The emerging physician-scientist workforce: demographic, experiential, and attitudinal predictors of MD-PhD program enrollment

Acad Med. 2014 Oct;89(10):1398-407. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000400.


Purpose: MD-PhD scientists are a successful, but small and fairly homogenous group of biomedical researchers. The authors conducted a retrospective cohort study to identify predictors of MD-PhD program enrollment to inform evidence-based strategies to increase the size and diversity of the biomedical research workforce.

Method: Using deidentified data from all 2001-2006 Pre-Medical College Admission Test Questionnaire (PMQ) respondents, they developed multivariate logistic regression models to identify demographic, experiential, and attitudinal variables associated with MD-PhD program enrollment at matriculation compared with all other MD program enrollment at matriculation and with not enrolling in medical school by August 2012.

Results: Of 207,436 PMQ respondents with complete data for all variables of interest, 2,575 (1.2%) were MD-PhD program enrollees, 80,856 (39.0%) were other MD program enrollees, and 124,005 (59.8%) were non-medical-school matriculants. Respondents who were black (versus white), were high school and college laboratory research apprenticeship participants, and highly endorsed the importance of research/finding cures as reasons to study medicine were more likely to be MD-PhD program enrollees, whereas respondents who highly endorsed the status of medicine as a reason to study medicine were less likely to be MD-PhD program enrollees than either other MD program enrollees or non-medical-school matriculants.

Conclusions: MD-PhD program directors succeed in enrolling students whose attitudes and interests align with MD-PhD program goals. Continued efforts are needed to promote MD-PhD workforce diversity and the value of high school and college research apprenticeships for students considering careers as physician-scientists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / education*
  • Career Choice*
  • Cohort Studies
  • College Admission Test
  • Education, Graduate*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Preceptorship / statistics & numerical data
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Washington