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MD/PHD Program

General Overview

Upstate Medical University’s MD/PhD Program is designed for individuals interested in pursuing a career as physician-scientists in academic medicine. During the students first two years of training they complete courses in the College of Medicine, while participating in a laboratory research over the summers. They then advance full time into the laboratory where they spend three to four years completing additional coursework and dissertation research under the auspices of one of the faculty members in the College of Graduate Studies. The time in the laboratory culminates with the defense of the doctoral dissertation, after which students re-enter the College of Medicine to complete their training in the various clinical clerkships. The total time spent in the program should be no more than eight years. Throughout the training, students will also participate in MD/PhD specific coursework and activities.

Annual stipends and tuition waivers are provided for all students enrolled in the MD/PhD program.

Student Expectations and Monitoring

The MD/PhD program is designed for students interested in combining a career in medical research with one in academic medicine. The program is based on an integrated curriculum that utilizes the rich educational and research related resources of the Colleges of Medicine and Graduate Studies. Students also engage in educational and mentoring activities specific to the MD/PhD program throughout their training. Although the emphasis of a student’s training will vary over time as they transition through the program (i.e., clinical versus research) they are always considered to be MD/PhD students.

Owing to the integrated nature of the training, MD/PhD students must adhere to the policies, standards and requirements of the MD/PhD, MD and PhD programs as outlined in the Student Handbook, at all times. Further, because a student’s performance and conduct in each of the degree-granting programs is considered relevant to the others all students will be monitored by the MD/PhD program Academic Review Board, the MD program Academic Review Board and the relevant PhD program through Graduate Council. For the purposes of this integrated student monitoring policy, the MD/PhD Academic Review Board (ARB) will be comprised of the MD/PhD program co-directors, the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies, the Dean of Student Affairs and the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education.

Although all three programs will perform regular review of a student, the MD/PhD ARB will provide continual integrated oversight of student performance and conduct. In this process, the MD/PhD ARB will seek advice and input from the applicable educational program in which a student is currently receiving their training (i.e., either medicine or graduate), as well as the alternate educational program, where appropriate. In keeping with standard university practices and policies the MD/PhD ARB will also manage the process of reviewing and addressing any concerns in student academic performance or conduct in the joint program. In the event concerns arise, all programs will be kept informed through their respective program representatives that serve on the MD/PhD ARB. Any student who is placed on any form of probationary or disciplinary status in one of the degree granting programs can also be placed on a similar status in the other degree programs. The MD/PhD program also reserves the right to take action based upon a student’s progress in the individual programs. Dismissal from one program may still allow a student to remain in one of the other programs. Students have the right to appeal programmatic decisions as outlined in the Colleges of Medicine and Graduate Studies Student Handbook.

MD/PhD Program Specific Policies

  1. Student Advisement:  In addition to the advisory mechanisms provided by the Colleges of Medicine and Graduate Studies students must meet with, at least, one of the program co-directors once per semester (generally prior to registration) to review student progress and discuss plans for the next semester. The co-directors are also available for consult at any time as needed.
  2. Summer Research:  All students in the program are required to spend a minimum 8-week summer laboratory research rotation prior to the start of MS1 and MS2 classes.
  3. Entry into Dissertation Laboratory:  Students select mentors and research projects before the end of their second year in medical school, and begin their lab work by May 15 of that year after sitting for Step 1 of the US Medical Licensure Exam. Continuation of the thesis work is predicated on passing the Step 1 Board Exam. Failure to pass USMLE Step 1 will result in dismissal from the MD/PhD program.
  4. Time limitation for Completion of the Qualifying Exam:  The PhD qualifying exam should be completed six months after entering the PhD portion of the degree. It is required to be completed no later than one year. Students who fail to successfully complete the PhD qualifying exam in one year will be dismissed from the MD/PhD program. An extension of this deadline may be granted for extenuating circumstances by petition to the MD/PhD Academic Review Board. Following successful completion of the PhD qualifying exam, a thesis advisory committee should be established and meet, at least, once per semester (completed committee reports will be required for registration). One of the MD/PhD program co-directors OR a member of the MD/PhD Admissions and Advisory Committee will serve on each student’s thesis defense committee (students should contact the most appropriate person based on their area of expertise).
  5. Time limitation for Completion of the PhD: The purpose of this limitation is to avoid undue delay in the completion of the MD/PhD degree requirements and the timely return of the student to the medical school clerkships. This benefits the student, the program and the University as a whole. No more than six years may elapse between matriculation into the MD/PhD program and successful defense of the PhD dissertation. The student and the advisor must jointly petition the MD/PhD Academic Review Board for an extension beyond this time limit. If granted, the student must complete the defense of the dissertation by the end of the 7th year or return to the medical school clerkships. During the extended year the stipend will continue to be supported by the sponsoring lab or department. Waiver of tuition will continue to be in effect. Failure to complete the PhD by the time limit will result in dismissal from the program.
  6. Defense of Dissertation and Return to Medical School: Following successful defense of the PhD dissertation, students have six months to complete all required revisions and submit a final approved document to the College of Graduate Studies in order to remain in the clinical clerkships. Students who fail to submit the final document within the time limit will be removed from the clerkships and their stipend will be discontinued until the required revisions are completed and accepted, as noted above.
  7. Program Specific Course Requirements: MD/PhD students are required to receive a 'Pass' or 'Satisfactory' grade in the MDPH601, Physician-Scientist Grant Writing Course (students may elect to take a departmental grant-writing course in lieu of) and MDPH602, MD/PhD Grand Rounds course in order to remain in good standing in the MD/PhD Program.
  8. Individual Pre-doctoral Fellowship (F30 or F31) Applications: Within six months of successful completion of the qualifying exam, students are required to submit (typically the grant written in partial fulfillment of the qualifying exam) and pursue an application(s) to the NIH for a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award. An extension of this deadline may be granted for extenuating circumstances by petition to the MD/PhD Academic Review Board.
  9. Graduation Requirement: Prior to graduation from the program each student must have at least one accepted first-author publication of experimental data from their thesis work in a peer-reviewed journal.
  10. Academic Performance: Except as noted below, a student will be dismissed from the MD/PhD program for deficient academic performance as outlined in the Student Handbook for the Colleges of Medicine and Graduate Studies.
    With specific regard to the MD/PhD program, a student will be dismissed from the program for receiving a deficient grade in two or more courses or in over 25% of the non-elective credits attempted in one academic year.
  11. Voluntary Withdrawal from the MD/PhD Program: Upon withdrawal from the program, stipend support and tuition remission will immediately terminate. Students who make the decision to voluntarily resign from the MD/PhD program without completing the PhD degree requirements:
    1. Will be required to pay back the tuition waived during their time in the College of Medicine. Students may appeal waiver of this payback requirement for special circumstances (typically health-related), which have forced their withdrawal from the program. The student will not be expected to pay back the personal stipend received while in the program.
    2. Will receive careful administrative review by the College of Medicine Academic Review Board. This committee will make decisions as to the suitability and specific conditions of the student’s continuation in medical school.
    3. Students resigning from the MD/PhD program, and accepted into the medical curriculum will be placed in the clinical curriculum as efficiently as scheduling permits, but will not receive first priority in scheduling their clinical years. This may require a leave of absence of several months between leaving the PhD program and entering the clinical curriculum. In case of overloads, there may be delays in entering the clinical courses, sub-optimal schedules, or the failure to procure a defined track through the clinical years.
  12. Involuntary Withdrawal from the MD/PhD Program: In accordance with the processes, procedures and policies set forth in the Student Handbook, MD/PhD students may be dismissed from the program for reasons that include, but are not limited to violations of the Code of Student Conduct, University Policy and Academic Performance. Upon dismissal from the program, stipend support and tuition remission will be immediately terminated.