MDCM & PhD
You could make major contributions to health care innovation with a career as a physician scientist!
A career as a physician-scientist is extremely rewarding and meaningful! It is also challenging and requires creativity, perseverance and passion. McGill's MDCM & PhD program is designed to prepare qualified students for successful careers in medicine and research. To learn more about this prestigious program, please see the program brochure mdcm_phd_program_brochure_eng.pdf.
For all program admission enquiries, please contact the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences Office of Admissions: admissions.med [at] mcgill.ca
For general information about the program, please write to: mdphdadmin.med [at] mcgill.ca
The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences offers a combined clinical and doctoral research program leading to the MDCM and PhD degrees (Combined Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery Medicinae Doctorem et Chirurgiae Magistrum) with Doctor of Philosophy (Philosophiae Doctor). This is a 7 to 8 year program in which the basic and clinical sciences portions of the medical curriculum are completed from September of year one to December of year two, prior to the beginning of full-time graduate studies. In preparation for graduate studies, MD-PhD students conduct research with clinical and basic scientists for 2 months during the Summer term of their first year. This gives students the opportunity to prepare the research and communication skills necessary for the successful completion of graduate research (such as detailed scientific experimentation, sourcing literature, developing hypotheses, working with methodologies, interpreting data, writing and presenting findings), and to screen potential graduate research laboratories. Graduate research is expected to last three, but no more than four years by which time all course work and research requirements for the PhD degree must be completed and a thesis submitted. The defense of the thesis will ordinarily take place at a later date. From January of year five to May of year seven students will complete the requirements for the MDCM degree.
Throughout the seven or eight years, students in the MDCM & PhD program meet at two-week intervals from September to April to attend research seminars presented by clinician-scientists from within, as well as outside, the McGill scientific community, and discuss their research and network with other students in the program.
Along with the MDCM-PhD Program director, the Program Advisor Committee provides oversight and supports the student selection process. The graduate studies part of the program is administered by the students' respective academic units and McGill's Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) and the MDCM phase is administered by the office of Undergraduate Medical Education.
MD-PhD Student Ambassadors
Meet Guido Ivan Guberman, a McGill MDCM & PhD Student, Class of 2023
Meet Lashanda Skerritt, a McGill MDCM & PhD Student, Class of 2023
There is plenty of evidence that social factors, including education, employment status, income level, gender and ethnicity inﬂuence the health of individuals. In all countries, Canada included, there are diﬀerences in the health and well-being of diﬀerent social groups. Generally, marginalized groups are at higher risk of poor health. Lashanda’s research is looking at the systemic and social factors that impact patient care among vulnerable populations. Her ultimate goal is to identify the root causes of health inequities in order to inﬂuence health care practices and policies to improve patient outcomes.
Looking at the systemic and social factors that impact patient care among vulnerable populations
Currently, Lashanda’s doctoral work applies mixed methods to study the sexual and reproductive health care needs of women living with HIV. She is using data from the Canadian HIV Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study (CHIWOS) to look at the health care needs of this patient population and the services and support available to them. The goal is to determine how the health care system can better address the particular needs of these women.
“My studies didn’t follow a linear path. I had a sense I wanted to study medicine and social science, but really didn’t know how I’d get to that point,” she says. It was while doing a research internship on cancer therapies at Boston Children’s Hospital that Lashanda decided to pursue an MD-PhD. She was inspired by the physician-scientists she was working with and was able to see ﬁrsthand how their translational research was positively impacting patient care and outcomes.
Drawn to McGill and Montreal
She chose to study at McGill because the University provides a learning environment that values clinical research and provides medical students with ample research opportunities throughout their training. She was also drawn to Montreal because of its cultural diversity.
Lashanda is completing her doctoral thesis under the supervision of Alexandra de Pokomandy, MDCM, MSc, Assistant Professor at McGill and a family physician specializing in HIV patient care.
One of Lashanda’s hobbies is playing the piano and she recently started to play the djembe, an African drum. She also loves cooking; each time she tries out a new recipe she writes about it in her food blog (messyapron.space).
Meet Heather Whittaker, a McGill MDCM & PhD Student, Class of 2024
Heather’s ambition is to help people living with a neurological illness enjoy as fulfilling a life as possible. After finishing her Master’s of Science (Clinical Neuroscience), she considered going right into a PhD program, but she hesitated because she didn’t want to immerse herself in the study of disease without treating patients. “The McGill MDCM & PhD Program is the ideal platform to learn to navigate the interface between science and medicine and to develop the synergy between researching a disease and caring for those living with it,” Heather says.
McGill epicenter of neuroscience research and care
Heather was drawn to the McGill program because it is an epicentre for cutting-edge neuroscience research and care. She became interested in exploring the causes of Alzheimer’s when she was a volunteer in a seniors’ home. Many residents were slowly losing their identity and ability to connect with others. Today, little can be done to stop the progression of the illness. In addition, the impact of Alzheimer’s on society is growing due to our aging population. The number of people living with Alzheimer’s worldwide is expected to triple by 2050 according to the World Health Organization.
Solving the mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease
“Alzheimer’s really interests me on a biological level. Researchers around the world are looking for the root causes of the disease and for treatments to slow and even halt its progression. It will be very rewarding to work on solving the mysteries of this complex brain disease, particularly at a time when so many are at risk,” she says.
During her spare time, Heather stays active with dance, yoga, and cycling. She is also exploring Montreal and enjoying its plethora of festivals and events.
Tianwei Ellen Zhou Class of 2019 (MDCM & PhD) - now doing ophthalmology residency at the Université de Montréal
Paul Savage Class of 2019 (MDCM & PhD) - now doing surgical residency at University of Toronto
Paul’s interest in medicine was sparked by great mentors, including his high school science teacher, a physician-scientist who often highlighted the link between science and medicine.
Torn between research and medicine
When applying to McGill, he vacillated between research and medicine. “I was interested in the intellectual challenge of research and the possibility of helping society at large. But, I was also interested in becoming a doctor because of the patients I’d treat. The McGill MDCM & PhD Program opened the door to both – medicine to help patients today; research to help them tomorrow,” he says.
Studying an aggressive form of breast cancer
Under the supervision of Dr. Morag Park, Director of the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre at McGill, Paul studied an aggressive form of breast cancer. The goal was to determine if subsets of people living with breast cancer might beneﬁt from drugs already approved and commonly used to treat other cancers. “It is an exciting time to be a cancer researcher. Thanks to the genomic era, the ﬁeld is changing at an incredibly rapid pace. How we treat and diagnose people living with the disease is being revolutionized,” he says.
Dr. Kevin Petrecca Class of 2002 (MDCM & PhD)
Dr. Petrecca makes his living opening heads and cutting into brains - providing life saving treatments for patients. He is a neurosurgeon specializing in brain cancer. When not in the operating room, you’ll ﬁnd him in his lab perfecting a neuro-oncology surgical tool or maybe doing fundamental research to determine why brain cancer stem cells are treatment resistant. Then again, you might ﬁnd him hanging out with his wife and three children.
Passionate about his work
To say he is busy is an understatement. “I have the luxury of doing what I am interested in. I never actually have to go to work or work late because it isn’t work. I love the balance. I love treating patients and love doing my research. You need to work in a place that values physician-scientists and with colleagues who understand your dual role. After that it is fun,” he says.
Not really sure he wanted to be a doctor
Dr. Petrecca did things in reverse when he started McGill’s MDCM & PhD Program. He focused on research and put oﬀ his medical studies. “I deferred medicine as long as I could because I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a doctor, however, I soon discovered I really liked taking care of people and making a diﬀerence in their lives.”
There is no doubt Dr. Petrecca makes a diﬀerence. He, along with Frédéric Leblond of Polytechnique Montréal and the Research Centre of the Université de Montréal, received the 2017 Québec Science Discovery of the Year Award. They developed a ﬁber-optic probe, no bigger than a pencil, that diﬀerentiates between cancer cells and healthy brain cells in a matter of seconds.
Improving patient outcomes
“Often it is impossible to visually distinguish cancer from normal brain, so invasive brain cancer cells frequently remain after surgery, leading to cancer recurrence and a worse prognosis. The probe improves patient outcomes,” Dr. Petrecca says.
Dr. Petrecca acknowledges physician-scientists bring a unique perspective to biomedical research that is inspired by their experience caring for patients. “All ﬁelds require people to move them forward. The contribution physician-scientists make to both research and patient care is critical if we are going to answer the most pressing health care issues facing society.”
If you would like to connect with students in the MD-PhD program, please contact admissions.med [at] mcgill.ca.
With their dual degrees, physician-scientists are poised to bridge the gap between research and clinical practice. Most will spend the majority of their time doing research and the remainder taking care of patients. This allows them to identify novel and clinically relevant questions at the patient’s bedside that inspire and inform their research.
To ensure trainees are able to focus on their studies and research, the University provides guaranteed annual funding of $25,000 for each full year in the program.