A Message from the MD-PhD Training Program

 Since 1956, the University of Florida’s College of Medicine (UF-COM) has had a long and proud tradition of training physicians by placing its focus on producing the next generation of specialists, scientists, clinical researchers and health policy leaders who not only place their expertise in the service of individual patients but also significantly impact the health and well-being of populations and societies. To this end, the MD-PhD Training Program at UF-COM is at the forefront of this College’s mission. A major goal of the MD-PhD Training Program at UF is to produce academic leaders who use their interdisciplinary training as physician-scientists who can readily translate basic discoveries to the clinical setting while sensitized to the need to do this in the context of a mission to close the gap in health disparities worldwide.

The MD-PhD Training Program at UF has evolved from its beginnings in 1967 to its current status, the program has undergone a transformation that  allows it to continually grow and stay competitive with other MD-PhD Programs and MSTP designated institutions. Several new components have been seamlessly integrated into the curriculum:

1. Full Stipend/Tuition Scholarship. We maintain a funding mechanism that provides a full stipend/tuition award to support all scholars during all stages of their training. This has resulted in an active and growing roster of superb and nationally competitive MD-PhD scholars.

2. Broad Flexibility in the Approach to the Formal Training of Clinician-Scientists. The MD-PhD Training Program at UF-COM strongly supports its scholars who choose to pursue a traditional “wet lab” approach and discipline for their pre-doctoral training. However, we also provide support and encourage to our scholars who wish to pursue non-traditional disciplines (“beyond the wet lab”) such as biomedical engineering, epidemiology and public/global health, mathematics, sociology, anthropology, bioethics, and healthcare economics and policy. We take a broad view towards the development of the entire spectrum of skill sets that are necessary to truly complete the “clinical translational mission” and that are essential for closing the gap in health disparities. For example, one  recent graduate obtained a PhD in Public Health specializing in the use of decision analysis and cost-effective analysis methodologies to inform public healthcare policy. Another scholar, who was awarded an NIH F30 Pre-Doctoral Training Program Grant several years ago, has been the student director of the Equal Access Clinic. This “free clinic” serves a large population of underrepresented minorities by running twice weekly evening clinics staffed by a group of volunteer students and clinical faculty who serve as preceptors.

3. Collaborative/Consortium Training Models and Paradigms. The MD-PhD Training Program at our institution encourages the collaborative spirit, emphasizing the paradigm of multi/interdisciplinary team and consortium science, which is in perfect alignment with our NIH CTSA-funded Clinical Translational Science Institute.

4. Progressive Core Curriculum in Clinical Translational Science.  Our program has piloted and adopted what is now a required clinical translational (CTS) core curriculum for the MD-PhD Training Program consisting of both formal didactic elements and a clinical research practicum designed to give our scholar’s knowledge-based research competencies with a “clinical translational flavor.” All MD-PhD students are required to enroll in a class called Introduction to Clinical and Translational Science between their first and second year of medical school as well as a course on Ethical Conduct of Human Subjects Studies during the spring of their first year of pre-doctoral training. They are also require to complete a Biomedical Grant Writing course during the following summer so that the essential skill required to compete for and successful obtain independent research support is developed at an early stage in training.

Peer and institutional recognition of the value of our MD-PhD Training Program has produced a dramatic increase in intramural and philanthropic funding to support our program, which currently matriculates 6-8 new scholars every year. The unique paradigms that have formed the restructuring of our program have been well received at the national level where we have been willing to share the lessons we have learned in the process of redefining the mission of and developing novel programmatic content for our training program.