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University of California San Francisco
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Last updated October 29, 2017

University of California, San Francisco

Social Science/Humanities PhD Field Supported:

Medical Anthropology

Description of Program:

UCSF's Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) accepts applications from students interested in pursuing a medical degree and 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 UC Berkeley. The joint program focuses on students who want to combine theoretical and applied anthropology. Many PhD projects have applied aspects, 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 their first two years of medical school and complete 0-3 of the core clinical clerkships. Students are encouraged to begin their studies the summer before they matriculate into medical school doing preliminary fieldwork and working with the Medical Anthropology faculty to begin formulating their dissertation project. They will also spend the summer between their first and second years continuing to formulate their project. After completing the first two years of medical school, 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 years 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 have been reviewed by the School of Medicine‚Äôs Admissions Committee 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 supplemental application to Medical Anthropology describing your past research experiences, your background, specific research 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 Geri Ehle, Program Manager for the MSTP. You will also meet with our Program Director 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 be 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 1st 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 Master's 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 are also highly encouraged to submit additional letters of support, particularly if they speak to your ability as an anthropologist or social scientist

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 (1) the Medical School Admission Committee, (2) the MSTP/Medical Anthropology Admission Committee, and (3) the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine Admission Committee

  1. Criteria for MSTP admission include prior academic performance, meeting all the pre-requisites for medical school, experience in a clinical setting, volunteer experience, physician shadowing and other experiences which demonstrate your preparedness for the rigors of medical school including a high MCAT score. Also, documented experience in research, and commitment to a career in research and in medicine. The overall MSTP program interviews approximately 60 applicants and enrolls 12 new MSTP trainees each year. Successful applicants are typically notified by mid-March. The admissions process finishes on April 15th each year 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 of the new admits will be in Medical Anthropology each year. 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 have applied aspects.

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.


This appointment comes with payment of tuition and fees, including medical, dental, vision and prescription insurance, and an annual stipend during the years you are completing your medical school training and partial graduate school training.

During the first two years in the Medical Anthropology PhD Program, payment of tuition and fees and the full UCSF institutional stipend will be covered by MSTP. During the third and fourth years in the PhD program, Medical Anthropology will cover the tuition and fees and an annual UCSF stipend level for Social Sciences (which may be different than the medical school stipend). In the fifth year of the PhD program, students who do not have other sources of funding are potentially eligible for Department funds. We expect that most students will complete their entire training within 9 years.

Contact information:

513 Parnassus Avenue, Health Sciences East, Room 1285, San Francisco, CA 94143
Telephone: (415)-476-4423
Fax: (415) 502-7970
Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine
3333 California St., Suite 485
San Francisco, CA 94143-0850

Co-Program Directors: Ian Whitmarsh, PhD and Seth Holmes, MD/PhD
Phone: (415) 476-6164
Email: and
Graduate Advisor: Kathy Jackson
Phone: (415) 476-7223