M.D./Ph.D. grads have less student debt, more interest in research than M.D. grads

When compared with recent M.D. program graduates from U.S. medical schools, M.D./Ph.D. program graduates are more likely to be male, have less educational debt, choose certain medical specialties and plan for research to play a major role in their careers.

Researchers at the School of Medicine recently published these findings in the Sept. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“M.D./Ph.D. program students represent only a small proportion of all U.S. medical students, yet they are expected to play a major role in the future physician-scientist workforce,” said Donna B. Jeffe, Ph.D., senior author and research associate professor in the Division of Health Behavior Research. “With this study, we now have a better sense of who these students are and which students we need to work harder to support in these programs.”

Joint M.D./Ph.D. programs are offered in a wide array of fields at almost every U.S. medical school. “Historically, the primary intent of these joint M.D./Ph.D. degree programs has been to produce highly trained physician-scientists who will engage in biomedical science research careers,” says Dorothy Andriole, M.D., the lead author and assistant dean for medical education.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data from the American Association of Medical College’s national Medical School Graduation Questionnaire from 2000 to 2006. Of the 79,104 respondents with complete data, 1,833 or 2.3 percent were M.D./Ph.D. graduates. The proportion of graduates in each year who were M.D./Ph.D. graduates ranged from 2 percent to 2.5 percent, with no significant change over time.

More specifically, M.D./Ph.D. program graduates were more likely to be male and older than 29, have less than $150,000 of debt and have received scholarships or grants for medical school. They also were more likely to plan specialty training in dermatology, neurology, ophthalmology, pathology, pediatrics or radiology. Additionally, they were more likely to plan full-time university faculty careers.

“Some of these numbers were dramatic,” Jeffe said. “Seventy-four percent of men who started M.D./Ph.D. programs graduated from them, whereas only 67 percent of women finished programs they entered. Also, only 65 percent of underrepresented minorities graduated from M.D./Ph.D programs they started compared with 73 percent of whites.”

Among M.D./Ph.D. program graduates, women also were less likely than men to plan careers in which research played a major role.

Jeffe said these numbers point out the need to develop programs or other kinds of support for women and underrepresented minorities to pursue biomedical research careers.

“We need to find a way to increase the number of students who graduate from these programs and choose research careers,” Jeffe said. “Training more women and underrepresented minorities to become physician-scientists hopefully will have a positive effect on the health-care of the country as a whole.”