Admissions and Financial Aid

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.

Our interview process is a two-phase interview. The first phase is a one-day MD interview. This is similar to the interview that MD-only applicants go through. If successful with the MD interview process, you will be invited back for the second phase.

The second phase is the PhD interview that will be conducted over a span of two days. You will meet with faculty members from the University of Southern California (USC) and from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

During this interview, you will be asked to give a 10 minute “chalk talk” describing your most relevant research experience to the Program Directors (Dr. David Hinton, Dr. Mark Davis, and/or Dr. Mitchell Gross). These talks will be given without slides, though you may use a dry erase marker & board that will be provided.

We will reimburse your travel expenses (ie. flight, rental car, gas, etc.) and we will provide hotel accommodation for two nights for ONLY the second phase of the interview process.

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.
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 USMLE, Part I 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
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.