MD-PhD Program

The Duke MD/PhD program is one of the forty NIH-funded Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP) in the country. Established in 1966, it is also the 3rd oldest standing program in the U.S. Currently, Duke’s MSTP houses 65 students from almost 40 institutions, making up roughly 18% of the total DukeMed student population. With an average of 10-11 new MSTP students per year, we always feel like a family that’s part of the greater DukeMed community.

Duke’s unique curriculum provides an ideal foundation for a solid MD/PhD program. During third year, all DukeMed students pursue a scholarly project or second degree of their choice, and it is at this point of training that MSTP students begin their PhD training. Following their PhD dissertation, we return for the remaining 4th year of medical school. The fact that MSTP students begin their clinical training before their PhD offers several advantages over traditional MST programs:

  • a 4-5-year PhD would translate to 7-8 instead of 8-9 total years in the MSTP
  • students go through 2nd year clinical rotations with their peers from 1st year rather than a new class
  • experience on the wards during 2nd year provides a clinical perspective for choosing a thesis lab

A number of students have emphasized the last point–for many of us, our experience in the hospital and clinics has either reaffirmed our initial research aspirations or exposed us to a new field we hadn’t considered. Knowing that the MD/PhD path is, by no means, short, it may be helpful to have this clinical “checkpoint” before embarking on a research career.

We cannot talk about the Duke MSTP without mentioning its strong leadership. Dr. Chris Kontos, the Director of the program, is both professional and down-to-earth, virtually always available in person or by email, and able to provide guidance to students on a very personal basis. Dr. Dona Chikaraishi, the Associate Director, always aims at ways of improving the program and provides invaluable advice to students, especially those in their graduate years. The MSTP student body has an executive branch of its own, with a new president chosen annually by the students themselves. Finally, we are blessed to have support from Dean of the Medical School Nancy Andrews and Chancellor for Health Affairs Victor Dzau, both of whom have research labs of their own and consistently appear at MSTP events.

Speaking of events, Duke’s MSTP leadership crew plans a wide array of both academic and social outings every year. Professional events include an annual 3-day retreat (often to the beach), an annual research symposium, monthly science dinners at a local restaurant, weekly lunches with student and faculty presentations, active journal club sessions and appearance at national conferences. Social events include a winter holiday party, joint Duke-UNC MSTP spring party, barbecue/MSTPicnic for new 1st years, graduate school campout for basketball tickets, as well as various impromptu gatherings. Thanks to these events and others, we’re able to de-stress and expand our research careers beyond the scope of our own laboratories.

For more details about the program, its students, faculty and staff, please visit the main website,, or contact the current MSTP president at