Washington University in St. Louis
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Washington University in St. Louis

Social Science/Humanities PhD Field Supported:

Medical Anthropology

Description of Program:

Wash U's MSTP accepts applications from students interested in pursuing PhDs in anthropology. Students interested in other social science and humanities programs are encouraged to contact both the MSTP office and the department about possibilities for a joint training path.

Wash U's MSTP is a well-established and prestigious program and is the largest MD/PhD program in the country. The MSTP has been accepting applications from students in anthropology for more than a decade and the joint MD-anthropology track was established when the first student matriculated in 2003.

The program in medical anthropology is part of the Department of Anthropology, which trains students in physical anthropology, archaeology, and cultural anthropology. The Department has an exciting and quickly growing program in medical anthropology. There are 7 faculty members who are medical anthropologists, including 2 MD/PhDs in Anthropology. The department also currently has three post-doctoral fellows in medical anthropology. The program is open to students with any area of focus within medical anthropology (political-economic, symbolic, biocultural, etc.); PhD projects vary widely in topic and approach.

Structure of Program:

WashU's program is a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). MD/PhD students must initially complete their first two years of medical school. Students’ participation in the anthropology curriculum is quite flexible during these two years.

During the first year of medical school (August-May), anthropology students may take 1 or 2 anthropology courses on top of medical school coursework and selectives. These courses may be seminars, advanced lecture courses (typically with additional reading and paper-writing components for graduate students), or independent readings/studies with an anthropology faculty member. The medical school anatomy course is also cross-listed in the Department of Anthropology and counts towards required graduate coursework (physical anthropology requirement). As such, a student may complete up to one semester of anthropology coursework within the first year of medical school.

In the summers between the first and second year of medical school, anthropology students may take independent readings courses with faculty members and/or conduct preliminary field research in order to establish a PhD research project. (Additionally, at WashU, many students in the basic sciences complete a laboratory rotation the summer before their first year in medical school. In some cases, a parallel opportunity may be extended to incoming MD/PhD students in anthropology. With approval and oversight of an anthropology faculty member advisor/field mentor, the MSTP is willing to accept proposals from MD/PhD students in anthropology looking for support for a preliminary summer of fieldwork prior to the first year of medical school.)

After the first two years of medical school, students then work on their PhD program full time. The pace of a student’s progress through the PhD-portion of the program is quite flexible. A minimum of 36 credits (three full-time semesters) is required before students may conduct their dissertation fieldwork. Students who completed one semester's worth of anthropology courses during the first two years of medical school are thus required to take one year of anthropology courses at minimum before beginning fieldwork. During the first year of full time graduate work, students are encouraged to write and defend their "second year paper," which is an intensive review of literature relevant to their area of study. In the spring and summer following this year, students are encouraged to write and defend their thesis proposal, which is used as the basis for grant applications for dissertation funding. Alternatively, some students may choose to spend one and a half to two years meeting coursework, second-year paper, and proposal defense requirements before beginning dissertation fieldwork.

The MSTP provides students with a stipend and tuition waiver during the first two years of medical school and the first year of graduate school. From August of the second year of graduate school onwards, students continue to receive funding either through TAing one anthropology course per semester or through internal or external fellowships. Therefore, students must apply for external grant funding for their dissertation research, unless they receive a fellowship stipend that can be applied to off-campus field research periods.

After completing coursework, one year or more is typically spent in the field collecting data for the dissertation; this is usually year four and/or five of the MD/PhD program (year two and/or three of fulltime graduate work). Years five and/or six are spent writing the dissertation. Students who have not received an internal WashU Fellowship (Olin Fellowship, Chancellor’s Fellowship) are eligible to apply for a Dissertation Fellowship, to be used for the last year of dissertation writing. Students are encouraged to spent 3-3.5 years total between conducting fieldwork and writing, and the amount of time spent in these two stages is flexible.

Finally, students return to medical school for their clinical rotations (minimum of 15 months required). The program may be completed in as little as seven years, with 3.5 years of fulltime PhD program work, and 3.5 years for medical school. However, most students take 8-10 years to complete the entire program.

Size of incoming joint MD/PhD class:


Number of students in the social sciences or humanities:


Number of graduates from in social sciences/humanities MD/PhD track:


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


Application Process:

General MSTP Application:

  1. You must apply to AMCAS. When you designate Washington University you should indicate "M.D./Ph.D. Program". Doing so will give you access to the MD/PhD essay questions. You need not wait to be "invited" to apply.

  2. You must submit the Washington University School of Medicine secondary application. Under the degree objective field on the secondary application, you should indicate either "MSTP Only" or "MD or MSTP". There is NO supplementary application for the MSTP!

We expect letters of recommendation from all research mentors with whom you have had significant research experiences. These letters should be submitted to WUSOM. You do not need to send a second set of letters to the MSTP office.

The deadline for application to the MSTP is October 31; by that date you must designate Washington University's M.D./Ph.D. Program on the AMCAS and select the appropriate category on the WUSOM secondary application. Please note that this date is different from the deadline for application to the School of Medicine for M.D. applicants.

The application review process is coordinated between the Medical School Committee on Admissions, the MSTP Committee, and the Department of Anthropology. Individuals are invited to interview with the MSTP at the program's expense. Interviews are conducted from November through February. Interview offers are extended to three to five applicants, a small fraction of the pool of MD/PhD applicants in anthropology per year.

An interview visit consists of one to two and a half days of interviews, including a medical school interview, an interview with the MSTP Committee, and individual and/or group meetings with faculty in the anthropology department. During the interview process, the student will meet with the majority, if not all, of faculty members in the sociocultural anthropology program. 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 100 applicants and enrolls 25 new MSTP trainees each year. Successful applicants are notified on a rolling basis, shortly after their interview date, about admission to the medical school; applicants are notified in the spring of acceptance to the Anthropology Department.

Admissions decisions are made jointly by the Department of Anthropology, the MSTP Committee, and the School of Medicine. It is to the applicant’s advantage to submit an application as early as possible, as MSTP and School of Medicine admissions are made on a rolling basis. Anthropology admissions decisions occur in February/March (as MD/PhD applicants are evaluated in the Anthropology Department along with all applicants to the pure PhD track).

The admissions process finishes on May 15th, and Wash U requires newly accepted students to withdraw from all other institutions by this date. Students who apply to the MSTP but are not offered a position nevertheless receive full consideration for admission to the regular medical class if they request this on their application.

Specific to Applying in Medical Anthropology:

There is no separate application process for medical anthropology. However, students should specifically justify why they have chosen a certain field in their application essays and admissions interviews. It's important to explain why training in anthropology will enhance your training as a physician-scholar. The MSTP Committee coordinates with Department of Anthropology faculty in making admissions decisions.

Your MSTP application and essays will be accepted by the Department of Anthropology. You are not required to take the GRE; your MCAT score will be accepted instead. You are encouraged to submit additional letters of support, particularly if they speak to your qualifications as an anthropologist. You are strongly encouraged to contact a member of the Department of Anthropology faculty with whom you are interested in working with early in the application process. Department faculty can assist you in tailoring a specific course of study and in identifying other appropriate faculty you can meet with in your interview at Wash U.

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 (or other social sciences/humanities department). The Department of Anthropology looks for students who have demonstrated potential for a successful career in anthropological research. Previous research related to medical anthropology is recommended. Undergraduate coursework in anthropology is expected, but an undergraduate degree in anthropology is not required. For example, students who majored in other social sciences or students with a minor in anthropology and significant research experience have been invited to interview. Anthropology faculty carefully evaluates whether students' research interests are a good match with areas of focus within the Department.


All MSTP students will receive a stipend of $28,500 as of July 1, 2013, and our program boasts one of the best stipend to cost-of-living ratio of any MSTP in the nation. Funding is guaranteed for all years of the program. In addition, students receive full tuition remission, and free health and disability coverage for both medical and graduate phases of the program. Travel funds are also available to MSTP students for presenting at conferences or other valuable educational endeavors. The source of funding for the stipend varies throughout a student's training, and usually is a combination of NIH grants, endowment funds from Wash U, external grants for dissertation research, and fellowships/scholarships from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Women applying to the program are encouraged to apply for the Spencer T. Olin Fellowship, which is geared toward funding excellent women pursuing graduate studies across disciplines at Wash U.

The funding provided is summarized in the table below:

 Year Amount of Stipend Source Tuition Covered? Guaranteed?
 MS1 $28,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
 MS2 $28,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
 Grad1 $28,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
 Grad2 $28,500 Various Yes Yes
 Grad3 $28,500 Various Yes Yes
 Grad4 $28,500 Various Yes Yes
 Grad5+ $28,500 Various Yes Yes
 MS3 $28,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
 MS4 $28,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
 Total MSTP $256,500   

Contact information:

MSTP Office
Washington University
MSTP- Box 8226
660 South Euclid Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
Fax: 314-362-3369

Dept. of Anthropology
Washington University
Campus Box 1114
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
314-935-5252 (voice)
314-935-8535 (fax)