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Specialized Degree: Healthcare

M.D.-Ph.D. and M.D. Degrees, Salaries and What They Really Cost

January 2022

Whether you're obtaining a Ph.D. or an M.D. degree in medicine, it is no easy undertaking. Years of intensive study, research and internships yield a degree that not only allows you to put those two little letters in front of your name, but usually comes with a fairly impressive starting salary as well. However, what is the difference between a M.D.-Ph.D. and an M.D.?

The difference between the degrees

Before you compare salaries, you should understand the difference between the degrees themselves. Someone who receives an M.D. is licensed to practice medicine and participate in patient care. Someone who receives an M.D.-Ph.D. works in research and development, such as biomedical research, immunology or biochemistry, etc., but can also practice clinical medicine. A nonmedical Ph.D. can be in just about any subject, including the sciences, and varies as widely in cost and salary as it does in subject matter. For the purposes of this cost and salary comparison, we'll stick to M.D.-Ph.D.'s and M.D.'s.

You also must make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Before taking salary into consideration, measure other factors, such as the cost of each degree and subsequent school debt, living expenses, and potential stipends and funding offered.

M.D. costs

According to the AAMC, the average cost of four years of medical school is $228,006 (that's averaging together public vs. private schools and resident vs. nonresident). Of course, that's not taking into consideration the cost of living and other expenses, which will vary depending on where you go to school, for example, New York City, N.Y. vs. Bloomington, Ind.

While physicians shoulder some of the highest school debt of any profession, they also enjoy some of the highest salaries, which is helpful when they are making mortgage-sized payments for their school loans. The national average for annual physicians' salaries in the U.S. is $209,044. However, not all costs to train a medical doctor fall on the medical student. The costs that a university and society expend on each medical student are fairly exorbitant as training excellent medical professionals is highly valued in this country.

While students pay for medical school, the university hospital foots the bill for the student's residency, which includes expenses such as hospital call rooms, administrative costs and salaries for the student and supervising faculty. For specialties that take longer to train for, the costs are in excess of $1,000,000. Where tax paying citizens come in is that most university hospitals receive federal funding, some of which is used to pay for students' residencies.

M.D.-Ph.D. costs

Falling into the category of medical scientists, M.D.-Ph.D. recipients are trained in both clinical medicine and research. This type of dual degree is ideal for conducting clinical trials, as both intensive research skills and patient care involvement are required. Because this is a dual degree, the time it takes to complete it is considerably longer than the four years for just medical school. An M.D.-Ph.D. typically takes seven to eight years to complete due to the student having to attend both medical and graduate schools.

The major difference between an M.D. and an M.D.-Ph.D. is the cost of tuition. While medical school tuition and costs will run well into six figures over four years, M.D.-Ph.D. students will find that their costs are largely reduced or even eliminated through waivers and stipends.₁ The National Institute of General Medical Sciences currently funds forty-nine M.D.-Ph.D. programs through the Medical Scientist Training Program.2

Many universities also offer full funding to M.D.-Ph.D. candidates as they leverage the exorbitant cost of educating these students against the expected scientific breakthroughs and accomplishments they'll make in the medical field. The state of health care and the increasing need to study and treat numerous diseases affecting the population have contributed to a faster than average job growth rate for medical scientists.3

Salary is a different story, as it's very dependent on what type of work the M.D.-Ph.D. pursues. Working in just the scientific research field will yield a median annual salary of $91,510, considerably less than the mid-six-figure salaries of practicing physicians; however, those who practice medicine as well as medical research will see their salaries increase accordingly.

The application process

Both degrees carry a high level of competitiveness, and the application process can be an intensive one. There are no test-optional choices here. MCATs are a given requirement, so start preparing as soon as you've made the decision to apply to these programs.

Submitting a strong and effective statement of purpose, personal statement and letters of recommendation are critical to getting that coveted acceptance letter from your choice schools. If you're a GradSchoolMatch.com user, you can utilize your customized organizational tools to keep track of what you've submitted and when, as well as deadlines and communications with program recruiters or advisors.

Choosing your path

Entering the medical field, in any capacity, is a noble and stressfully intensive undertaking. However, the effect you'll have on patients' lives or future treatments and cures for diseases makes the investment of the student, university and government well worth it. Once you've decided which medical career path you want to take, your options will become clearer, and GradSchoolMatch.com can help make the process much easier.

1 MD PhD vs MD: Which is best for you? | BeMo® (bemoacademicconsulting.com)

2 Medical Scientist Training Program (nih.gov)

3 Medical Scientists: Occupational Outlook Handbook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)

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