University of California San Francisco
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University of California, San Francisco

Social Science/Humanities PhD Field Supported:

Medical Anthropology

Description of Program:

UCSF's MSTP accepts applications from students interested in pursuing a PhD in medical anthropology. UCSF's program in medical anthropology is itself a joint PhD program including the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at UCSF and the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Students receive their PhD degree from both UCSF and Berkeley. The joint program focuses on students who want to combine theoretical and applied anthropology. Many PhD projects are very applied in nature, but the coursework is intensive theoretically.

Structure of Program:

UCSF's program is a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Typically medical anthropology MD/PhD students complete there first two years of medical school and complete 1 or 2 of the core clinical clerkships. They then begin their PhD program in medical anthropology, which is a joint program with UC Berkeley. Core anthropology classes are taught at both campuses. The PhD takes a minimum of four-and-a-half and an average of five-and-a-half years for MD/PhD students. A four-and-a-half year timeline consists of: two-and-a-half years of coursework; one year of fieldwork; and one year of dissertation writing. After completion of the PhD, students return to finish their clerkships and rotations.

UCSF's program in medical anthropology is part of the Department of History, Anthropology and Social Medicine. Medical Anthropology and History alternate years of admission; therefore there is a medical anthropology cohort every other year. Despite this, you can still apply as an MSTP in medical anthropology every year. This means that if you are accepted in an off year for medical anthropology, then you will study in the Anthropology department at UC Berkeley for one year, and then join the UCSF cohort in your second year of study.

Size of incoming joint MD/PhD class:


Number of students in the social sciences or humanities:

usually 1/year

Number of graduates from the SSH joint MD/PhD program:


Current number of students in the MD/PhD Medical Anthropology Program:


Application Process:

General MSTP Application:

  1. Complete application with the required transcripts and MCAT scores to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) indicating you are applying to the UCSF School of Medicine and The Medical Scientist Training Program.

    • MSTP application materials will be sent only to applicants who pass the initial screening and are invited to submit a secondary application to the Medical School.

    • If you apply to the MSTP, you will be asked to submit a brief supplemental essay describing your past research experiences, your interests, and your future career goals.

    • You will also need to submit confidential letters of reference on your behalf directly to the Medical School Admissions office. The MSTP is especially interested in hearing from your past research advisors and others who can comment on your aptitude for research. Do not send any letters of recommendation to the MSTP office.

  2. Your secondary application will be reviewed independently by the Medical School and the MSTP. If chosen for an MSTP interview, you will be invited to visit San Francisco for one day of regular medical school interviews and orientation, followed by a second day of interviews for the MSTP. The MSTP interview process will vary based on
    the graduate program to which you choose to apply. For more details about the interview process, contact Paul Insel, MD, director of the MSTP. You will also meet with our Program Administrator and with current MSTP medical anthropology students.

Specific to Applying in Medical Anthropology:

  1. In addition to the regular MSTP application process, if selected for an interview, you will required to submit a supplemental application directly to the medical anthropology program. This form can be found at:

    • You will be required to turn in your paperwork by December 31st of the year you are applying to the MSTP.

    • MSTP applicants are not required to have completed their GRE's (we accept MCATs)

    • MSTP applicants are not required to have a Masters degree when applying.

    • MSTP applicants do not complete the Graduate Application form.

    • Original transcripts are not required in your application materials to the program in medical anthropology, as the program receives them directly from the medical school. But it is helpful if you provide them with copies.

    • You may submit a CV in lieu of information requested.

    • You are also encouraged to submit additional letters of support, particularly if they speak to your ability as an anthropologist.

Additional Notes on Applying in Medical Anthropology

A good way to think about applying for MSTP in medical anthropology is that your application must be geared toward both (1) the general MSTP admission committee, and (2) the department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine.

  1. Criteria for MSTP admission include prior academic performance, documented experience in research, and commitment to a career in research. The overall MSTP program interviews approximately 60 applicants and enrolls 12 new MSTP trainees each year. Successful applicants are typically notified in April. The admissions process finishes on May 15th, and UCSF requires newly accepted students to withdraw from all other institutions by this date.

  2. Although there is no clear rule, usually no more than 1-2 of the new admits will be in Medical Anthropology. The decision about which MSTP interviewees to admit is made primarily by the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine. The department looks for students who want to combine theoretical and applied anthropology. A major part of the interview process involves assessing whether a student is interested in anthropological theory, even though a large number of PhD projects will be applied.

Students who apply to the MSTP but are not offered a position nevertheless receive full consideration for admission both to the regular medical class and to the PhD program in Medical Anthropology if they request this on their application.


Medical anthropology MSTP trainees receive the NIH MSTP training grant ($20,770/year) plus a supplement from the school of medicine ($6,230) during their medical school years. During the first two years of graduate work, they receive only the NIH MSTP training grant ($20,770/year). During the final years of graduate training, they receive no funding from NIH or the department of medicine. Instead, they are funded by the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine or by individually won fellowships (neither of these funding sources is guaranteed). This is summarized in the table below:

YearAmount of StipendSourceTuition Covered?Guaranteed?
MS1$27,000NIH + School of MedicineYesYes
MS2$27,000NIH + School of MedicineYesYes
Grad3*Department or Fellowship- (depends)No*
Grad4*Department or Fellowship- (depends)No*
Grad5+*Department or Fellowship- (depends)No*
MS3$27,000NIH + School of MedicineYesYes
MS4$27,000NIH + School of MedicineYesYes
Total MSTP$151,500
~ $108,000

* MSTP applicants should be aware that if you are accepted to the Medical Anthropology program, you will be provided support solely by MSTP for the first 2 years of the Ph.D. program. After this time, you will enter into a competitive pool along with the other Medical Anthropology program students and will apply for external funding and grants. Although funding is not officially guaranteed, no MD/PhD student has ever been without funding during the graduate program. Funding comes either from the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, or from extramural fellowships. "Not guaranteed," however, does mean that students must apply for fellowships and pay attention to where their funding is coming from during these years.

Contact information:

533 Parnassus Avenue, Room U-583 San Francisco, CA 94143-0662
Telephone: (415)-476-4423
Fax: (415) 476-9843
Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine
3333 California St., Suite 485
San Francisco, CA 94143-0850

Program Director: Vincanne Adams, Ph.D.
Phone: (415) 502-6483
Graduate Advisor: Kimberly Bissell
Phone: (415) 476-7223