Curriculum Overview

Our Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)—a MD/PhD combined degree program—takes approximately seven to eight years to complete. The PhD thesis is usually defended during the fifth or sixth year, while the MD is awarded upon graduation from the program.

The Case Western Reserve University Clinical and Translational Scientist Training Program, a branch of the MSTP launched in 2007, is designed to prepare physician-scientists for careers in clinical and translational research.

For more information about the MSTP at CWRU, please visit the MSTP Guidelines. This manual has been developed to provide guidelines for students and mentors. It includes information about the general program structure and MSTP activities, as well as guidelines for the academic part of the program.

To help you decide if the MD/PhD path is for you, please check out these resources:

Year-By-Year Overview

Year 1

Entering students matriculate in early July. During the first summer, the entering student takes the "Intro to MSTP" course and completes the first segment of the medical curriculum.

The medical curriculum for MSTP students is almost identical to that for traditional medical students at CWRU. The first year curriculum begins in early July. Classes are generally held between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. This time includes lectures, laboratories, clinical correlation presentations, and small discussion groups. Other times are used for clinical training and individualized study, including graduate school courses and research rotations.

MSTP students are expected to take a graduate course during the afternoon or do a research rotation.

Medical school courses are graded on a pass/fail basis. MSTP students receive graduate course credit for portions of the medical curriculum (and a letter grade for graduate school courses that represent these curriculum components). This is to allow for credit in the graduate school, which requires grades, but does not affect the student's standing in the medical school.

Before Year 2

During the second summer the MSTP student completes two consecutive research rotations (each 4-5 weeks long) or one long rotation of 8-10 weeks. Reports and evaluations are written following each of these. At least three rotations must be completed before a research lab can be chosen.

It is recommended that the student choose a PhD thesis mentor before beginning the second year. Nevertheless, rotations can still be undertaken during the second year of medical school.

Year 2

The second year continues the preclinical medical curriculum and continues patient-based clinical experiences initiated in the first year. The day-to-day schedule is similar to that of the first year, and a graduate school course or research rotation is integrated into the afternoon schedule. Students may elect to take an additional research rotation instead of a graduate course.

The second year MD curriculum ends in late February. MSTP students take eight weeks to review and take the United States Medical Licensing Examination, Step 1. Full-time work in the PhD lab begins by May.

PhD Years

The PhD phase consists of additional basic science graduate courses as well as the PhD research and thesis. Because MSTP students get graduate school credit for parts of the medical curriculum and complete two to three graduate courses during their first two years, they typically complete their graduate coursework, pass their qualifying examination and are admitted formally to PhD candidacy during their third year in the program.

After the first year of the PhD phase, students participate in the MSTP Clinical Tutorial, which consists of working with a clinical mentor one afternoon per week. The clinical area may be chosen to match the student’s interests. This unique program integrates clinical training into the PhD phase, allowing students to develop connections between their research interests and questions that arise in clinical settings. It may facilitate the choice of clinical field prior to the time for residency application. Completion of one year of MSTP Clinical Tutorial results in two weeks of elective credit during the final year of medical school. One year of Clinical Tutorial is required; two years are recommended.

The MSTP student's research progress is periodically reviewed by a Thesis Committee. The Thesis Committee also decides when the experimental findings should be written for the thesis defense. This group conducts the thesis examination, which includes a seminar that is open to all members of the university. The PhD degree is awarded if the examining committee finds the quality of research appropriate. Before approval, PhD theses are the basis for at least one manuscript published in a peer-reviewed journal. CWRU MSTP students publish an average of three first authored scientific papers and six total scientific papers.

Students are encouraged to apply for outside funding to cover training and research expenses during the PhD phase. See our "Individual F30/F31 Grant Applications" included on the Courses and Resources page.  The Harrington Research Institute also supports young scientists with The Harrington-MSTP at CWRU Scholar Award, which recognizes students whose research has shown innovation and creativity, and the potential for progressing from scientific discovery to a medical therapy.

Clinical Years

During this time the MSTP student rejoins the traditional medical students to complete his or her clinical clerkships. This is the primary clinical segment of the program. Because of state licensing requirements, students take a minimum of 18 months of clinical training before they graduate. The remaining time can be used to pursue additional electives that can include either extension of PhD research, other research projects, or clinical training. Step 2 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination is also taken during this time.

Following completion of all requirements and upon graduation, the MD is awarded.