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Graduate School Years (G1-G4+)

The School of Medicine provides the full stipend, tuition, and fees for the first year in graduate school. This support benefits you as it enhances flexibility in the timing of the decision to join a lab and relieves pressure on PIs to fund MD-PhD students while they take courses and complete qualifying exams. After the first year, funding is provided by the dissertation advisor.

Coursework and Candidacy Exams

Once students enter the G phase, they must successfully complete their required coursework and candidacy exams. MD-PhD students receive considerable credit for their pre-clinical courses. The leadership has worked with each graduate program to eliminate unnecessary coursework and include maximum flexibility in the menu of possible courses. The course requirements differ for each PhD program, though all MD-PhD students are required to take a Biostatistics Course offered through the Center for Clinical and Translational Research program. Mentors, dissertation committees, and graduate program leaders are all sources of information and guidance during the graduate phase.

Students successfully complete oral and written candidacy exams (qualifying exams), typically during the summer between G1 and G2. Requirements can differ by program but generally, the written qualifying exam consists of a grant application based upon the student’s dissertation project. This same proposal is generally adapted for F30 submissions. Some graduate programs require a separate written qualifying exam addressing key discipline-specific questions, followed by a grant proposal and oral defense. The oral qualifying exam is a crucial stage of the PhD training and demands both specific and broad-based knowledge. The remainder of the graduate phase is committed to relevant conferences, seminars, journal clubs, laboratory work, manuscript submission and work towards successful completion of the PhD dissertation.

Grant Submission

Rigorous MD-PhD training includes the process of writing and submitting research grants. Submission of fellowship applications is a critical part of student training for successful careers as academic physicians. Therefore, all students are required to submit an F30 fellowship application to the NIH as soon as possible during the graduate training phase, if eligible. Between G1 and G2, all students are required to attend an F30 Grant Workshop organized by the MD-PhD program. Students are also encouraged to submit applications to other national organizations, such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, or the American Cancer Society, as appropriate. Examples of successfully funded F30 applications are available for MD-PhD students to reference.

M3 Coursework during the Graduate Phase

It is critically important for MD-PhD students to maintain their clinical skills while pursuing their graduate education. With that goal in mind, students who entered the program in 2014 or later are required to complete the M3 Ambulatory Care clerkship over two, 2-week periods during the G2 and G3 years. In addition, during G4, students complete a two-week-long clinical Foundational Elective.

In addition to these required courses, students are encouraged to seek additional longitudinal clinical experiences, such as monthly attendance in a desired subspecialty clinic. This endeavor can provide opportunity to refresh the history, physical examination, and patient presentation skills they learned in Practice of Clinical Medicine; to further ease any anxiety regarding returning to medical school; to foster connections between their research and unmet problems in clinical medicine; to provide inspiration for later clinical research projects; to enable contact with physician role models who frequently serve as a valuable resource for career guidance and clinical advice; and to gain exposure to specialties they may want to pursue.

Research Publications

The experience of writing an original research manuscript, submitting it for publication in a reputable journal, responding to the criticisms of reviewers, resubmitting the manuscript, and making any additional edits for final publication, is an essential part of scientific research. As such, prior to return to medical school all students are required to have a first-author manuscript describing the research they conducted as part of their PhD studies at VCU accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal that is recognized by PubMed or Web of Science.

Dissertation Defense

The PhD phase of training ends with a successful dissertation defense, a requirement that must be completed prior to returning to medical school. The dissertation with all required signatures must be provided to the Library and Graduate Dean’s Office prior to graduation, but preferably prior to return to medical school.