University of Washington
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University of Washington

There is no formal social science/medical humanities track in the University of Washington's MD/PhD program. However, interested MSTP students have been known to conduct research rotations and join doctorate programs in Medical Geography and Medical History and Ethics. These students set up social science/medical humanities dissertations on a case-by-case basis with program directors, advisors and department chairs.

If you are interested in applying to UW MSTP for the social sciences and humanities, we recommend some variation of the following process:

  1. Spend some time exploring the websites for graduate programs at UW and brainstorm the kind of research you would want to do; think about how it would be relevant and attractive to both MSTP and to the graduate department of interest;

  2. Contact both the MSTP office and the graduate department of interest to let them know of your plan to co-apply and to elicit their help in putting together your application.

To help understand the application process at UW, we have included a case-study description of UW's current MSTP student in medical geography, Sunil Aggarwal. Note that Sunil did not apply to the MSTP program initially as a medical geography candidate, but chose this field after enrolling. However, the UW MSTP program is open to SSH applications, and Sunil's case should help in putting together an application. The following websites may also be helpful:


Sunil Aggarwal Case Scenario:

Sunil Aggarwal entered the UW MSTP in summer of 2002. He began to be interested in pursuing an epistemologically non-traditional MD/PhD route when seeking out potential advisors for his first summer rotation, a rotation with which the program encouraged students to be experimental. Prior to a second-look revisit, Sunil indicated the names of several potential rotation advisors to the MSTP by email, and they forwarded his application file to the potentials in advance of his meetings. One that he listed was a Professor in the Geography Department, a medical geographer who held adjunct appointments in School of Medicine departments and in International Health. He had a good meeting with the potential advisor in the Geography Department, and then met with one of the MSTP directors who okayed the medical geography rotation under the Professor in the Geography Department. (The director did not okay a rotation with a ND Cancer Research Fellow who was studying alternative botanical medicine at the UW-affiliated FHCRC, but that's another story; it is only mentioned here to underscore the point that it was not an "anything goes" situation...). Sunil enjoyed his summer rotation in medical geography. For his second summer rotation following his first year of medical school, with the encouragement of his potential geography advisor, Sunil worked in a Genome Sciences laboratory on a project that related to genes, infectious disease, anti-malarial drugs, and geography, seeking to broaden his scientific research experience. During his second year of medical school, Sunil took a graduate seminar in the Geography department and also formally applied to the department seeking post-masters status. He met with another MSTP director who was supportive of his intention to pursue PhD work in Geography. The UW MSTP director contacted the head of MSTP programs at NIH to confirm if it would be okay if a UW MSTP student were to pursue his PhD in medical geography, to which was replied an enthusiastic 'yes'. Another meeting was set up with the MSTP director and the potential Geography advisor that took place in the Geography department at which potential research topics were discussed, and the proviso was made by the MSTP director that Sunil conduct medical geographic research that would involve empirical data collection. In later meetings he did not attend between the MSTP director, the Geography advisor, and the Chair of the Geography Department, they worked out a skeleton back-up funding arrangement with the Graduate School for Sunil's PhD years in the event that he was not to obtain outside funding for his graduate studies. For the first year of graduate studies, as was customary, Sunil would be funded by the MSTP. Prior to beginning coursework in the Geography department in Fall 2004, Sunil completed his USMLE Step 1, did one 3rd year clinical clerkship in Family Medicine, and took the GRE at the advice of his advisor so that he would be able to apply for graduate funding sources that required it, which later panned out. Currently in 2008, Sunil is a doctoral candidate in geography conducting dissertation field research on the medical geography of cannabinoid botanicals and on the political ecology of biotic substance users' mental distress when facing possession charges; his studies with the chronically and critically ill in Washington state seek to bridge a translational gap in the field of cannabinoid medicine. He knows of one other MSTP student who has completed a half-summer research rotation in medical geography and another who has taken a graduate course in the geography department.