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    University of Southern California
  Feb 21, 2018
USC Catalogue 2016-2017 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Medicine (MD/PhD)

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Departments and programs of the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology participate in the joint MD/PhD degree program administrated by the USC Graduate School, the Keck School of Medicine and the California Institute of Technology. This program integrates the medical school curriculum with graduate curricula in the basic sciences, to provide a unified course of study leading to both the MD and PhD degrees.

This program is especially designed to prepare highly qualified students for careers in academic medicine and medical research. Formal course work and dissertation research provide the student with in-depth scientific preparation and research experience which enhances the application of basic science information to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. Conversely, the PhD education becomes more meaningful because of its disease-oriented emphasis.

The curriculum for MD/PhD students differs from that of PhD graduate students in the basic sciences in that the former take medical school courses as well as selected graduate level basic science courses and specific courses designed for MD/PhD students. The integrated training of the MD/PhD program enables students to compress their total academic effort by applying some course work toward the requirements of both degrees. On average, completion of the combined program requires a total of eight years.

The following graduate programs from the Keck School of Medicine participate in the MD/PhD program:

Cancer Biology and Genomics

Development, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

Medical Biology

Molecular Structure and Signaling

Biological Sciences/Neurosciences, Molecular and Computational Biology


Preventive Medicine (Biostatistics, Epidemiology, IPR/Health Behavior, Molecular Epidemiology)

Selected graduate programs from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences also participate in the combined degree program.

Time limits for qualifying examinations and other procedures are determined by considering MD/PhD students as medical students for the periods when they are following the medical curriculum and as full-time graduate students during their years of graduate research prior to advancement to the Junior/Senior Continuum.

MD/PhD candidates have the option of pursuing a laboratory experience before beginning the Year I medical curriculum through a laboratory rotation at either USC or the California Institute of Technology. This laboratory experience is strongly encouraged although not required.

During the first two years of their program, MD/PhD students follow the medical school curriculum and gain added exposure to research faculty through a special survey course. Students are guided by the MD/PhD executive committee, which outlines the integration of the graduate program with the medical school curriculum and serves as the students' liaison until they have selected a graduate program and graduate research adviser. The graduate programs vary widely in the extent to which they allow credit toward the PhD for courses taken during the first two years of medical school. MD/PhD students are encouraged to select a graduate program by early spring of the second year of medical school. Students are required to apply for admission to the PhD program of their choice by the recommended deadline on the graduate application.

Prior to entering PhD studies, the Keck School of Medicine allows MD/PhD candidates the option of beginning their clinical training by taking one six-week required clerkship in either Family Medicine or Pediatrics. This can provide an early introduction to clinical medicine and a context for integration with the basic sciences of the thesis years.

Beginning with the third year of the MD/PhD program, students enter their selected program as full-time graduate students. Although the content of graduate courses required of MD/PhD students is generally identical to that required of PhD students in the same graduate program, MD/PhD students are permitted greater latitude in the scheduling of their graduate courses. Four years are commonly necessary to fulfill requirements for the PhD, including course work, qualifying examinations, independent dissertation research, and writing of the dissertation.

After completion of the graduate program, the student is advanced to the Junior/Senior Continuum and completes the final two years of clinical training required by the medical school curriculum. No portion of clinical training is deleted from the joint program. Prior to entering the clinical component of the joint degree, students will be expected to participate in a clinical shadowing experience, which could be done throughout the PhD studies or as part of an intensive program prior to entering the clinic. Students will also be required to participate in the Medical Scholars Program clinical tutoring skills program held in the spring of each year and re-take the Year II Objective Structured Clinical Examination at the end of May with the second year medical students.

Keck School of Medicine-Caltech MD/PhD Program

A joint program between the Keck School of Medicine and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) was established for the granting of the MD/PhD degree. Students do their preclinical and clinical work at the Keck School of Medicine and their PhD work with any member of the Caltech faculty, including the biology, chemistry, engineering, applied sciences divisions and interdisciplinary programs divisions.

Admission to this joint program is made through the usual Keck/USC MD/PhD process. All applicants are interviewed at Keck School of Medicine and Caltech. Matriculated students in this program have the option of doing their PhD at USC or Caltech. The MD degree will be awarded from the Keck School of Medicine and the PhD from Caltech.

Further information about the MD/PhD program at the Keck School of Medicine may be obtained by contacting: MD/PhD Program, Keck School of Medicine, 1975 Zonal Avenue (KAM 200), Los Angeles, CA 90089-9023; (323) 442-2965, FAX: (323) 442-2318; email

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