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Deciding between well-ranked PhD program and reapplying to medical school?


essequamvideri
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I've been accepted to a good PhD program in my field, but I think I ultimately want to go to medical school. I didn't get in to medical school this year, and part of the reason is my undergrad courses/grades (which are not terrible, but medical school is insanely competitive to get in). Until I "fix" that problem by taking a few more undergrad courses, I think my chances of getting in are slim (even if I finished this PhD program). Would it be crazy to turn down my PhD offer to take undergrad courses and reapply to medical school? This is what I'm leaning towards doing, but it would feel like a large step backwards and turning down an offer like this will be difficult.

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This sounds like a really personal decision and hard to give advice for... Really depends on what you want in your life long term. I wouldn't think of retaking courses as setting you back, if medical school is definitely what you want to do.

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It's even more crazy to enter a PhD program when you don't want to do it.

I agree with this, it's easier to boost your GPA with undergraduate coursework than it is with graduate level coursework. A masters degree would make sense to me as that could strengthen your application (maybe something like a MPH, I notice a number of MDs also have one), but a PhD is not what you should be going for if you want to enter medical school.

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GeoDUDE, I agree, but I'm also interested in research and it's not that I don't want to do the program (I could see myself doing both). I ultimately want to be a practitioner who also does research, but the question is more about timing. I could finish the PhD and then do medical school (some people do this, though it's definitely a crazy amount of time in school), or I could attempt to improve my medical school application and get into medical school now, then worry about research later (though it's also possible to do research as an MD; having a PhD isn't strictly necessary). I think the latter choice is better (especially since the former still has the problem of my undergraduate qualifications), but I'm just trying to reason through the decision.

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It is true that some people do a PhD and then go to medical school afterwards. However, this is a HUGE time commitment, and plans change.

This is a personal decision, like everyone else has said. I think it might make more sense to do a masters or take more undergrad courses to boost your gpa than to do a PhD right now. But, you should do what is right for you.

I know that Tufts offers a masters in biomedical sciences. It's a one-year program designed for people who didn't get into medical school but have good grades/MCAT scores. It has a pretty good placement record of getting students into medical school (something like 80-90%). Could think of looking into that, or programs like it if you don't like the idea of living in Boston. Keep in mind these types of programs will probably not be funded.

Hope that helps with your decision.

Edited by lxwllms
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There are free Masters programs that can get you to a point of being ready for either PhD or MD programs. I'm in a paid Master's program in biomedicine and it has landed me at several dream PhD programs. I also considered the med school option, since I'm at a point where I could probably get in, if I took the MCAT and decided I wanted to go that route.

 

Since you're not sure, you could look into Master's programs (thesis is better - do research, get published), postbac programs, volunteering in a lab. 

Be aware there are free master's programs, where you're essentially treated like a PhD student, except shorter time, less pay, and you TA. Tuition is free. You get paid to TA. Granted, it took me 3 years, but I have no doubt I'll be entering my PhD program immensely more skilled and insightful than straight from my Bachelor's.

 

You're looking at two hugely different lives here. Go talk to a postdoc. Go read what postdocs are going through and think about how things might look in 5 years, when you're thinking about graduating with a PhD. You've just been in school and doing hardcore research for 5 years and about to "enter the workforce" as a postdoc making 42k a year with no guarantee of financial security, unless you sell your soul and go into industry.

 

If you are REALLY set on a MD and practicing, why not go do a free masters, jump through all the hoops of getting into med school, then get into a stellar MSTP program and end with no debt?

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We are in similar positions. I never applied to med school, but I want to. I totally get liking research but ultimately wanting to practice medicine. Looking at your situation it's easy to tell you do not do a PhD if medicine is the end goal. I find it hard to take my own advice though, so I understand why you're still debating this. Let us know what you decide!

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Yeah, don't go to the PhD if you want to go to medical school.

 

It's a very dangerous proposition to go to a PhD program with the goal of doing more school afterwards, because chances are very good that you will be so burned out that you'll never want to see another textbook again after your PhD. 5-6 years is a long haul. I finished my PhD almost a year ago (!!!) and I finally feel like a fully normal person again, but I definitely don't want to do another degree any time soon, even though while I was in graduate school I thought about doing an MS (in statistics or computer science) to enhance my employability outside the academy. I have friends in medical school/who have finished med school in the last 5 years, and the thought of going back to do 4 years of that after 6 years in a PhD program makes me want to run away screaming. Everyone is different, of course - I do know some people who have gone to law school after their PhD. But you'll be adding 5-6 years on top of a career that's already long on training (4 years of med school + 3 years of residency + a potential fellowship. Best case scenario, that's 12 years from now).

 

But the thing is, you want to be a practitioner that does some research, and to me the best way to do that is to get an MD, do some research in medical school, and then do a postdoctoral fellowship that trains MDs in research after you finish the MD. Then you can practice and do some research. (You could also become a nurse practitioner and get a PhD in nursing - there's a shortage of nurses and nursing faculty in particular, and that would allow you to practice and do research too.)

 

Deferring is one option, but I would only defer if you know for sure that you'd attend the PhD program next year if you didn't get into a med school. It doesn't sound like that's the case, so I wouldn't defer. I'd decline and pursue medical school. I agree with the advice to potentially do one of those master's programs that's sort of designed for students who want to go to med school after. Columbia has a one-year master's in human nutrition that is a common stepping stone to med school, and actually a lot of our MPH students go to med school after too.

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For the record, I think there are a lot of MDs who do not have a PhD who do clinical research. My former boss was a stroke neurologist but spent most of her time doing clinical stroke research. Every few weeks she would be on stroke service at the hospital and see patients, but her day to day activities were focused around research/writing papers/submitting grants.

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I'm just gonna toss my hat in with everyone else. If you are interested in research but you really want to be an MD, do yourself a favor and stick to your guns. There are one year masters programs that are explicitly designed to fast track you to med school and to help you increase your GPA, there are also lots of post bac programs, which is a route many people take, to increase their GPA for med school apps. Put your energy into making yourself a standout med school applicant, volunteer at places, shadow doctors, etc., consider applying to DO programs (there are some very good ones fyi) and do research as a fellowship later on. 

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