About the MD-PhD Program

Our Program

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), that 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 students to become the next generation of physician scientists that are enabled to make important breakthroughs in medical 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, that include the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, Keck School of Medicine, Viterbi School of Engineering, and the School of Pharmacy. Additionally, students are able to complete their PhD in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences in the Division of Social Science.  The Hospitals at Keck Medical Center of USC are highly ranked in patient care. Los Angeles General Medical Center is one of the premiere trauma center in the country. Caltech is a world leader in basic research that has outstanding faculty in all areas.

Personalized Mentoring

USC-Caltech MD-PhD students receive personalized mentorship from directors and faculty throughout the duration of the program.

Research Opportunities

USC and Caltech provide vast opportunities for conducting forefront research. Students are able to pursue the PhD in many fields of interest. The program has strength in engineering at both institutions.

World Class Facilities

Excellent research opportunities are supported by state of the art facilities at USC and Caltech. Members of the MD-PhD program have access to USC centers like the Eli & Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, the Mark & Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, and the Michelson Center for Convergent Biosciences.


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 Program leadership; these faculty 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 seminars designed specifically for them, 1) Medicine at the Bench-top and Bedside and 2) Elements of Career Development for Physician-Scientists. 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 in 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 PhD 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.

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 the student in collaboration with the program director 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.

Dr. Brian Lee

Brian Lee, MD PhD
Interim Director of the USC/Caltech MD-PhD Program

Dr. Paul Sternberg

Paul W. Sternberg, PhD
Caltech Co-Director of MD-PhD Program