A Day in the Life: MD./Ph.D Student

by Varun Awasti

MD/PhD degrees can be obtained through dual-degree programs offered at various allopathic medical schools throughout the United States. Having both degrees allows one to conduct in-depth scientific research and apply it to medically relevant contexts.

Samir Awasthi, an MD/PhD student at the University of California, Davis is one such student. Prior to entering the MD/PhD program, Awasthi received a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When asked what motivated him to pursue an MD/PhD, Awasthi said “I didn’t want to give up the chance to learn more about physics and biomedical engineering, but I was also interested in medicine.”

Generally, the MD/PhD curriculum is composed of two years of medical school, four years of classes and research for the PhD, followed by two years of clinical rotations. This curriculum can have many challenges associated with it. For Awasthi, the most difficult part was having to switch back and forth between medical classes and PhD work.

“For the first two years, I didn’t have to think about anything quantitative. When I started work for the PhD, it took me about a year and a half to re-familiarize myself with subjects I hadn’t studied since undergrad,” Awasthi said.

As a PhD student, Awasthi’s research focused on harmonic generation frequency doubling of stem cells. The long-term vision of this type of research is to generate stem cells to create functioning heart cells. His study looked at finding an effective means of separating cardiomyocites from other stem cells, as these would ultimately be implemented to create the heart cells.

When asked to describe a typical day as a PhD student, Awasthi said, “It really varied. On some days, I would come in around 10AM, and then leave at 2PM after feeding my cells. Most of my time in the lab required me to come in early, work for almost 24 hours, and then sleep for 12 hours.”

The first two years of the PhD program typically requires regular classes, readings, and experiments, and there is less of a focus on lab work.

Awasthi is currently in the middle of his first year of clinical rotations and is planning on completing a residency in internal medicine or emergency medicine following medical school. His eventual plan is to go into research in biophotonics and consider its applications to medicine.

When asked about the main benefits Awasthi sees in having both an MD and a PhD, he said “The ability to communicate with both scientists and physicians, who are often on different pages, and being able to understand the medical relevance of research in science and engineering.”

For students hoping to pursue an MD/PhD, Awasthi said, “Focus on fundamental science classes in undergrad, and get good grades in them.” He also emphasized the importance of research, saying, “Get involved in a lab with a great mentor who is eager to guide you into the exciting field of scientific research.”

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