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Taking A Year Out During Medical School - The 5 Year Plan

As the class I entered med school with becomes rising 4th years, an informal poll (and carefully tracked statistics by the administration) reveal that only about half of us will graduate as members of the class of 2009. So what about the other half? Drop outs? Not so much. It has become more and more common to complete med school on the 5 year plan.

Traditionally, an extra year was often taken to do research and improve one's chance of securing a top residency in a competitive field. This is still the most popular reason to delay graduation, but there are other reasons to take a little more time. My fellow classmates are earning 2nd degrees, consulting, traveling etc. Below is a mini-guide to get you started if you are just looking for options, or if you have a project in mind but are not quite sure what's out there.
  • Research
    • The American Heart Association - $21,000.00 stipend per year. Application deadline 1/16 annually. For more information visit
    • Howard Hughes Medical Institute-National Institutes of Health (HHMI-NIH) Research Scholars Program offers two research training programs: one for research conducted at the NIH-Cloister facilities and one for research conducted at any other institution in the United States. Students may apply simultaneously to both programs. Scholars will receive annual compensation of $27,000, health insurance, and other benefits. For more information visit: or
    • NIH Pre-Doctoral Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) fellowship - Designed to augment the educational preparation and development of future scientists by supporting a period of research at the NIH. Stipend levels for participants will be determined by the amount of education completed by the candidate at the time the award is activated. More info is available at
    • NIH The Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP) is a year-long opportunity to do mentored research at the NIH. The stipend is $29,400. Health insurance and moving costs are provided. Deadline 1/15 annually. For more information visit:
    • Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Foundation (PhRMA) Fellowship - full-time research effort within a pharmacology or clinical pharmacology unit. Available for 6 to 24 months with a maximum stipend of $18,000. Deadline 9/1 annually. For more information visit:
  • Dual Degree Opportunities - For all dual degree programs students must apply separately to both programs.
    • MD/MBA - Designed for students interested in integrating the study of medicine with training in managerial, financial, and technical expertise in the health care field.Over 50 medical schools now offer combined MD/MBA degrees.
    • MD/MPH - Designed for students interested in studying medicine with a special focus on population health problems. The goal of the program is to provide strong interdisciplinary training to individuals interested in clinical practice, prevention, hygiene, education and policy making.
    • MD/JD - Just like it sounds. Shave off a year (at most institutions) and get a jump start on becoming a medical litigator or policy maker.
    • MD/Master of Bioethics program (MD/MBE) - designed to provide its graduates with the interdisciplinary training they will need in order to address the ethical, legal, and social challenges in health care today and in the future.
  • Other - Want to travel either in the states or internationally? Check out AMSA's site or the home pages of other medical schools. Also many schools have global health offices that are a great starting point.


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Anonymous said...

Update your AHA protocols; everything got updated november 2010.

Dr. Tarloe said...

You've done a wonderful job with laying out all of the options out there for medical students. But have you thought about the downside of spending another year, or even more, pursuing these things? Most students coming out of medical school turn out to be practicing physicians, and the only thing that their "fifth year" gives them is more accrued interest on their debt and an additional year of being supported by their parents. It's a horrible thing what the medical schools are doing to the new generation of doctors.

Med-Source said...

@Benjamin Tarloe - fully agree. In my case I chose not to practice, and the MBA facilitated my transition to an alternative career. The financial implications should absoulutely be taken into account (from an NPV perspective - including both the additional year of tuition and the lost year of salary). Thanks for your comment.