The Penn State College of Medicine MD-PhD Program provides the opportunity for students interested in careers in academic medicine and research to obtain the necessary training in clinical and basic sciences in a seven to eight year period. The dual-degree provides the student with knowledge of the breadth of clinical science plus the ability to design experiments and conduct biomedical research, with modern technology.
The overarching goal of the MD-PhD curriculum is to provide students with the opportunity to obtain the tools and experiences needed to become a successful physician scientist. Integration of the medical and graduate curricula is emphasized from the beginning of the program and sustained even during the predominantly medical or graduate years of training. The ways in which medicine and basic research can be integrated through translational research is a major focus of the Penn State MD-PhD curriculum.
The program of MD-PhD study begins with a laboratory rotation (at least 4 weeks in duration) during the summer prior to matriculation. Students can arrange for the rotation by contacting a faculty member directly, or through the MD-PhD office. Students then start the program with the first two years of medical school, but also take a limited number of graduate courses. One of the graduate courses taken by MD-PhD students is Biological Basis of Human Health and Disease (CMBIO 506). This course is typically taken during the second year of Medical School (M2), and is organized and run by the dual degree program specifically for MD-PhD students. During the first year of Medical School (M1), faculty members in the program present their research to students at a weekly luncheon. Students then select two faculty members to do rotations with during the summer between M1 and M2. Students typically choose a lab for their thesis research after these rotations. Students may choose advisors/labs from either the Hershey or University Park Campus. At the end of M2, all students take Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Beginning in the third year, students focus on graduate studies and begin their thesis projects. Students typically finish their thesis research in 4-5 years. During the graduate years, students also get to experience the life of a physician scientist through the Clinical Exposure program, which allows students to choose a clinical mentor and participate with that mentor in his/her clinic. Upon completion of their PhD thesis, students return to medical school (M3 and M4 years) to complete their clinical rotations and choose a residency program. Throughout their tenure in the program, students are expected to participate in the monthly MD/PhD seminar series and attend the annual MD-PhD retreat.
The Engineering Science and Mechanics PhD program is a multidisciplinary program that provides a foundation in the sciences and associated mathematics that underlie engineering, including: mechanics, materials, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, wave phenomena, computational analysis, biological nanomaterials and micro-electromechanical systems, medical image analysis, biological tissue mechanics, and a Neural Engineering Track in the ESM Ph.D. Program. The goal is to produce scientists with a solid understanding of the analytical, interpretive and extrapolative aspects of engineering. This unique knowledge enables the graduate to bridge the gap between theoretical science and practical engineering. Because of the breadth of their training, they are well prepared to lead interdisciplinary teams and work in a wide variety of areas. These qualities make an ESM PhD uniquely valuable for the student who enters the MD-PhD program with a background that prepares them to take advantage of such graduate training.
The new PhD track in Engineering Science and Mechanic is a training option in the MD-PhD program at Penn State. We offer a modified PhD curriculum structure that takes into account the existing MD-PhD framework. A rigorous PhD curriculum in Engineering is uncommon in MD/PhD programs, and Penn State now offers a powerful Engineering MD-PhD option.
MD-PhD Students are encouraged to pursue a degree in Engineering Science if they have had an undergraduate education with a solid foundation in Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, or Quantitative Biology. Students will enter the ESM MD-PhD track following successful passage of an oral Candidacy Examination which may be taken during M1 or M2. It may be retaken once, and this examination also serves as the technical English proficiency test for ESM graduate study. During this examination, the student must demonstrate a competency in both human biology, as well as a demonstration of a sufficient degree of fundamental scientific background that would ensure that they have the aptitude to succeed in the ESM curriculum. The student is also to pass Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Completion of these examinations, and successful completion of M2, will establish ESM PhD Candidacy for these students.
MD-PhD students will be permitted to complete their advanced ESM course requirements over 3 years. This will enable them to immediately begin their research during the first year of graduate study. They are required to complete 6 three-credit graduate courses in Engineering and quantitative Science, of which 9 credits must be in the ESM Department. These courses can be taken at an average rate of 1 course per semester during their first 3 years in residence. They are also required to attend 5 credits of E SC 514 seminar. During these ESM years, MD-PhD students will continue to participate in the Clinical Exposure program, the monthly MD-PhD seminar series, and attend the annual MD-PhD retreat.
MD-PhD students are required to pass a Comprehensive Examination, along the guidelines of all ESM PhD students, at least 6 months prior to the completion of their thesis, and their Final Oral Examination at their Thesis Defense.
We recommend that MD-PhD students should be prepared to take their Comprehensive Examination in the 3rd or 4th semester in residence in the PhD program, in order to potentially pass their thesis defense by their 6th semester.
It is anticipated that a typical MD-PhD student will complete their requirements for the PhD in Engineering Science in 3-4 years of residence in the department (5-6 years after entering the MD-PhD program). MD-PhD students will then complete the final 2 years of the Clinical Medical School curriculum.