When students first enter the research (graduate) phase,  they quickly assimilate in their chosen program of study as well as continue along the path of becoming a Physician-Scientist through a wide variety of opportunities during this period.

a.  Teaching: In academic medicine, the role of a Physician-Scientist typically includes teaching.   Teaching opportunities exist in a number of ways.  Many MD/PhD students serve as teaching assistants in first- and second-year medical school courses, as tutors, and as instructors of undergraduate Biomedical Laboratory and Clinical Sciences courses.   Students are also encouraged to present their research at seminars, student retreats, Student Achievement Day, and at a wide variety of scientific meetings.  In addition, efforts are currently underway in the design of a course focused on teaching.  Students will be taught techniques for teaching, and then have the opportunity to practice these techniques presenting to small groups of students.

b.  Graduate Phase Clinical Clerkship: Transitions understandably may provoke particular concerns, and the Program strives to make the student’s transition back to clinical medicine to as smooth as possible.  During the last year of graduate training, students are given the opportunity to shadow a physician-scientist one afternoon per week, providing a reacquaintance with patient interactions.  After spending an extended period of time in the research arena, students are able to gain valuable experience in taking histories and performing physicals.  Most importantly, students gain experience in interacting with patients.  At the end of this session, we offer a six-session course that explicitly reviews how to perform the physical exam in internal medicine (with a focus on cardiology and pulmonary), neurology, pediatrics and OB/Gyn.  Explicit training on skills relevant to conducting rounds with attendings is also provided, along with an assessment exam.

c.  Clinical Years: In the fourth year of medical school (BUSM IV), a one-month course designed to train students in clinical trials is offered to help prepare students for a future in clinical research.

Mentoring and Advising

A strength of our large program is breadth of mentoring and advising by Physician-Scientists.  There are currently three faculty advisors to the program:  John H. Schwartz, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Director of the MD/PhD Program who specializes in renal epithelial cell biology and  Steven C. Borkan, MD, Department of Medicine and specializing in the study of the pathophysiological basis of renal ischemia.  The advisors function as a resource to meet with students and guide them through the program.  The advisors also supervise mentoring and didactic training occurring throughout the program.


The large size of the program provides huge advantages to MD/PhD students.  Students often comment that they appreciate the camaraderie afforded from this program size.  Some of the ways students formally get involved with many aspects of the program include:

1.  Student Government: The program is sufficiently large that the MD/PhD students organize their own student government that manages social activities, speakers, communications and interaction with the administration:

2.  Class Officers and Student Representatives: Students participate as elected representatives on the MD/PhD Working Group, MD/PhD Admissions Committee; the MD/PhD Executive Committee, and the GMS PhD Steering Committee.

3.  Monday Night Events: These events usually occur on the first and third Monday of the month and are run by the student government social committee. The events are usually split between students speakers and social events.  Because the program is so large we almost always have around 30  students at each gathering, and we provide dinner as an added incentive to come!

a.  Role Models:  Successful physician-scientists meet with students to discuss how they arrived at their career and how they carry out their career.

b. Panel Discussions: Senior students present their perspective on key issues for junior MD/PhD students, including advice on coping with the work load in BUSM I and II, choosing laboratories, choosing clinical rotations and applying for residencies and fellowships.

c.  Research Presentations: Students from each phase of the program present their research including those just starting (who present research plans), those doing graduate work (research in progress) and those doing clinical work (completed research).

d.  Social Events: This provides a venue just to kick back and socialize.

4. Thursday Night Seminars: The Thursday seminar series occurs once a month during the Fall and Spring semesters and typically focuses on a high profile physician scientist outside the university faculty. This give students the chance to talk to experienced leaders that have excelled in their fields and offer different perspectives on career paths and choices after completing the BUSM MD/PhD program.

5.  Retreat: A student-planned initiative, MD/PhD students from each level of training attend.  Students interact and learn from their colleagues in all years to help one develop a broad range of friends.  The retreat usually features an optional off-campus social event.  Previous years consisted of a Boston Dinner Cruise, Thompson Island, and Warren Conference Center.

6.  Student Achievement Day: Each spring, students are able to present their research through their participation in this student-centered event whether they present a poster or are selected to give a talk and meet one-on-one with the keynote speaker.

7. Student – Advisor Group Meetings: In an effort to continually improve and address the needs of our students, once a month advisors and administrators meet with student representatives to learn about current and evolving issues -– what works, what doesn’t work, what can be improved, and any unexpected events.