The Ph.D. program in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, at the School of Medicine is highly individualized, with students working closely with faculty mentors to develop and execute research. The mission of the program in epidemiology is to train students to become independent research scientists and leaders who can develop epidemiological methods and conduct outstanding population-based research.
Required course work represents only one component of study toward the degree. Each student is closely matched to a faculty adviser with shared research interests. Training with the primary adviser is tailored to meet the advisee’s particular interests. The primary emphasis of the training is to provide the student with multiple opportunities to develop research skills and the capacity to apply epidemiological methods as an independent research scientist and leader in the field. Through its tailored training approach, the program recognizes that career goals for many M.D.-Ph.D. physician-scientists are distinct from those of most Ph.D. trainees.
Students in the M.D.-Ph.D. program in epidemiology will acquire the foundational skills to allow them, after further clinical specialty and postdoctoral research training, to become independent physician-scientists. Program graduates ultimately pursue careers in academic medicine, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, research institutes and government agencies as clinicians, scientists, educators and administrators. The goals of the M.D.-Ph.D. program in epidemiology are to provide students with the following skills.
Critical foundation skills: The program is designed to provide students with the critical skills required to advance to positions as epidemiological physician-scientists in a broad spectrum of positions.
Mastery and application of science: The structure of the program provides a framework for the progressive development of a mastery of the current state of the subject matter of epidemiology and ability to synthesize this information and apply this foundation to the identification of key areas of investigation/experimentation in population medicine.
Communication skills: Students will develop skills in the various means of communicating both the core of epidemiological knowledge and the expression of epidemiological methodology, population medicine, research design, results and interpretation to a variety of potential clinical and non-clinical audiences.
Among the many benefits offered by participation in the dual-degree program are the following:
Students will have the foundation and training in epidemiology and in medicine to conduct basic and translational research to advance both the underlying science and patient health. Training received in this program will enable students to take bedside observations to research initiatives and to translate results of population-based, epidemiological research to patient populations and the broader community, as appropriate.
Students have the opportunity to participate in clinical research during the M4 year.
Students with M.D.-Ph.D. training are highly competitive for positions in leading physician-scientist clinical training programs as well as faculty positions in academic medical centers, and are well-positioned to ultimately take on leadership roles in academic medicine, industry and government.
Tuition, fees and a stipend are provided throughout both the medical and graduate phases of training.
The diplomas for this dual degree program are awarded simultaneously upon completion of the requirements for both degrees.
To be considered for the VCU M.D.-Ph.D. program, prospective students must apply to the medical school through the American Medical College Application Service. Please designate “Combined Graduate/Medical Degree” on your AMCAS application. The deadline for application to the program for admission in the fall semester is listed on the AMCAS web site.
In rare situations when resources allow, students matriculated in the medical school class may be considered for admission to the M.D.-Ph.D. program, usually near the start of the M1 academic year. For additional details, see the M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree opportunities page.
The dual-degree program is designed to allow students to complete the first two years of medical school and the USMLE Step 1 examination (M1, M2) before undertaking graduate training (G1 and subsequent two years). After successfully defending the Ph.D. dissertation, students complete the remaining clinical years (M3, M4) of medical training. Nevertheless, important aspects of dual-degree training are integrated across the program. These include M.D.-Ph.D.-specific graduate courses during M1 and M2 that supplement the medical curriculum and emphasize research and translational aspects of M.D. course topics and required M3 clinical rotations integrated into the graduate phase. Opportunities for research experience begin prior to entering the graduate phase (pre-matriculation and summers after M1 and M2), when students spend time working with Ph.D. faculty epidemiological research programs of their choice. These research rotations enable students to experience faculty research projects, approaches and research environments, and to select an area for specialization.
After completing M2, students are required to take the USMLE Step 1 exam, followed by one or two required M3 clinical rotations lasting six to eight weeks. They then transition into graduate studies. During the first one-and-one-half years of graduate training (G1 and fall semester of G2), students take graduate courses selected to optimize their training and devote time to independent research under the guidance of a faculty adviser. During the spring semester of G2 and the subsequent year, G3, the student’s effort is devoted to independent research focused on developing the dissertation proposal and full dissertation.
Upon satisfactory completion of course work, students must pass written and oral comprehensive examinations to qualify for degree candidacy. The written comprehensive examination and oral defense for the dual M.D.-Ph.D. are normally completed during G2. Each student must develop their dissertation proposal including three original research projects and defend the proposal before entering G3. During G3, each student must complete the proposed three original research projects, prepare a written dissertation, present their work in a seminar and defend it successfully between the end of G3 and G4. Department-sponsored seminars and other activities give students opportunities to discuss their research interests with visiting scientists and to present their research both internally and at national professional meetings.
The Ph.D. component of training in epidemiology for M.D.-Ph.D. students normally takes a minimum of three to four years to complete. Courses taken during the M1 and M2 years of medical school satisfy a number of core and elective course requirements, and additional program courses are completed in the G1 and G2 years. M.D.-Ph.D. students, if eligible under NIH rules, are required to prepare and submit an NIH F30 predoctoral training grant application by the end of G2, which is usually based on the dissertation proposal defended during the comprehensive oral examination. Students also are encouraged to submit predoctoral training grant applications to other funding sources. Acceptance of a peer-reviewed first-author (or co-first-author) manuscript in a scientific journal indexed in PubMed or Web of Science that is based on research conducted during Ph.D. training (rather than a review, commentary, case note or similar publication) is required of all M.D.-Ph.D. students prior to returning to the M3 phase of medical school.
In addition to completing VCU School of Medicine requirements for the M.D. degree and the general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students must complete a minimum of 61 credit hours for the Ph.D., including directed research.
Curriculum requirements for the M.D.
Based on the equivalent knowledge acquired by successfully completing MEDI 100, MEDI 150, MEDI 200 and MEDI 250 and IBMS 651 during the M1 and M2 years, 14 credits are satisfied (for EPID 650, practical research skills and substantive electives). Courses taken to satisfy Ph.D. requirements do not satisfy M.D. requirements.
Curriculum requirements for the Ph.D.
Based on the equivalent knowledge acquired by successfully completing MEDI 100, MEDI 150, MEDI 200 and MEDI 250 during the M1 and M2 years, 14 credits are satisfied. These credits consist of three credits for EPID 650; two for practical research skills; and nine credits of substantive electives. M.D.-Ph.D. students also complete six credits of IBMS 697 in the summers after M1 and M2 to satisfy the six credits of methodological elective course work required for the Ph.D. degree. Students are required to take additional credits of M.D.-Ph.D.-specific courses listed below.
|Course ||Title ||Hours |
|BIOS 602||Analysis of Biomedical Data II||3|
|EPID 649||Analysis of Health Datasets||3|
|EPID 650||Epidemiologic Methods for Research (satisfied by M1/M2 study)||3|
|EPID 651||Intermediate Epidemiologic Methods for Research||3|
|EPID 652||Advanced Epidemiologic Methods and Data Analysis||3|
|EPID 690||Journal Club (taken four semesters during G1/G2)||4|
|STAT 643||Applied Linear Regression||3|
|IBMS 624||Research Reproducibility and Transparency (satisfies one credit of practical research skills development)||1|
|IBMS 651||M.D.-Ph.D. Journal Club (one-credit course required fall and spring semester of M1; satisfies one credit of practical research skills development)||2|
|IBMS 652||M.D.-Ph.D. Science and Disease||1|
|IBMS 653||M.D.-Ph.D. Research Seminar (0.5-credit course; required fall and spring of M1, fall of M2 and during G phase except in semester of defense)||2|
|IBMS 697||M.D.-Ph.D. Directed Research (six credits satisfy methodological electives required in Ph.D.)||12|
|OVPR 601||Scientific Integrity||1|
|or OVPR 602|| Responsible Scientific Conduct|
|or OVPR 603|| Responsible Conduct of Research|
|Spatial Data Analysis|
|Structural Equation Modeling|
|Statistical Methods for High-throughput Genomic Data II|
|Design Implications in Clinical Trials|
|Adaptive Clinical Trials|
|Special Topics in Translational Research|
|Maternal and Child Health|
|Injury and Violence Epidemiology|
|Epidemiology of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders|
|Applied Health Services Research |
|Survey Research Methods and Analysis for Health Policy|
|Mathematical and Statistical Genetics|
|Genetic Analysis of Complex Traits|
|Applied Pharmacoepidemiology Research Methods|
|Survey Research Methods|
|Community Interventions: Development, Implementation and Evaluation|
|Disseminating, Adopting and Adapting Evidence-based Prevention Programs|
|Structural Equation Modeling|
|Community-based Participatory Research|
|Applications in Qualitative Research Methods|
|Social Network Analysis|
|Introduction to Geographic Information Systems|
|Community Socioeconomic Analysis Using GIS|
|Spatial Database Management and GIS Modeling|
|GIS Applications in Urban Design|
|EPID 697||Directed Research in Epidemiology||18|
The minimum number of graduate credit hours required for this degree is 61.
Plan of study timeline
The dual-degree program blends medical and graduate training supplemented with M.D.-Ph.D.-specific course work and opportunities during the medical (M) and graduate (G) phases of the curriculum that culminates in the simultaneous awarding of the M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. The timeline of medical and graduate training is as follows:
Year 1 (M1): Mostly preclinical medical course work, some research
- Preclinical medical courses
- M.D.-Ph.D. Journal Club (two semesters)
- M.D.-Ph.D. Seminar (two semesters)
- Research rotations (and pre-matriculation research opportunity)
Year 2 (M2): Mostly preclinical medical course work, some research and clinical rotation
- Preclinical medical courses
- M.D.-Ph.D. Science and Disease (one semester)
- M.D.-Ph.D. Seminar (one semester)
- Research rotations
- Preparation for USMLE Step 1
- Required M3 clinical rotation(s) (one or two, lasting six to eight weeks total)
Year 3 (G1): Graduate course work and research, some clinical experiences
- Graduate program course work
- M.D.-Ph.D. Seminar (two semesters)
- Directed research (begin dissertation research)
- Opportunities for clinical experience
Years 4-5 (G2-G3) and additional year if needed: Primarily research, some clinical experiences
- Ph.D. Qualifying Examination, admission to candidacy
- Submit NIH F30 fellowship application
- Directed research (completion of dissertation research)
- Graduate program course work
- M.D.-Ph.D. Seminar
- Required M3 ambulatory care rotation
- Publication of peer-reviewed first-author paper
- Dissertation defense
Years 6-7: M3-M4: Completion of clinical training, clinical research experience
- Clinical rotations
- Clinical and non-clinical elective
- Preparation for USMLE Step 2
- M4 Clinical research capstone project
Juan Lu, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.D.
Associate professor and graduate program director
Director of educational programs, Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family Medicine and Population Health