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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Medical Scientist Training Program
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Frequently Asked Questions

 How can I make my application stand out to the MSTP Admissions Committee?

We are pleased to have a strong applicant pool to review each admissions season. We consider several criteria when reviewing an applicant’s material, such as GPA, MCAT scores, the applicant’s clinical experience, significant, long-term laboratory experience and whether these experiences resulted in publications, posters or presentations. We also like to see altruism and extracurricular activities throughout the applicant’s academic career.

 What financial support do MSTP students receive upon being admitted into the program?

All MSTP students receive full support for tuition, stipend ($32,196 in 2018-2019), health insurance and disability insurance. These expenses are paid from a variety of sources during the seven-to-eight-year course of training. Currently, the program has over 100 students, supported by a $1,100,000 training grant and over $800,000 in individual fellowship income.

 If I am not accepted into the MSTP, will my application be considered for the MD-only program?

If you are not accepted into the MSTP, your application will not automatically be considered for the MD-only program. However, if you would like your application to be transferred for MD-only consideration, you may notify the MSTP in writing before Dec. 1. This will withdraw your application from MSTP considerations, as you cannot apply to both the MSTP and MD-only programs simultaneously.

 I am an international student. Am I eligible to apply for the MSTP?

International students who have completed at least three years of full-time study (undergraduate, graduate and/or post-baccalaureate) at an accredited U.S. or Canadian college or university may apply. International students receive the same financial support as all other MSTP students.

 I am interested in pursuing a PhD in an alternative PhD program (ex: social sciences). Will I have to submit GRE scores?

Applicants interested in pursuing a PhD in an alternative PhD program will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require coordination with the PhD program of interest for consideration. It is possible that you may have to apply to and be accepted by both the MSTP and the PhD program of your choice. Please contact us with questions on coordinating with these PhD programs during the application process.

 How many letters of recommendation are required for the MSTP application?

We require a minimum of three letters of recommendation for your application to be considered complete. These letters may be included within a committee letter or composite letter or submitted individually. Applications will not be considered for interview prior to “complete” status. There is no maximum number of letters that may be submitted.

 What is the best way to gain insight into what an MD-PhD does on a daily basis?

The typical MD-PhD daily model revolves around a time commitment of 80 percent research and 20 percent clinical time. The best way to gain further insight is to contact individual physician-scientists with questions and perhaps for the opportunity to shadow them. It may be beneficial to contact a few different physician-scientists for different perspectives, research areas, schedules and work environments. Physician-scientists can end up working in a wide array of fields such as academic research, pharmaceutical research or even for the government. Since there are so many different career opportunities available to physician-scientists, it is hard to describe what the typical day would be like.

 I am taking at least a gap year between undergraduate and medical school. Can you suggest ways of gaining more research experience during that time? How else would you suggest the year be spent?

The best way to gain more research experience is to actually do scientific research, either as a technician or as a volunteer. Find a laboratory where you will be expected to behave as a scientific collaborator rather than simply a hired hand who makes solutions and cleans glassware. There are a large number of positions like this available at nearly all research institutions.

 What are the typical professional outcomes for MSTP graduates?

The majority of MSTP graduates stay in academia, in a clinical, research or combined setting (figures taken from a national MD-PhD outcomes study). Other outcomes include private practice, industry or research institute. The top three clinical specialties are medicine, pediatrics and pathology; of those in an academic setting, roughly 65 percent allotted between 50 to 75 percent of their time to research.

 Why should I choose to pursue my combined MD-PhD versus my MD degree?

That is a difficult question to answer as every situation is unique. MDs can find time to take care of patients, teach and do research. Whether you have an MD or MD-PhD does not by itself determine whether you will be intellectually engaged in your career choice. With the combined MD-PhD, you are able to both do research and see patients and can potentially advance your career. A dual degree may also aid in applying to residency and fellowship programs, being awarded grants and also may help give an edge when applying for jobs at academic institutions. If you are interested in private practice or do not wish to work in an academic medical center, the dual-degree program may not be the right choice for your career path.

 What is the quality of life for an MSTP student?

Every situation is different. There are no fundamental quality of life differences that depend upon which degrees you hold. Students are able to have hobbies, significant others, families and social lives throughout their time in the program. These are all possible when keeping in mind that academics will likely be the top priority.

 What are some alternatives to MD-PhD that allow interested students to combine medicine and research, especially for those students lacking enough significant research to be admitted to an MD-PhD program?

There are residency programs that have scientific research components. Residents will have the opportunity to work and be fully immersed in all aspects of their research lab, often with little to no clinical responsibilities. In addition, it would be possible to integrate postdoctoral research into (or after) residency training to enhance training in research. Finally, almost all medical schools have master’s degree programs and curriculum tracks that allow for research electives during medical school.

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