M.D./Ph.D. program offers students the ability to bring together clinical care and medical research
The UC Davis School of Medicine is not only a nationally recognized leader in training tomorrow’s diverse physicians, but also for improving health through innovative research.
A group of recent graduates from the M.D./Ph.D. program are driving research, as they embark on their careers, by working alongside renowned scientists and physicians.
“Many students are drawn to careers in medicine because of a passion for science and the human body, coupled with a desire to improve the lives of others through patient care,” said Saul Schaefer, director of Medical Student Research and the M.D./Ph.D. Training Program. The M.D./Ph.D. program allows our students to serve the public through patient care and research careers.”
The School of Medicine's M.D./Ph.D. Program is an integrated training program that combines medical and graduate education, leading to both the M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. The program combines pre-clinical and clinical training with a commitment to research. Students can choose to pursue their Ph.D. in any field among the wide variety of graduate programs offered through the Office of Graduate Studies on the UC Davis campus.
The research opportunities at UC Davis are particularly strong with laboratories available at several different schools (Medicine and Veterinary Medicine) and colleges (Biological Sciences, Engineering, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences).
M.D./Ph.D. students receive a stipend during their time in medical school as well as having their medical school tuition covered.
“The M.D./Ph.D. Program is essential to fostering our students into careers that center around curiosity and innovation that lead to health care breakthroughs,” said Susan Murin, interim dean of the School of Medicine. “As a mission-driven school and academic medical center, I am proud that our faculty and students continue to push the boundaries of science across all disciplines to improve patient care and health outcomes.”
As researchers, our job is to look at how we can help the patients of tomorrow.”
Solving the mysteries of medicine
Catherine Le, a 2022 graduate of the M.D./Ph.D. program, recalls her own experience as a patient when thinking about the value of medical research.
Prior to attending UC Davis, Le was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
“I think it had been affecting me for at least two years before I was diagnosed," recalled Le. “It was attacking my thyroid and affecting my whole body. I was having double-vision, I couldn't walk up a hill without running out of breath and my baseline heart rate was over 100."
Le remembers going to see her primary care doctor. Within minutes her doctor was able to diagnose her and tell her – “Not only do I know what you have, but I know how to treat it.”
“It later occurred to me that I was only able to be treated because a medical researcher had developed a medication that could treat my illness,” said Le. “However, there are still a lot of patients who go to their primary care doctor, and they still do not have the tools to treat them. We need all sorts of doctors to solve the mysteries that we continue to have in medicine.”
Le is now preparing to start a Translational Investigator program in internal medicine at Stanford University, where she will specialize in hematology and oncology.
“I'm really interested in the future of cellular therapy,” explained Le. “We now have the ability to engineer a new generation of immune cells that have added tools like receptors to target and destroy cancer cells. It really is the new frontier for treating cancer.”
Le hopes her work will lead to new discoveries that will allow doctors to have more tools to treat more patients.
“As researchers, our job is to look at how we can help the patients of tomorrow,” she said.
We strive to develop the leaders of tomorrow, who will develop new groundbreaking research that will improve the lives of the communities we serve.”
Fostering innovative research
One of the missions of the School of Medicine is to transform patient lives by improving health through innovative research.
“Training physician-scientists is critical to advance medical science and provide the next generation of leaders,” explained Schaefer. “M.D./Ph.D. graduates have the unique training and perspective to understand the basic science, from wet lab to health services, and couple that with the experience only medical school can provide.”
For John Paul Aboubechara, having the ability to combine both clinical care and medical research is what attracted him to the M.D./Ph.D. program.
“I was interested in patient care, but I also really enjoyed science and even though you learn lot of science in medical school, you don't get to necessarily partake in it,” explained Aboubechara. “I decided to get my M.D. and pursue a Ph.D. so I had the opportunity to actually do the science and explore a specific field of study.”
Aboubechara earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience and will soon begin his residency at UC Davis Health in Neurology before starting a fellowship.
“All of us are affected in some way by a disease and only through research can we learn how to treat these diseases,” said Aboubechara. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to continue to develop new research that ultimately results in new discoveries and better patient care.”
A unique approach to medicine
The M.D./Ph.D. program is a unique pathway through medical school. There are less than 30 such programs in the country.
Currently, there are over 15 students enrolled in the program, with three new students enrolling this summer. Students have done research in a variety of areas – including diseases of the retina, the molecular basis of Prader-Willi Syndrome, the effect of air pollution on pulmonary function and imaging of cognitive impairment.
“We are committed in our mission to help each of our students succeed in their research endeavors,” said Schaefer. “We strive to develop the leaders of tomorrow who will develop new groundbreaking research that will improve the lives of the communities we serve.”