Curriculum & Timeline

The MSTP training program at the University of Minnesota involves the following phases.

Years one and two of medical school

Students begin the program by completing one laboratory rotation with a MSTP faculty preceptor prior to the start of the first year of medical school. During this time, students also attend the MSTP Monday Research Seminar, the MSTP Annual Retreat, and other social activities that welcome new students to the MSTP, the University of Minnesota and to Minneapolis/St. Paul. The first year of Medical School begins in mid-August. The University of Minnesota Medical School curriculum integrates core basic scientific and clinical education from the start of the first year of training. In the fall semester, students complete 3 integrated courses that link science and clinical medicine:

  • MSTP timeline Human Structure and Function. Includes anatomy, histology, and embryology.
  • Science of Medical Practice. Includes genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry, basic principles and application of public health, nutrition, translational research, and mastering medical information.
  • Essentials of Clinical Medicine. Includes history and hypothesis-driven physical exams.

In the spring semester, students complete:

  • Scientific Foundation courses that are linked to clinical curriculum and cover Physiology, Microbiology & Immunology, Neuroscience, Principles of Pathology, Pharmacology, and Behavior and Sexuality.
  • Essentials of Clinical Medicine courses further clinical skills development, teach ethics, professionalism, and cultural competence, and include a care clerkship one half day each week.

All MSTP students are assigned to a physician scientist faculty advisor who is part of the MSTP leadership team. This advisor assists MSTP students in all aspects of training while in medical school. Students complete additional laboratory rotations following the first year of Medical School. The length of the rotation is typically 7-8 weeks, but there is flexibility in the rotation length to accommodate the specific needs and interests of individual students. The second year of Medical School begins in early September and continues until mid-April. The second year consists of:

  • Four integrated Human Disease courses (HD1 – HD4) that are coordinated with the clinical curriculum. Each course includes pathophysiology, pathology, pharmacology, and therapeutics, and is structured around organ systems, such as cardiac or respiratory.
  • Essentials of Clinical Medicine courses
  • Two additional care clerkship rotations

At the end of the fall semester of Year 2 of Medical School, students prepare a MSTP Student Research Commitment Statement that outlines the student’s choice of a PhD thesis advisor and graduate program. Throughout the first two years of Medical School, MSTP students attend the weekly MSTP Monday Research Seminar. This seminar series provides a venue for students to learn of the many exciting research opportunities at the University of Minnesota that might be suitable for subsequent PhD thesis research. In addition to research presentations, students also lead discussions of research articles from the scientific literature in a journal club format. Following completion of Year 2 Medical School courses in mid-April, time is provided for students to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam. Students generally take the Step 1 exam in late May/early June. Prior to entering the graduate phase, MSTP students complete one required clinical clerkship (6 weeks or 4 weeks). Completion of a clinical rotation prior to the graduate phase reinforces the clinical skills developed during Medical School, and helps students begin to integrate basic research with medicine during their graduate training.

Graduate phase

The MSTP PhD graduate phase can be completed in 12 different partner graduate programs. Students enter the graduate phase in the fall with the other MSTP and PhD students entering the program that year. During the first year of the graduate phase, MSTP students focus on completing graduate coursework and identifying a suitable thesis research project. In general, graduate coursework is completed within the first 1-1.5 years of the graduate phase. Medical School coursework can be utilized to fulfill some graduate course requirements. Preliminary examinations, both oral and written, are typically completed no later than the end of the second year of the graduate phase. Opportunities to obtain formal teaching experience are also available in each program.

MSTP students are strongly encouraged to seek independent funding by submitting a NIH F30 fellowship application (or other comparable external fellowship) no later than the end of the first year of the graduate phase. A number of graduate-level courses in grant writing and presentation skills are available, and the MSTP provides additional resources to facilitate the successful submission of fellowship applications.

The University of Minnesota also has a large number of NIH and NSF training grants that support MSTP students conducting research in specific areas of biomedical science. MSTP students also can apply for local graduate fellowships, such as the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

Beginning in the second year of the graduate phase, MSTP students participate in the MSTP Clinical Continuity and Mentoring Program, which is a series of three year-long clinical continuity experiences. Students select a MSTP clinical mentor and meet with the mentor one-on-one for an average of one day per month. These meetings involve clinically-focused activities that are developed by the student and mentor and help the student maintain and develop clinical skills, integrate the student into the academic culture of the mentor’s clinical community, allow the student to observe the mentor in leadership activities, and provide an opportunity to learn time management skills critical to success as a physician scientist.

As part of the Clinical Continuity and Mentoring Program, MSTP students attend MSTP Grand Rounds, a case-based small group style discussion of a clinical problem and relevant state-of-the-art science given by a fellow MSTP student who is in the second year of the graduate phase. During the clinical continuity experience in the third year of the graduate phase, students develop a 1 page concept proposal in the form of an NIH Specific Aims page outlining a set of experiments to address a disease-based hypothesis.

The final Clinical Continuity experience prior to the student’s return to medical school emphasizes hands-on clinical activities that develop and refine the student’s patient evaluation and management skills.

MSTP students in the final year of the graduate phase also give a Clinical/Basic Science Seminar, which is a formal presentation that bridges an area of basic research with a specific clinical problem. This presentation is scheduled in one of the existing research conferences held regularly by each Clinical Science Department in the Medical School. In addition to encouraging independent thought regarding the future direction of experimentation, the seminar facilitates the transition back to medical school by introducing the student to a specific clinical community and provides an additional opportunity to establish mentoring and networking relationships.

The total time for completion of the graduate phase is 3-4 years.

Years three and four of medical school

MSTP students return to Medical School after successful completion of the PhD and complete required and elective clerkships. Students complete a total of 56 weeks of required clerkships and a minimum of 20 weeks of electives. Clinical clerkships take place at a variety of affiliated partner hospitals and clinics in Minneapolis/St. Paul, including the University of Minnesota Medical Center, University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Hennepin County Medical Center, and Regions Hospital. These clinical sites provide a rich diversity of clinical training environments.

Opportunities are also available for MSTP students to conduct additional research during the last two years of Medical School. A total of 6 or 12 weeks of electives may be “research for credit”, and additional time for research may be created when the student’s clerkship schedule is developed prior to returning to Medical School.

Students are actively mentored during the residency application and interview process in order to maximize placement in desired residency, fellowship and postdoctoral programs.

The total time for completion of both the MD and PhD is approximately 8 years.


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