Accelerated Ph.D. Program for Candidates with an M.D. Degree


The Accelerated Ph.D. Program for candidates with an M.D. degree was established in 1997 in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, in response to the need for physician scientists to fulfill the widespread need for applying advances in basic and clinical research to the diagnosis, management and understanding of the mechanisms of human disease. While there is an excellent Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Virginia for incoming medical students, that also address this need, there are other talented individuals who are attracted to research during their medical school and subspecialty training. This program is designed for these physicians.

Our research-intensive program at the University of Virginia is designed to train these students to identify significant biological problems and to use the most advanced and modern scientific methods providing them with the skill set required for a competitive cutting-edge research program. The graduates of the Program are ideally positioned to fulfill today’s need for translational research.

Program of study

 The program requires 30 credit hours composed of graduate-level courses, seminars and laboratory rotations plus 18 credit hours of thesis work based on original research. In addition, 24 transfer credits are allowed for previous courses taken in an accredited medical school curriculum. Of the required 30 hours of course work, a typical program of study will include three formal graduate level courses, with the remainder of the credits made up by laboratory rotations, seminars and journal clubs. The duration of the program is flexible and is designed to be completed in three years. These individuals are much more mature, come in with a higher level of training than the usual graduate student, and are already very focused on a given area of research as well as being highly motivated and skilled with time management. The major emphasis of the program is on intensive laboratory research. Graduate level course selection is tailored to each individual’s background and needs by the Graduate Advisory Committee, made up of five individuals, including several clinician scientists who have highly successful research programs. An important component of research is the learning of how to define a significant problem, formulate a hypothesis and design appropriate and imaginative experiments and to assess the feasibility and the possible outcomes, in the testing of the hypothesis. Research training is broadened through laboratory rotations, departmental seminars, participation in journal clubs and the writing of an NIH-style grant proposal as part of a qualifying exam. The NIH-style grant proposal is focused on the dissertation topic and is to be completed within the first year of the program. An oral presentation is made to the Graduate Committee, which reviews the grant using the NIH study-section format. Satisfactory completion of this proposal is linked to advancement to candidacy for the PhD degree.

Admission to the program

Candidates require an M.D. degree from an accredited medical school. Selection for admission is based on prior academic record, potential for independent research and three letters of recommendation. Admission to the accelerated Ph.D. program may be coordinated with residency or fellowship programs in the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia. Applications to residency and fellowship programs are independent and are the responsibility of the applicant.

Thesis requirements

The thesis consists of original research that meets the standards of high quality, peer-reviewed journals. A dissertation topic should be selected by the end of the first year. A dissertation committee of four or five professors, including the thesis advisor, will advise and counsel the student. Upon completion of the research project, the results must be published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed leading journal in the respective field. The dissertation should be prepared according to the rules and regulations of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. Finally, the doctoral candidate is required to pass an oral examination in defense of the dissertation.