In the United States, combined programmes leading to the degrees of ‘Doctor of Medicine’ or ‘Doctor of Dental Medicine’ and ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ ((D)MD/PhD) have a long tradition. Since 2001 it has also been possible to complete a programme like this – the JSM MD/PhD programme – at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG). Participating institutes within the UMCG are the JSM, the Medical Sciences Graduate School (research institutes GUIDE , BCN , SHARE, CRCG and Kolff Institute ) and the Institute of Medical Education (OWI).
The MD/PhD programme consists of two academic years of the Master’s stage of the regular medical degree programme combined with two years of scientific research (with additional funding); a 2+2 year programme . The MD/PhD programme provides an opportunity – unique in the Netherlands – for students to combine their basic medical or dental training with a PhD research project in a challenging and efficient way. The programme can be carried out in a number of different ways; it is very flexible.
MD/PhD students are promising medical or dental students who are given an opportunity to conduct paid scientific research in addition to their medical or dental training. The idea is that thanks to the previous work they have already done, which has resulted in at least one publication, they will be able to complete both the last two years of the Master’s degree programme and the PhD programme, resulting in both an MD and a PhD, in a period of four years at the most (in other words, the normal duration of the programme plus 2 years with additional funding).
The MD/PhD programme is intended for motivated and talented medical and dental students who want to gain expertise in scientific research. Their ambition is to have a career as both a clinical specialist and a scientist. This means that they have a future in mind as a physician-scientist or a medical specialist at a university medical centre, or they want to remain involved in scientific research while working as a GP or medical specialist at a regional hospital.
Funding for a (D)MD/PhD programme is also available for dental students , even though their curriculum is very different from the medical curriculum. For further details, contact dr. J.M. van der Mark - van der Wouden, JSM.
What is the appeal of this programme?
The MD/PhD programme attracts students for several reasons. Firstly, it enables them to complete a PhD programme concurrently with regular medical training. Secondly, this PhD programme takes significantly less time. Normally a PhD research project takes four years, whereas within the MD/PhD programme it is supposed to be completed in two years. Doing a PhD requires a lot of energy, and this is more readily available when people are young. Of course it is also possible to do a PhD during or after a medical specialization, but in a period during which most doctors also start families it often proves to take more than the planned four years. Thirdly, obtaining a MD/PhD place is very prestigious . A young physician with a PhD has an outstanding CV , which puts him or her in a better position to compete for a training post.
For admission to an MD/PhD programme, a student has to have completed prior work. This prior work has usually been done during and in addition to the regular training programme during years B1 to B3 (Bachelor’s programme) and the Research clerkship which should preferably be completed before the beginning of the junior clerkships (year M1).* Thanks to this prior work, both the candidate and the research group have been able to gain an impression of each other’s functioning, so that they can make a sound assessment of the feasibility of an entire MD/PhD programme. Commitment to and skills in research must then be demonstrated by a manuscript which has been offered for publication to an international journal. Since the PhD will be based on articles, this first publication already constitutes a significant step towards the PhD thesis, which considerably enhances the chance of ultimate success.
Figure 1 shows an example of the general outline of an MD/PhD programme: after completion of year B3 of the Bachelor’s programme, the student conducts research for six months* (research clerkship), then does 1 year of junior clerkships, then 1 year of research, then 1.5 years of senior and differentiation clerkships and finally 1 year of research.
*Students who have the ambition to undertake an MD/PhD programme can avail themselves of the possibility of completing the Research clerkship before the beginning of year M1.
In consultation with (and with the approval of) the Clerkships Manager of the Institute for Medical Education Dr J.M. van der Mark, a student can devise an individual, atypical MD/PhD programme. It is a good idea to discuss this at an early stage, so that the student and the supervisor can draft an ideal working plan.
To be able to apply for the MD/PhD programme and complete it successfully, students should take two important points into account:
1. Start early
By starting with scientific research early on in the Bachelor’s programme (years B1 to B3), the student can acquire extensive knowledge of the research conducted within the UMCG’s Medical Sciences Graduate School (research institutes GUIDE, BCN, SHARE, CRCG and Kolff Institute) and gain concrete experience of conducting scientific research..
2. Systematic programme
A systematic training programme (partly curricular, partly extracurricular) is offered: JSM mentor groups, Triple-B lectures, TTT projects, Critical Reading Classes, Scientific Method courses, the Schiermonnikoog Science Week, 'customized courses', Pilot Projects, …; the JSM BSc Honours programme. In addition, certain component of the regular curriculum can be used to go into greater scientific depth and to gain practical experience. The Research clerkship is a good opportunity to do this.
By starting early, making systematic use of the curricular and extracurricular (JSM) activities and doing research in the field of their choice, students can do the prior work and gain the experience that are required to apply for an MD/PhD programme.
Taking the JSM BSc Honours programme during the Bachelor’s degree programme is a good preparation for an MD/PhD programme, but it is not required . Transfer students who meet the criteria for approval can also submit applications.
What are the criteria?
- When an application for an MD/PhD programme is submitted, the student has not fallen behind in their studies at the beginning of year M1.
- The student has found a research supervisor and submits the application in conjunction with this supervisor. The research supervisor is a PhD supervisor/professor, must be a Principal Investigator of the UMCG’s Medical Sciences Graduate School (research institutes GUIDE, BCN, SHARE, CRCG and Kolff Institute) and will remain active as a professor throughout the whole of the programme/ will not retire during the programme.
- A maximun of two candidates per 1st promotor can apply each round.
- It must be demonstrable that the student has done prior work in the research line of the intended PhD research project. Commitment must be demonstrated by at least one publication or manuscript that has been offered to an international journal. The student must be the first author. The manuscript must be suitable to use for the future PhD thesis.
- The organizational context of the PhD research must be one of the five research institutes (GUIDE, BCN, SHARE, CRCG and Kolff Institute) of the UMCG’s Medical Sciences Graduate School.
- At the beginning of the scholarship the student must be enrolled in the medical or dental Master’s programme and at least one course unit is still open. In practice this means that at the moment of application the candidate did not yet start the "semi-artsstage".
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