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University of Wisconsin - Madison
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University of Wisconsin - Madison

Social Science/Humanities PhD Field Supported:

Clinical Investigation, Population Health

Description of Program:


UW MSTP accepts applications from students interested in pursuing a PhD in Clinical Investigation, or Population Health. The Clinical Investigation PhD focuses on coursework and theses relating to interventional human subjects' research, and is funded from the Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. The Population Health PhD program is housed in the Medical School's Department of Population Health Sciences, and the focus is epidemiology or health services research.

Structure of Program:


UW's program is a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Typically MD/PhD students complete their first two years of medical school, Part I of the USMLE, and one clinical clerkship in internal medicine tailored to the needs of MD/PhD students. They then enter the PhD program of their choice. At that time, they essentially become typical graduate students in their department, and are subject to individual departmental regulations regarding qualifying exams, prelims, and theses. If medical courses overlap substantially with graduate school courses (rare in social sciences), the student may request that the courses count for credit or elective credit toward graduate work.

Required coursework depends on the program, but is typically two full years. The length of the PhD depends on the flexibility of the graduate program, the nature of the project, and of course how hard you work! Completion time for students ranges from 3-5 years. Students are required to take three MSTP specific courses that involve seeing patients with a clinical mentor during their graduate years. This is aimed at keeping their clinical skills alive so that return to their Med 3 year is not such a shock. After defending, students return to finish clinical clerkships.


Size of incoming joint MD/PhD class:


Number of students in the social sciences or humanities:

roughly 1/year

Number of graduates from the Clinical Investigation PhD program:

2 graduates, 1 current student


Number of graduates from the Population Health PhD program:

2 graduates, 2 current students, 1 entering


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 University of Wisconsin--Madison.

    • Complete an online Secondary Application by the December deadline

    • If you apply to the MSTP, you will be asked to submit your life experiences (so save those from your AMCAS application so that you can paste them into your MSTP secondary) an essay about what research you would like to do as an MSTP student and how that will prepare you for your career, an optional essay, and a re-applicant essay if you are re-applying.

    • You will also need to submit confidential letters of reference, through AMCAS, on your behalf. Three letters are to be academic letters of recommendation from faculty members OR one pre-professional committee recommendation letter PLUS one academic letter from an individual faculty member. The fourth letter is to be a non-academic letter from someone other than a faculty member. The committee is not only interested in the applicant's academic, employment, service, and/or health related experiences, they are very interested in letters from your research mentors. The letters should address one or more of the following: academic performance and intellectual ability, character, integrity, motivation for medicine, ability to relate and communicate with others, personality, and emotional stability.

  2. Your complete application will be reviewed by the MSTP admissions committee in a holistic manner. You do not need to apply separately to the School of Medicine. If chosen for an MSTP interview, you will be invited to visit Madison for two full days of activities. You will be asked ahead of time to request faculty with whom you would be interested in meeting based on your PhD interests. You will meet with several of these faculty members, along with dedicated MD/PhD interviews. Meals and activities will be with current MD/PhD students. The second day involves a tour of the campus and hospitals, time for an informal tour of Madison, and a potluck dinner at the home of one of the directors.

  3. Once admitted to the MSTP, you are more or less guaranteed admission to the graduate program of your choice. Having said that, the communication regarding admission between the MSTP and the graduate departments are not always great, so you may have to do some advocating for yourself in that regard. However, I don't know of an instance where a graduate program has not in the end accepted an MSTP student. The graduate program in which you are participating is expected to pay for your graduate schooling, but the MSTP guarantees funding throughout your training regardless.

Additional Notes on Applying to a Non-Traditional Program

  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 45 applicants and enroll 10 new MSTP trainees each year.

  2. Your area of interest will not per se affect your likelihood of acceptance. HOWEVER, many on the admissions committee are professors in the basic or clinical sciences, and might not intuitively understand your career path. Be SURE in your application that you communicate your interests and career in a way that would make sense to someone like your biochemistry professor. You might also want to include why an MD/PhD is a good career path and why the work you plan to do is important and interesting.
 You don't need to have your thesis topic in line the day you apply. But do realize that because your career path is not the norm, you will need to argue for it more persuasively, and may therefore need a clearer idea of what you intend to do. If you don't have it, what you can do is map out a plausible career path given your interests, and present that at your interviews. The committee will be particularly interested in an argument that supports the idea that your plan and career path is workable (i.e. that you will be able to find a job after your training is done...since they are basic or clinical scientists and might not know your topic area).

  3. Students who apply to the MSTP but are not offered a position will not automatically be considered for the regular MD program unless they are Wisconsin residents. The MSTP admissions committee may refer a non-resident application to the MD program if they feel it is a better fit.



MSTP trainees are guaranteed paid tuition and a stipend of $24,500/yr during the entirety of their program. During all years of medical school, funding comes from the NIH or School of Medicine. Grants, fellowships, or graduate programs are expected to pay for tuition and stipend during graduate years. It is generally not necessary for students to apply for funding (but it is a major feather in their cap if they get it...) Students are guaranteed at least $24,500 a year, but may have more in their graduate years. Health insurance benefits for you and your family are very good. There is a monthly fee, currently ~$44/mo for a single person, roughly double that for a family.

The funding provided is summarized in the table below:

Year Amount of Stipend Source Tuition Covered? Guaranteed?
MS1 $24,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
MS2 $24,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
Grad1 $24,500 + Grant, fellowship or graduate program Yes Yes
Grad2 $24,500 + Grant, fellowship or graduate program Yes Yes
Grad3 $24,500 + Grant, fellowship or graduate program Yes Yes
Grad4 $24,500 + Grant, fellowship or graduate program Yes Yes
Grad5+ $24,500 + Grant, fellowship or graduate program Yes Yes
MS3 $24,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
MS4 $24,500 NIH + University Yes Yes
Total MSTP $196,000 ~ ?

Contact information:

UW MSTP Office
Paul Cook, Administrator
750 Highland Ave
Madison, WI
Telephone: (608)-262-6321