MD-PhD Policy Guidelines

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Introduction

The MD-PhD Program is designed to be a seven-year program, at the end of which students will receive the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Medicine (MD. degrees. Acceptance into the MD-PhD at the University at Buffalo, SUNY (UB) includes an annual fellowship or stipend and may include a Tuition Scholarship Award for the MD and/or PhD components of the program, continuance of which depends upon the student remaining actively enrolled and in good standing in the program. Students are responsible for the payment of fees.

Curriculum

The MD-PhD curriculum is designed to optimize and integrate both the clinical and research experiences throughout participation in the program.

Students in the MD-PhD Program are normally expected to complete a seven year combined program – four years in Medical School (the MD component) and three years in Graduate School (the PhD component) at UB. The PhD component of the program will immediately follow the first two years of the MD component.

During the first and second years of the MD component, students will enroll in the required Medical School courses along with the MD-PhD Research Seminar to augment their educational experience.

During the spring/summer between the first year and second years of the MD component, students will be required to rotate through at least two but preferably three research laboratories in order to become acquainted with programs and departments related to their research interests, and to acquire research skills.

Each student will submit a ranked list of requested research rotations to the MD-PhD Director, who will then approve the rotations.

During the second year of the MD component, the students each identify a laboratory mentor from among faculty approved by the MD-PhD Director and Steering Committee.

Following completion of the second year of the MD component, and acceptance into a UB Departmental Graduate School Program, each student begins the PhD component of his/her program.

During each semester of the PhD component, students are required to participate in a clinical experience mutually agreeable to the student and MD-PhD Director, such as Grand Rounds or some other appropriate clinical training endeavor.

During the PhD component, students are expected to attend all MD-PhD functions, including seminars and other meetings, as well as appropriate basic science seminars in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and/or their degree department.

Students will not be permitted to start the third year of the MD component until all requirements of their PhD component, including thesis defense, have been fulfilled.

Students in the third and fourth years of the MD component will complete the clinical rotations in medical school as specified in the MD-PhD curriculum. 

Advisement

Upon entry into the MD-PhD, each student will be assigned a faculty MD-PhD advisor, who may or may not be Director or co-Director of the MD-PhD, who will help prepare him/her for their educational experience throughout the program and assist them should any problems arise.

Upon entering the PhD component of the program, the student will also choose a PhD Thesis Advisor who will be responsible together with a Graduate Thesis Committee for guiding the education and research of the graduate student.

  1. The MD-PhD advisor will counsel and support the student in matters relating to the first two years of the MD component. The MD-PhD advisor will confer with the student regarding matters related to the student's schedule and also keep abreast of the student's performance throughout the program. A major responsibility of the MD-PhD advisor will be to assist and advise the student should problems arise in the student's performance in either course work or other Medical School activities during the MD component. This advisor will normally be a member of the MD-PhD Steering Committee, although in exceptional circumstances and when justified, other faculty members can participate in this role.
  2. The PhD Thesis Advisor will be identified by the student following lab rotations during the summer following the M1 year. The student in consultation with the selected advisor will prepare a thesis research proposal that together with the advisor’s CV must be submitted for approval by the MD-PhD Director and MD-PhD Steering Committee as early as possible during the second year of the MD component to allow time to begin research training during the M2 year. 

Academic Standards and Progress Report

MD-PhD students are expected to remain in good standing and maintain the highest standards in both the MD and PhD components of the program. Formal review of each student’s progress will occur following the end of each semester.

The MD-PhD Director and co-Director will conduct the semiannual academic performance review for each student completing the MD and PhD components of the MD-PhD. The biannual review will include course grades and research progress as appropriate.

All students are expected to maintain a S+ (MD component) and B+ (PhD component) average throughout the program. Students in the MD component are expected to receive a grade of at least 80 or be at or above the class mean, whichever is lowest, in all medical school courses. Students in the PhD component are expected to receive a letter grade of B+ or better in all courses.

Incomplete grades are not acceptable; special consideration may be given to students who request such consideration by personal letter to the MD-PhD Director and who provide the MD-PhD Director and Steering Committee with appropriate documentation indicating the medical or personal reasons for not having completed the required coursework.

The ultimate decision for acceptance or denial of an incomplete grade request rests with a majority vote of the Steering Committee.

The outcome of each student’s semiannual performance review by the MD-PhD Director will be communicated to the MD-PhD Steering Committee and in writing to the student and PhD Thesis advisor.

Following the successful completion of all academic requirements of the medical M1/M2 year, the student will complete and pass Step 1 of the National Board exam by the date stipulated by the Sr. Associate Dean for Student Affairs, before matriculating into the graduate department or program of choice to begin the PhD phase of training in the advisor’s lab.

PhD research will begin within 2 weeks following the Step 1 test date. Graduate course registration will be conducted in consultation with the department or program graduate advisor. Students who do not identify and register for a PhD program by August of the first year of their PhD phase will not be allowed to continue in the MD-PhD until such time as an advisor and graduate program are identified.

The student and PhD Thesis Advisor are expected to have annual communications with the MD-PhD Director regarding the student's progress throughout the PhD component. Annual reports (see below) signed by the PhD Thesis Advisor will be filed in the office of the MD-PhD Director to monitor the student's progress and safeguard against potential problems in the student's program.

It is the responsibility of the student to keep their PhD Thesis Advisor and MD-PhD Director informed of all research activities and problems/events that might impact their research progress. Any leave of absence longer than 2 weeks must be requested in writing to the Director of the MD-PhD, the Sr. Associate Dean for Student Affairs (if the student has not completed Step 1), and the Thesis Advisor. Any unauthorized leave of absence will be deemed as failure to meet the MD-PhD standards. The Thesis Advisor should be advised of any and all leaves of absence irrespective of duration prior to the leave.

Students in the PhD component shall file the MD-PhD “PhD Academic Progress Report Form” annually. The PhD Thesis Advisor and the PhD Program Director of Graduate Studies must sign the form.

The student is expected to submit the Application to Candidacy Form to the UB Graduate School no later than the third semester of the PhD component. The PhD Thesis Advisor, PhD Director of Graduate Studies, and the MD-PhD Director must approve this request and justification.

If approved, it is submitted to the UB Graduate School for consideration. Upon recommendation by majority vote of the MD-PhD Steering Committee, a student who has not made significant research progress by the seventh semester of the PhD component may be dismissed from the MD-PhD.

It is expected that the student’s PhD Thesis Committee will meet at least semiannually during the PhD component of the program to review research progress and provide guidance for timely successful completion of the degree requirements. It is the responsibility of the PhD Thesis Advisor to ensure that each student is making satisfactory progress in his/her research project to allow for timely completion of the PhD component of the program. It is the responsibility of each student to keep the PhD Thesis Advisor, and MD-PhD Director informed of all research activities and problems/events that might impact their research progress.

If a student has failed to meet the standards listed above, the MD-PhD Steering Committee will recommend further action that may include academic probation, with or without the loss of financial support, or dismissal from the program. Any MD-PhD Steering Committee recommendations will be immediately communicated in writing to the student, PhD Thesis Advisor, and Senior Associate Dean for Research and Biomedical Education.

If a student is placed on academic probation, any further failure to meet MD-PhD standards may result in dismissal from the program. Dismissal does not automatically guarantee continued enrollment in either the MD component or the PhD component. The Office of Medical Education and the appropriate PhD Program Department will be notified if a student is dismissed from the MD-PhD. Depending on the student’s objectives, he/she can apply to either the Medical School or Basic Science Department for completion of the appropriate program. Once dismissed from the MD-PhD, the stipend/fellowship and tuition waiver are discontinued. 

A student who voluntarily leaves the MD-PhD and wishes to continue with medical education must submit a formal letter of intent to the MD-PhD Director. The student is then required to apply to the Medical School for admission. Upon approval of the request by the MD-PhD Steering Committee, the student's tuition waiver and stipend will be discontinued.

It is important that acceptance into Medical School at this point in the student's training should not be viewed as automatic since the student's overall academic performance, professional conduct and reasons for leaving the MD-PhD will be considered. The MD-PhD Director, with a recommendation from the MD-PhD Steering Committee, will advise the Medical School Admissions Committee as to the student's past performance and academic accomplishments as well as the student's rationale for leaving the program. The student will remain in the program until the Medical School Admissions Committee renders a decision.

Other policies regarding academic requirements and status will reflect those of both the Medical School and the UB Graduate School as described in their respective policy statements and where deemed appropriate by the MD-PhD Steering Committee. Grievance procedures will follow the guidelines described in the Academic Status Policy Statement of the Medical School.

Rules Governing Ethical and Academic Conduct

Since the MD-PhD is an integrated program encompassing both MD and PhD components, students are expected to abide by the ethical standards and rules governing both disciplines.

Students in the MD component who exhibit unethical conduct or problematic behavior will be referred directly to the Code of Professional Conduct Committee, as described under the Academic Status Policies.

Students in the PhD component who exhibit unethical conduct or problematic behavior resulting in academic infractions or violation of academic integrity standards in coursework or research activities will abide by the Procedures and Policies of the UB Graduate School.

Failure to maintain the ethical and academic conduct expected at UB are grounds for dismissal from the MD-PhD.

Travel Allowance Policy

Expenses for travel to present seminars at scientific conferences are the responsibility of the UB Medical School or UB Graduate School student associations, PhD Program Department or the PhD Thesis Advisor unless such meetings are directly related to the MD-PhD program (example - MD-PhD National Symposium, etc.). Requests for travel allowance should be submitted in writing to the MD-PhD Director or the Sr. Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Biomedical Education, who will evaluate the appropriateness of the request. Students may finance their own attendance at scientific or educational conferences through private funds or travel grants.

Tuition and Scholarship Policy

All out-of-state students must apply for New York State Residency for Tuition Purposes before the beginning of the M2 year. The application is called the Residency Application for New York State Tuition Purposes, and is available on the UB Student Accounts website. There are specific requirements to qualify as a New York State resident for tuition purposes, including but not limited to a NYS driver’s license, bank account, tax forms, credit card, and utilities payments for 1 year prior to application for residency. Students need to file this application on or before July 1 after their first year. If students elect not to apply for New York State Residency, they will be responsible for payment of all tuition costs above that normally provided for in-state-residents each semester beginning in M2 and until they gain New York State residency status or graduate.

The total period of tuition scholarship support for MD-PhD students is ideally fourteen (14) semesters, but may be extended to sixteen (16) semesters if the PhD phase takes 4 years (8 semesters) to complete. Tuition scholarships will be provided for not more than eight semesters of the MD component, unless a Waiver of Time Limit for Tuition Scholarship Support is requested in writing to the Director of the MD-PhD, and granted on an individual need basis. If the PhD component extends beyond the fourth year, it is expected that the PhD Dissertation Advisor's research support and/or the sponsoring Department will provide the stipend and tuition payment/reimbursement for the remainder of the student's dissertation studies. Tuition scholarship support is capped at 72 credit hours irrespective of the time to degree. In accordance with the policy of the UB Office of Sponsored Programs, faculty are obligated to budget tuition scholarships for PhD students pursuing dissertation research in their laboratory. 

Research Faculty Eligibility and Responsibility

All full-time members of the UB Graduate Faculty except non-tenure rank volunteer faculty can apply for appointment as a PhD Thesis Advisor in the MD-PhD program. The faculty is not restricted to existing members of the Medical School but will encompass other investigators in various disciplines or programs affiliated with the MD-PhD and whose research efforts relate, in a broad sense, to medically relevant problems.

To ensure quality of the PhD component of the MD-PhD, appointments to the MD-PhD faculty will be contingent upon demonstration of a strong academic and research record as evidenced by a distinguished publication and funding history.

MD-PhD faculty will include currently active and funded investigators having national or federally funded peerreviewed research grants capable of supporting MD-PhD students during the PhD component. A strong graduate training record is likewise important. Young investigators with a proven research record and grant support are also eligible to apply.

For faculty members to be appointed as PhD Thesis Advisors, their Departments must have an approved specific PhD curriculum designed for the MD-PhD.

The MD-PhD Steering Committee makes final approval of faculty appointments and departmental programs to the MD-PhD.

Faculty who are MD-PhD PhD Thesis Advisors will provide the stipend and research support to the student throughout the time to degree.

If the student’s program extends beyond 8 semesters, then the Thesis Advisor is also expected to provide tuition support for the student beginning the 9th semester and continuing until completion of degree requirements. In the absence of faculty support, it is the explicit responsibility of the department to support the student. Before the student is approved to begin a PhD program, the Advisor and department Chair will sign a written agreement to the above stipulations.

Steering Committee

The MD-PhD Steering Committee will be composed of leading basic and clinical scientists throughout UB and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center as well as the Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Biomedical Education and the Associate Dean for Medical Education. The MD-PhD Director and the Senior Associate Dean for Research and Biomedical Education make recommendations for appointment to the Steering Committee and the Dean of the Medical School will approve the appointments to the Steering Committee.

Timeline of MD-PhD Standards

Medical School

Dates Standards
Year 1 M1 Complete M1 meeting/surpassing MD-PhD guidelines
Summer Complete 3 lab rotations of ~3 weeks each
Year 2 M2 Select Thesis Advisor in consultation with MD-PhD Director
  ASAP submit Thesis Research Summary & Advisor’s CV to Director for MD-PhD Steering Committee approval
  Student and Thesis Advisor meet with MD-PhD Director soon after Steering Committee approval
  Begin thesis research during year 2 as time allows
  Complete M2 meeting/surpassing MD-PhD Guidelines
June Take Step 1 national board exam by date stipulated by Sr. Assoc. Dean for Student Affairs

Begin PhD Phase of Training

Dates Standards
Year 1 PhD
July
Transition to PhD phase of MD-PhD
Meet with Director of the Graduate Program & register for courses
Begin thesis research within 2 weeks after Step 1 completion
Summer Thesis Research
August Begin PhD curriculum course requirements
Fall/Spring Semesters 1,2 Meet or exceed PhD guidelines for MD-PhD
Meet with Thesis Advisory Committee
Summer Complete graduate program qualifying exam if not completed earlier or as specified by graduate program Continue thesis research
Year 2 PhD
Fall/Spring/Summer semesters 3,4
Meet or exceed PhD requirements for MD-PhD Meet with Thesis Advisory Committee 2 times per academic year Continue thesis research
Year 3 PhD
semesters 4,5
Meet or exceed PhD requirements for MD-PhD Complete PhD thesis requirements in accordance with Thesis Advisory Committee approval ASAP notify Office of Medical Education of anticipated return to M3
May/June Defend thesis Submit signed M-form to Director MD-PhD
Request clinical physical exam refresher for return to medical school M3
June Join medical school M3 clinical rotations
Year 4 PhD
semesters 6,7
Continue thesis research if approved by your Thesis Advisory Committee. Notify Director MD-PhD. Follow timeline (above) for Year 3

Return to Medical School M3 clinical rotations

Dates Standards
Year 3 M3 Clinical Rotations
Year 4 M4 Clinical Rotations
Apply to/interview at residency programs
Match Day
Commencement