While the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) typically takes between seven and eight years to complete, it is important to stress that there may be some variability as required by the needs and goals of each individual student.
This flexibility, together with the unique cohesiveness of the program, which draws from resources within the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the UW-Madison Graduate School, ensures timely completion of the MD and PhD degrees.
The typical student spends the first two and a half years in medical school while becoming acquainted with research opportunities and doing research rotations. The medical school curriculum is enriched by a series of class-specific journal clubs that explore selected topics and examine primary literature. A research trainer and graduate program are chosen during the second year.
Medicine 901, a ward clerkship taken after completion of the PhD; and Medicine 903, a longitudinal clinical experience throughout graduate school, constitute a bridging curriculum to ease the transitions between medical and graduate studies. The defense date for the PhD must be scheduled before the student returns for Phase 3.
Students enter Phase 3 with 14-17 earned credits, three for Medicine 901, three to six for Medicine 903 and eight for their thesis research, so they have a three-month window to explore additional electives of interest or complete additional work in their PhD lab.
MD Phase 1 (18 months)
Phase 1 blocks
First three semesters of medical training focused on basic science; thematic blocks integrated with clinical science and public health experiences.
For more information, view our ForWard Curriculum
Journal clubs: Phase 1
Students in the Medical Scientist Training Program will participate in a weekly one-credit journal club during the first two years of medical school. The first semester course during Phase 1 is led by Director Anna Huttenlocher and focuses on evaluation of research articles in the New England Journal of Medicine's "Clinical Implications of Basic Research" series. It serves to acquaint students with each other's interests, initiate discussions of research opportunities at UW-Madison, and pay attention to ethical and computational issues raised by research articles. The second semester journal club is led by Associate Director Mark Burkard and concentrates on cell signaling and its relevance to human disease and cancer biology, with activities related to grant writing and a mock study section.
Students in the Medical Scientist Training Program will participate in three research rotations in laboratories of their choice. These 3-4 week rotations are done in the summer of Phase 1. In the event a lab is not selected after three rotations, an additional rotation can be taken the summer after Phase 2.
MD Phase 2 (12 months)
Phase 2 clinical blocks
Four 12-week clinical blocks, integrated with basic science and public health. Students are assigned to sites within Madison as well as various sites throughout Wisconsin, exposing them to a variety of teaching faculty and patient populations.
At the end of Phase 2, students will complete the USMLE Step 1 exam.
Graduate school (3½ to 4½ Years)
Medicine 903: clinical experience during graduate years
In order to maintain and expand upon the clinical skills learned during the first two and a half year of medical school, students in the Medical Scientist Training Program participate in Medicine 903: MSTP Longitudinal Clinical Clerkship in Graduate School during their graduate training. Students choose a faculty mentor and work one-on-one in the clinic for a total of 40 hours throughout the course of the semester. The recommended format is 10 half-day clinic sessions, but can be distributed differently.
Students see patients exactly like a Phase 3 medical student and discuss a number of academic articles with their mentor. Students will be required to complete three semesters of this course (one credit per semester), with the option of completing an additional 1-3 semesters for a total of up to 6 credits.
PhD courses and research
Students in the Medical Scientist Training Program normally complete PhD coursework during the first year of graduate school, while also working in their mentors' lab part time. The coursework is intended to prepare the student for preliminary examinations and ensure a solid background in the student's area of interest. Many times, coursework done in the first year and a half of medical school will count toward graduate coursework requirements.
Preliminary or qualifying examinations may involve a written or oral test that is usually given after the completion of coursework requirements. A written research proposal and defense of that proposal are also common requirements.
After students in the MSTP satisfy graduate school course requirements, a student advances to candidacy (dissertator status). From that point on, students devote their full time to thesis research. A thesis defense date must be set prior to the beginning of Phase 3.
Medicine 901 (3 weeks)
Medicine 901: Reintroduction to Clinical Medicine
To refresh clinical skills and prepare for the transition to Phase 3, students participate in the Med 901: Reintroduction to Clinical Medicine course. Participation in this three-week, three-credit course is limited to MSTP students, where students spend three weeks on the wards in internal medicine at the UW hospital or VA Hospital.
Full patient work-ups are completed during the course, which include history, physical exam, lab and X-ray data, assessment and plan. Students are expected to take responsibility for their patients, arriving before morning rounds to see and examine patients and review events of the previous night, presenting patients to the team while on rounds, writing daily progress notes with an assessment plan and orders (after consultation with the house staff), and may be asked by the resident or house staff to perform blood draws, start IVs or insert tracheal tubes. Students also participate by being on call each time their team is on call.
Throughout the three-week course, students meet with a mentor to present a well-rehearsed presentation of a patient/case work-up each week. This mentor is usually an MSTP director or other UW faculty assigned to the course. Mentors and attending physicians evaluate the students' performance and a final grade is determined by the course director after reviewing the evaluations and patient workups.
MD Phase 3 (10 months)
Internships and electives
The date at which students re-enter the medical school curriculum during Phase 3 is flexible, between April and July. Phase 3 includes career exploration, specialty-recommended basic science and clinical experiences, an internship preparation course and the acting internship. During this final phase of the program, students begin the residency application and interview process.
Medicine 902: MSTP Physician Scientist Preceptorship in Clinical and Translational Research
Added to the MSTP curriculum in 2014, this course replaces the required traditional Phase 3 preceptorship that is required for regular MD students. The purpose of Medicine 902 is to provide an opportunity for students to develop an understanding of how to conduct clinical research through an apprenticeship-style learning experience with a physician-scientist mentor.
Throughout the course, students connect their research to the public health needs of the community and state of Wisconsin. They also learn about the regulatory process through attending Institutional Review Board and Scientific Review Committee meetings, integrate clinical experience with research, and experience other facets of a career as a physician-scientist.
Flexibility during the final year of medical school allows students in the Medical Scientist Training Program to take time for research. This may be used to complete a graduate laboratory study, publish additional papers from the PhD research, or present research at national/international conferences.