MD/PhD Program

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MD/PhD Program
Keck School of Medicine
University of Southern California
1975 Zonal Avenue, KAM 200
Los Angeles, CA 90089
(323) 442-2965 Phone
(323) 442-2318 Fax

Steven Mittelman, MD, PhD
Director, MD/PhD Program
Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Physiology and Biophysics

Sarkis Mazmanian, PhD
Co-Director, MD/PhD Program

Mitchell Gross, MD, PhD
Associate Director, MD/PhD Program

Christine Crispen
Administrative Director, MD/PhD Program

Roland V. Rapanot
Assistant Administrative Director, MD/PhD Program

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The Keck School of Medicine’s MD/PhD Program is a fully funded joint program of the University of Southern California (USC) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which is designed for individuals who aspire to a career in academic medicine or a leadership role in the biomedical industry. The mission of the program is to train a qualified and diverse group of physician scientists to become the next generation’s leader in translational science. Through the program, an individual acquires the required skills for physician competence. The MD/PhD Program provides for the development of research expertise and academic excellence while fulfilling the requirements for a PhD degree in a variety of subject areas.

The MD/PhD Program benefits from the expertise of the highly ranked schools and programs, which include the Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, Viterbi School of Engineering, and the School of Pharmacy. USC Hospitals are highly ranked in patient care. LAC+USC Medical Center is one of the premiere trauma center in the country. Caltech is a world leader in basic research as highlighted by its outstanding faculty who are the recipients of 32 Nobel prizes.

Admissions and Financial Aid

Admission Requirements

Fourth-year undergraduates or those who have completed their undergraduate degree with exceptional qualifications and research potential may apply for the joint Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and California Institute of Technology (USC/Caltech) MD/PhD training program. In general, requirements for admission to the MD/PhD program mirror those of the MD program and at least one of the PhD programs; students need not commit to a specific PhD program at the time of application. A special MD/PhD Admissions Committee reviews each applicant’s scholastic aptitude, academic performance, letters of recommendation and previous research experience.


Qualified individuals interested in the MD/PhD program should inquire about the program at the time of application to the medical school. In order to complete an application to the combined MD/PhD program, students must first submit an AMCAS application indicating the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Shortly after receipt of the completed AMCAS application, the Office of Admissions will direct an applicant to the Keck School of Medicine’s online application. A portion of the school’s supplemental application will be specifically designated for the MD/PhD program. Applicants who wish to be considered for the combined degree program are asked to complete and submit the additional section.

In addition to the standard medical school application, two letters of reference should be provided from individuals familiar with the student’s research potential.

Students who are currently pursuing the medical curriculum at the Keck School of Medicine may also apply to the MD/PhD program.


This is a two-day interview process with applicants spending one day at Caltech and one day at USC. Those applicants meeting the basic criteria will be notified of their acceptance into the pool of candidates for the USC/Caltech MD/PhD program and will be invited for an interview with members of the faculty at the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology. After the interview is scheduled, the applicant will receive a separate notice from the MD/PhD program outlining the procedures specific to the MD/PhD applicants, which differ from those of the regular MD applicants.

Notice of Acceptance

Students selected for admission are notified after interviews. USC-Caltech MD/PhD program has a rolling admissions process. Students begin their program in the fall semester and are registered for the medical curriculum at that time.

Financial Aid

All MD/PhD students receive fully funded scholarships that include an annual stipend and full tuition and fee waivers for the MD years from the MD/PhD program. Complete support during the PhD training will be provided for each student by the specific graduate department, program and/or research preceptor.

Curriculum and Policies


The MD/PhD program offers a unique opportunity for the highly qualified student to prepare for a career in academic medicine. The integrated training for both degrees makes it possible to compress the total academic effort since some coursework can be applied to both degrees. The breadth and depth of the training obtained is invaluable to those pursuing a career in medical research and teaching.

Currently, the training program begins upon entrance into the first year of medical school. Within a few weeks after beginning medical school, the student meets with the MD/PhD Executive Committee; this committee outlines the integration of the graduate program with the medical school coursework and expectations of the MD/PhD student. In addition to the coursework of a first-year medical student, the MD/PhD student participates in two courses designed specifically for them, 1) Medicine at the Bench-top and Bedside and 2) Topics in Molecular Medicine. Students are expected to attend regularly scheduled MD/PhD seminar series, departmental and interdisciplinary research seminars, as well as interact with faculty at informal research presentation and discussion sessions in their area of research.

Students are encouraged to rotate in two or more laboratories and are given the opportunity to do so in the summer prior to entering the first year of medical school and between the first and second year of medical school. Students may also elect to rotate through a laboratory during the second year of medical school as part of the their required student project (RSP) or the summer prior to the start of their PhD studies. Generally by the spring semester of the second year of medical school, the student decides on an area of research interest and applies to the graduate program of choice. At the end of the second year, the graduate training effort is focused on the chosen area of research and specific departmental and programmatic educational activities.

After completing the second year of the medical curriculum and passing Part I of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), the student enters the selected program as a full-time graduate student. Three to six years are required to complete additional coursework in the discipline, the qualifying examination, and independent research leading to a dissertation and research publications. Prior to entering the PhD program of study and after taking the USMLE, Step 1, students have the option of taking their first clinical rotation.

During the PhD training, students are expected to fulfill the requirements of the individual graduate program which includes a course on ethics and accountability. Each program varies in requirements so student programs differ. To allow students to transition to the clinical years more easily and to sustain clinical skills while pursuing the PhD training, participation in the longitudinal clinical experience is required. The longitudinal clinical experience, which gives students a hands-on experience in general medicine and/or in specialty training, is arranged by either the student or the program administrator and is flexible to accommodate both the student and physician schedules. After completion of the dissertation, the student rejoins the medical class as a third-year medical student and completes the last two years of clinical training. The combined program involves, on average, a total of eight years.


Summer Prior to Year 1
Optional Laboratory Rotation

Years 1 – 2 Continuum
Medical School Curriculum
Summer Laboratory Rotation (8 weeks)
Research Seminars in Area of Interest
Medicine at the Benchtop and Bedside Course
Research in Molecular Medicine Journal Club
Optional Clinical Rotation

Graduate Years
Begin Thesis Research
Take Graduate Courses as Dictated by Academic Program and Interest
Take Ethics and Accountability Course
Longitudinal Clinical Experience
Complete Qualification Exam
Write and Defend Research Thesis

Years 3 – 4 Continuum

Required Clerkships
Family Medicine 6 weeks
General Surgery 6 weeks
Medicine I 6 weeks
Medicine II 4 weeks
Neurology 4 weeks
Obstetrics & Gynecology 6 weeks
Pediatrics 6 weeks
Psychiatry 6 weeks
Intercessions (one week each of selected topics) 2 weeks
Selective Clerkships 16 weeks
Elective Clerkships 16 weeks

Policies and Guidelines

New students attend an orientation meeting upon entry to the combined degree program. Regular meetings with the administrative program staff occur throughout the eight-year training program regarding policies and guidelines. Students are notified of requirements by personal one-on-one meetings and electronic mail of any policies or changes. Students are also given a MD/PhD Student Handbook when they begin the program.

Graduate Programs and Caltech Program

Combining physician training with experience in advanced, independent research, the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology offers a MD/PhD program designed for those pursuing careers in academic or industrial biomedical research.

Pre-clinical and clinical work is completed at the Keck School of Medicine. PhD training may be obtained from any participating academic program at the University of Southern California under the administration of the USC Graduate School or the California Institute of Technology. Students select the basic science, engineering or interdisciplinary program of their choice during the first two years of the medical curriculum. PhD mentors may be selected from a variety of research programs and academic disciplines. These distinguished research scientists are supported by millions of dollars in research funding, offering flexibility of choice in mentor, technical expertise, and academic philosophy.
Intellectual and research distinction is offered in a spectrum of biomedical disciplines which include the following:

Biomedical Engineering
Cell and Neurobiology
Electrical Engineering
Genetic Medicine
Genetic, Molecular and Cellular Biology
Integrative Biology of Disease
Molecular Biology
Molecular Epidemiology
Physiology & Biophysics

Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Engineering & Applied Science
Geological & Planetary Sciences
Physics, Mathematics & Astronomy
Interdisciplinary Programs

Several cross disciplinary programs have been developed and many are under development. Cancer Biology & Genomics (CBG), Development, Stem Cells, & Regenerative Medicine (DSR), Medical Biology (MEDB) and Molecular Structure & Signaling (MSS) are among the most popular pathways for MD/PhD students.
The current co-directors of the joint program are Steven Mittelman, MD/PhD, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California and Sarkis K. Mazmanian, PhD, California Institute of Technology.