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Student life

The Virginia Commonwealth University program provides a number of activities specific to M.D.-Ph.D. students. These activities provide integration of the two phases of the program and emphasize the unique nature of their group, encouraging an “esprit de corps” and promoting program cohesion.

Advocates for MD-PhD Women at VCU

The VCU MD-PhD program is committed to the careers of our female physician scientists. Quarterly meetings as well as an annual Southeast Regional Meeting includes lectures, networking, and poster events which focus on the challenges faced by female physician scientists. Learn More


There are two seminars per month that all students must attend. An invited faculty member presents his or her research and talks with students about research careers and, if applicable, the challenges facing physician-scientists at one seminar. At the other seminar, students present their own research and face the critique of their peers, often having to field unique and probing questions. These seminars bring or reintroduce research to students in their medical phase.

In addition, a special series of three or four seminars is offered throughout the year entitled “The Philosophy of Science.” Kenneth Kendler, M.D., a psychiatrist who runs the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, organizes and leads these interactive sessions.

Science and disease

During the MS2a semester, a course is held that attempts to link clinical medicine with basic science pathophysiology. The course is only for M.D.-Ph.D. students. It is mandatory for all M2 students, but is also open to students in the G phase. It is an interactive and participatory course.

Journal club

A journal club is held during the MS1 and MS2a semesters, run by faculty teaching the courses at that time. The articles chosen are either classic studies or new discoveries that reinforce material taught at the same time in the medical school curriculum.


M.D./Ph.D. alumni: Mike Noto, Joe Contessa and Paulie Papavassiliou

Once a year all students and steering committee faculty come together at the historic Tuckahoe Plantation or the VCU Inger and Walter Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences on the James River for the annual retreat. The retreat includes food, sports activities, student-faculty interactions and discussions relevant to students’ careers or to the program. The meeting is organized by the students and is an opportunity to invite outside guests for discussions such as the training and life of a physician-scientist, grant writing, conflicts of interest, medical ethics and changes to the program. Guests have included past graduates of the program, scientists at other institutions and VCU faculty.

Clinical rotations for the graduate phase

Students choose a clinical research faculty member to be their clinical advisor, guided by their thesis advisor or someone involved in the MD-PhD Program. Clinical faculty advisors are chosen based upon the area of the student’s research. Students meet with their clinical advisor for an average of one day a month throughout the graduate phase. The clinical activity is designed to complement the student’s research, providing a glimpse into the way in which basic science intersects with clinical practice. It also offers opportunities to incorporate some aspect of patient interactions into a laboratory thesis project./p>

Poster session

Each spring, G2–G4 students make posters of their research to date and all M.D.-Ph.D. candidates attend an event to show them. Other G-phase students can learn about research being conducted in the program and M1-M2 students can get ideas for future rotations and thesis labs.

Advising groups

Matriculating students are assigned to a group during orientation. Each group consists of a faculty member from the steering committee and a student at each phase of training (MS1, MS2ab, G1, G2-4, M3 and M4). The group meets at intervals during the medical and graduate phases to talk about issues specific to student progress and transition, and to foster social interactions.


Students have the opportunity, while in their graduate phase, to attend one of two meetings designed specifically for M.D.-Ph.D. students.

  • One in Colorado in the summer, held together with the annual meeting of M.D.-Ph.D. directors
  • One in Chicago, held together with the annual meeting of the American Physician-Scientist’s Association

At both meetings students from M.D.-Ph.D. programs throughout the country present research posters and interact, sharing experiences. It is an invaluable opportunity for students to talk about the future, to hear presentations from the nation’s leading physician–scientists and to find out what happens in other programs.