Medical Scientist Training Program

Medical Scientist Training Program

Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP) are combined M.D. and Ph.D. graduate degree (MD/PhD) programs offered by a small number of United States medical schools with financial support from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), in recognition of the increasing need for scientists to bridge the technical gap between laboratory discoveries and producing effective treatments for the patient. There are currently 40 individual MSTPs at 45 participating institutions with a total of 933 trainees in all stages of the programs.[1]. MSTPs exist only at the most prominent research universities, and, as of 2011, all top 20 medical school as ranked by the US News and Report had a MSTP. The most recent MSTP grant was awarded to The Ohio State University College of Medicine in 2011[2].

Certain MSTPs offer concurrent training in clinical research, e.g. the MSCI[3] (Master of Science in Clinical Investigation) program at Northwestern University in downtown Chicago.

Due to federal regulations, the program grants provided by the NIH are restricted to U.S. citizens or legalized nationals. However many medical schools have MD/PhD programs that are not supported by the NIH but offer similar training opportunities and grant money. Also, many MST programs offer non-MSTP grant funded positions, allowing for non-citizens and non-legalized nationals to be accepted into the MD/PhD program at that particular school.



Admission to MSTPs is the most competitive of all graduate medical education programs, with only 170 positions available nationwide each year for 1,779 applicants (a 9.6% acceptance rate). In comparison MD-only programs had 42,742 applicants for 18,665 positions (a 44% acceptance rate).[4]. Applicants must have strong MCAT scores and GPAs to be considered for interviews. Reflecting this fact, from 2008 to 2010 the average GPA and MCAT for matriculates to MSTPs was 3.76 and 34.5, respectively. MSTP applicants will often have strong research experience as well. Interviews at MSTPs tend to focus on the applicant's past experiences in scientific research. These may include short research talks or presentations followed by rigorous questioning by an interviewer or interviewing committee. At some MSTPs, applicants may also have to interview with the MD-only program.

Financial Support

MSTP matriculates receive substantial financial awards that make them financially competitive to their MD-only counterparts even with the longer training periods. These allowances cover all tuition expenses, provide travel and supply allowances, and accommodate living expenses through an annual stipend (ranging from $22,000 to $32,000). Due to these monetary grants, MSTP trainees often graduate with little to no debt.

Career Path

The vast majority (over 80%) of MD/PhD graduates eventually choose to enter academia, government, or industry where medical research is a central component of their duties[5]. According to a FASEB study conducted in 2000, graduates of NIH-funded MSTPs make up just 2.5% of medical school graduates each year, but after graduation, account for about one third of all NIH research grants awarded to physicians. Many MSTP graduates also practice clinical medicine in their field of expertise[6].

Non-MSTP MD/PhD and DO/PhD programs

A number of medical and osteopathic schools without funded NIH MSTP grant slots maintain their own non-MSTP MD/PhD or DO/PhD combined degree programs, sometimes offering full or partial student financial support funded by the schools themselves. Currently 75 institutions provide a means for non-MSTP MD/PhD training. There are also 7 DO/PhD programs in the country.[7]

Allied-Institution programs

Additionally, several medical schools allow for the PhD portion of the MSTP to be completed at an allied institution, where research in specific fields may be stronger than at the home institution. Such alliances include:

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham MSTP allow students that have also been accepted into the Graduate Partnership Program of the NIH to complete their thesis work through this program, typically at the NIH and the University of Cambridge (Health Sciences) or the University of Oxford (Biomedical Sciences).


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  5. ^ Ley TJ, Rosenberg LE (2005). "The physician-scientist career pipeline in 2005: build it, and they will come". JAMA 294 (11): 1343–51. doi:10.1001/jama.294.11.1343. PMID 16174692. 
  6. ^ Zemlo TR, Garrison HH, Partridge NC, Ley TJ (2000). "The physician-scientist: career issues and challenges at the year 2000". FASEB J 14 (2): 221–30. PMID 10657979. 
  7. ^

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