why, oh why md/phd?

Now that we’ve gone over what’s involved in this whole MD/PhD thing, I guess it’s time for me to go into why exactly I chose this path.

I first thought about what I wanted to be way back in second grade when we had to include a page on just that in our little “All About Me” books. I said that I wanted to work in a laboratory complete with a drawing of me in a lab coat and glasses with various beakers in front of me.

In high school, I decided I wanted to be an astronomer. Maybe it was because I was already looking to find a planet I could inhabit far, far away from all the annoying sand people a la Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince—a great little book to live by—read it whenever you need to ground yourself a little). Of course, this plan didn’t settle all too well with my parents and I knew that it was also just a tad unrealistic, so I opted for the more run-of-the-mill something-in-the-sciences-I’m-not-yet-sure-what plan when I went off to college.

Becoming a doctor was always in the back of my mind though. But I wasn’t sure that I had it in me. And I didn’t want to do it because my parents wanted it of me. And I was quite interested in something engineering. But in the end, after doing the appropriate pre-med things, I decided that becoming a physician was definitely what I wanted to do.

When I visited my old high school math teacher and told him that I was going to pursue medicine, his reply was, “So we lose another great one to science.” I was good at everything in high school, but I really loved math, especially calculus (seriously, I’m not kidding). So much so that I took the engineering math series in college (though just the last of the series because of AP credit). Then I forgot all about my love of math as I focused on the usual pre-med classes. Then I realized that med schools don’t quite like AP units being used to fulfill requirements (I guess it wasn’t that important since it was math, but I was in crazy-pre-med mode then). And then I put it off because I had already taken the last in the series and was left with moving on to more abstract-engineering-type math. I eventually ended up taking vector analysis, which I thought would totally kick my ass since I’ve never been good at vectors and since it had been so long since my last math class. Funny—I kicked its ass instead. I had one of those crazy-into-math professors who made the stuff so complicated that we were required to go to office hours just to understand how to do the homework. Well, I went to one and got bored to death. So I never went again. And I still owned the class. And I had fun. Which reminded me of how I had turned my back on that whole engineering thing when I chose medicine.

During this whole time, I was also deeply engaged in research, which I also enjoyed immensely. In fact, I was a little sad to leave it behind for medical school. I don’t know why I didn’t consider it before (it probably had something to do with my thinking that I wasn’t competitive enough), but I eventually got into thinking about trying to do an MD/PhD so that I could pursue both of my dreams: medicine and engineering. And that’s how I ended up here. Miserable. But doing what I wanted to do. I guess it’s just the getting there that’s not so fun.

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  1. how can an 18-year-old know that s/he wants to be a doctor?!But that's exactly what select schools believe because they offer BS/MD programs.  I remember being coerced to apply to these schools during my senior year of high school by an uncle who never believed that I would be able to get into medical school if I did it the normal way.  Boy was he wrong.  And I didn't bother applying either.  Basically these schools offer an accelerated program where you finish your BS in three years and then move on to med school, finishing everything in seven years. What I really wonder though is how these kids know for sure without a doubt that an MD is what they want.  Even though I knew I wanted to go into medicine by the time I applied for college, I wasn't 100% sure.  And how could I be?  I never had any opportunities to shadow physicians and see what it was like.  I had no idea what it involved and didn't even know that academic medicine existed.  Or that doctors did anything else besides family practice.  Yes, I was quite naive.  And even though I wanted to pursue medicine, there was still the off chance that I might go to college and decide that I wanted to do something else.  In fact, I was quite torn between engineering and science and biomedical engineering didn't quite exist at the time.  Most importantly, I don't think teenagers are mature enough to make this choice at all.  Sure, they might have the numbers, but good...
  2. the dreaded phd qualifying exam*I’ve put it off way longer than I should have. And it’s not my fault. Well, not 100% my fault. When I first started grad school still high from that adrenaline that pumps non-stop during those hectic first two years of med school, I wanted to take my quals as soon as possible so that I could finish my PhD as soon as possible. Then in stepped my major professor, who told me that I’d be committing suicide by doing so and that I should take the quals at the last possible minute to ensure that I would have enough time to study for it. Adding to his argument was the fact that one of the classes I wanted to take was only offered in alternate years and not that particular year. So I really had no choice but to wait until this fall to take my quals. So I putted along with my grad school classes (none of which could even come close to matching the difficulty of a single med school class, by the way) and dutifully met with my advisor at the end of the year. I had listed out the courses I still needed to take before being done with the required coursework, including the I-put-off-my-quals-to-wait-for-this-class one. When he saw this course listed, he told me that it had not been offered for awhile and that he didn’t think that it was ever going to be offered again and to confirm with the professor. I emailed...
  3. so how exactly does this md/phd thing work?Perhaps this whole MD/PhD thing deserves some explanation. Or perhaps I just don’t really have anything else to write about and am using this topic as a filler post. You be the judge. Let’s not go into why I chose to torture myself so just yet. Let’s just focus on what’s involved in this torture. The Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) was established in 1964 by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to address the need for investigators who are well trained in both basic science and clinical research. According to the NIGMS, there are 40 participating programs and 75 medical schools that offer combined MD/PhD degrees without funding from the NIGMS. So what exactly is involved? At my school, the combined degrees are expected to take seven years to complete. We start out in medical school, finishing the first two years of medical school (the basic science part) and passing our USMLE Step 1 before leaving medical school to start our graduate work in our area of interest. During the first summer of medical school (which is the closest that we get to the summer vacations we’ve been used to), we don’t get to kick back and relax or travel to exotic places or even catch our breath. Instead, we are required to rotate through a number of labs in our area of interest to try to find the lab that we want to do our thesis work in. As I mentioned earlier, instead of going on...

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  1. 1 so how exactly does this md/phd thing work? at My Life, My Pace

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