I, like many of you, have enjoyed doing bench research during my undergrad. With the large focus on research when applying to medical school, I wondered how or if research will play a role in my career as a physician. I considered (briefly) getting an MD/PhD, but decided against it because of the extra years of training it involved and my indecision on whether I really wanted to do research for the rest of my life.
During the Cataract and Refractive Surgery Symposium last weekend, I got to hear presentations from top surgeons from around the country. Most of them presented clinical data and techniques they have developed in surgery. What else did I notice? Most, if not all, of the faculty were MDs, not MD/PhDs. This goes to show that you can make advances in medical practice, contribute to the scientific community, and become world-famous with just an MD degree.
Also, the doctor I work for told me that residency is the time to decide whether you want to participate in research or not. If so, you should network and start to build connections while in residency, because connections lead to conference presentation invitations, research opportunities, and even fame. He also said that doing bench research and clinic was really difficult because you need to manage a lab and a clinic so it’s like working two jobs. An easier route is collecting clinical data and presenting that. Most of the presentations that I saw were on documented complications or on successful techniques rather than on new drugs discovered in the lab.
So, my conclusion is this: if you are not sure you want to do research, but are considering the possibility of doing research as part of your career, but also definitely want to treat patients, then go with a straight-up MD degree and build your network of doctor friends while in residency. If you end up not doing research then you lose nothing. However, if you know for a fact that you want to go into academic medicine or bench research, then maybe an MD/PhD is for you. However, in my opinion, there are so many research and career opportunities as just an MD that it does not warrant spending the extra 4-6 years it takes to get the PhD degree unless you want to do bench research. Furthermore, if you love research so much, then why not just get a PhD? Just my opinion. Hope it helps. Feel free to post your opinion about MD vs. MD/PhD below in the comments.