What are M.D./Ph.D. Programs?
M.D./Ph.D programs (also commonly called Medical Scientist Training Programs, or MSTP) are exactly what they sound like: programs where you earn your M.D. and Ph.D. through a single program.
The goal of M.D./Ph.D. programs is to create leaders in academic medicine and medical research.
The program works by interrupting medical school with graduate (Ph.D.) education. So students complete two pre-clinical years of medical school, then 4-5 years of Ph.D. work, and end with 3-4 semesters of clinical medical school.
I actually transferred into the MSTP program here at Iowa after applying MD only after two years. I had significant research experience in undergrad, but I didn't really think about science as a career until I had a positive summer research experience after my M1 year. I chose it because I love research, and also I started to realize during my first two years that medicine is kind of rote, algorithmic, full of burnout, and often not as scientific as we would like to believe (its still a great career, just important to be aware going in). There are still many diseases that we can cure in animal models, but we haven't developed treatments for. The dual training equips you for so called translational research: making biology research into therapies. It also adds variety and spice to life.
I wasn't one of those kids that grew up wanting to be a doctor, I actually always wanted to be a mechanic or an engineer. That's why, in college, I majored in Biomedical Engineering without a track focus. In college I very quickly got involved in research with Dr. George Richerson in the Neurology department. Dr. Richerson is an MD/PhD himself and he showed me what it meant to be a clinician-scientist. I was leaning more towards medical school at that point due to Dr. Richerson's tutelage but soon after that I learned about MSTP and combined MD/PhD programs and realized I didn't have to choose either medicine or science and could do both. The people that are best suited for this, in my opinion, are folks just like me that love both fields both science and medicine and are interested in bridging the gap between them.
Last words of wisdom: Make sure that the MD/PhD is what YOU want and not someone else's dream for you. You have to realize that it is a huge time commitment to stop in the middle of medical school and do a PhD. Really introspect and make sure it's really what you want to do.