Established top-tier medical schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Johns Hopkins offer M.D.-Ph.D. programs for “physician-scientists” — healthcare professionals who want to care for patients while also pursuing research that may lead to a cure for disease. As the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) explains, “M.D.-Ph.D. trainees are research scientists who solve mechanisms underlying disease, combined with their passion to treat patients in a clinical setting.”

The joint program begins with the current first two years of the M.D. curriculum, followed by two to four years of intensive research training in the Ph.D. program, including writing and defending a dissertation. Then the student begins two years of clerkship rotations at hospitals and clinics. Joint degree candidates will take courses in research and do lab rotations in place of the M.D. program’s Focused Inquiry and Research Experience (FIRE). The two-year FIRE module requires all M.D. students to complete an independent research project to develop their skills and appreciation for medical research.

Students in joint programs generally earn their Ph.D. degrees in disciplines such as physiology, biomedical engineering, biochemistry and genetics. UCF’s candidates will earn doctorates in biomedical sciences through a newly approved M.D./Ph.D. track in the existing Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program.

“The M.D.-PhD program is a great addition to the graduate programs of UCF,” said Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine. “This cohort of students will have the ability to bridge the gap between the lab bench and patient bedside. The joint degree provides the professional training needed by a physician and the rigorous scientific training required of a scientist. These graduates will be able to identify the important questions of medicine and design experiments that will provide the answers.”

Such joint training will also provide more opportunities for interprofessional student education and team-based learning that are so key to patient care, Dr. German said. “In addition we know that physician scientists are inclined toward academic research and teaching careers,” she added. “And these physician scientists will be in an excellent position to move research more efficiently from lab bench to patient bedside.”

The College of Medicine expects to begin the first joint class in the fall, with a few students already enrolled in the M.D. program, and to grow the program from there with new applicants. Students currently enrolled in UCF’s M.D. and Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. programs will be eligible to apply for the new program.