Columbia Creates Fast-Track MD for PhD Scientists

NEW YORK—Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) has launched a three-year Doctor of Medicine (MD) program for PhD-trained biological scientists. The accelerated curriculum prepares graduates for physician-scientist careers that combine their knowledge of fundamental biomedical science with an understanding of how diseases and their treatments affect humans. The first students in the new program are expected to graduate in 2016.

“This program reflects our commitment to finding innovative ways to teach the clinical medicine of today, while preparing our students to discover the cures of tomorrow,” said Lee Goldman, MD, dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine and executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences, CUMC.


Donald W. Landry, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Medicine at CUMC, who developed P&S’s PhD-to-MD program, said, “The skills acquired in the course of PhD and MD training are complementary; a PhD requires intense focus on a single area of research, while medical training requires mastery of the science across a broad range of topics.”

One of the nation's most research-intensive medical schools, P&S is consistently ranked among the best medical schools in the nation.

P&S PhD-to-MD Program Application Requirements and Curriculum

Applicants must hold a doctorate in a biological or related science and meet the same requirements as all applicants to P&S’s MD program.

“We are looking for exceptional candidates who are committed to pursuing research informed by clinical practice,” said Stephen W. Nicholas, MD, associate dean for admissions at P&S, professor of pediatrics at CUMC, and professor of population and family health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

As part of the application process, prospective PhD-to-MD students meet with CUMC clinical-research faculty. These faculty members can speak to the dedication that a biomedical career requires and provide applicants with a sense of how they might contribute as physician-scientists.

Jonathan Barasch, MD, PhD, associate vice chair for research in the department of medicine and professor of medicine and of pathology and cell biology at CUMC, directs the PhD-to-MD program with Nicholas H. Fiebach, MD, vice chair for graduate and continuing medical education and professor of medicine at CUMC.

Students in the new three-year program will follow the same curriculum as the MD-only medical school class until the completion of their preclinical training, which lasts 18 months. Their clinical training, which lasts 16 months, includes their Major Clinical Year and electives. Because the PhD-to-MD students will already have demonstrated their scholarly skills in earning their PhD, the scholarly project requirement for the fourth year of medical school will be waived. Students will apply for residency during the Major Clinical Year; they will be encouraged to pursue the abbreviated residency training that some specialties offer to prospective physician-scientists.

Even though news of the program was communicated mostly by word of mouth, more than 40 candidates applied in early 2013. The four who enrolled took the Hippocratic Oath and accepted their white coats alongside the class of 2017 on Aug. 12, as part of the annual White Coat Ceremony for first-year P&S students.

The first students in the P&S PhD-to-MD program (from l to r.): Gloria Sheng, PhD; Siyan "Stewart" Cao, PhD; Li-Wei Change, PhD; and Matthew Fleming, PhD (credit: CUMC)

The first students in the P&S PhD-to-MD program (from l to r.): Gloria Sheng, PhD; Siyan "Stewart" Cao, PhD; Li-Wei Change, PhD; and Matthew Fleming, PhD (credit: CUMC). As Dr. Sheng said, "In just the first few weeks of medical school, it's been great to see the integration with my science background. For example, I got to hear about a patient who had trouble synthesizing sugar, and realized that I'd read a paper about this type of condition during my doctoral work. I'm happy to realize that I don't have to give anything up to do what I want to do - can have a career that involves both science and medicine."

The program is in addition to the combined MD/PhD degree, which P&S has offered since the early 1970s.

About the P&S PhD-to-MD program:


Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education; and patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast. For more information, visit or

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