I am a high school senior planning to attend university this Fall and major in Biomedical Engineering.

I plan to perform biomedical research as a career after my PhD. My objective is to push the treatment and cure of diseases forward - I would like to see human suffering diminished and eliminated as much as possbile during my lifetime.

I have been advised that a practical doctorate would help me achieve my goals, so I am considering earning a DVM or an MD alongside a PhD. My question is, which should I choose?

In other words, what sort of research and application will I perform with a DVM-PhD vs an MD-PhD, and how substantially will my work affect human health? I ask because I have recieved mixed signals when questioning vets and doctors in the same manner.

They usually said that 'the DVM would be good for animal modeling of human diseases, while the MD would be good for direct application to humans.' But in the professional world this seems much more convoluted - for instance, a DVM-PhD at my university of choice is the leading researcher for human regenerative medicine at that particular institution.

I need to make a decision within a year as to which 'track' I will pursue becuase each degree has slightly different undergraduate couse commitments, volunteering requirements, etc.

If anyone is knowledgeable on this subject, I would deeply appreciate all the help I can get!

  • 3
    I would urge you to plan with the foreknowledge that you may very well want to change your plans during your college years, both undergrad and graduate. As you study a subject and begin to see the bigger picture, your perspectives will change, and that may change what you want to do. Or put more simply: You don't know how much you don't know yet, so don't paint yourself into a corner with rigid planning. – Carey Gregory Apr 26 '17 at 19:42

This is a complicated question, as there are likely few people (I am not one of them) who are fully knowledgeable in the scope of both DVM and MD or DO (which is the other type of physician degree) in combination with PhD, and I do not know if someone with that knowledge will see this question. But your question is a very good question - I would recommend you seek out and ask MD PhDs, DVM PhDs, MDs, and PhDs to explore your options. It's an important decision.

I can help from the perspective of an MD/MPH (Masters in Public Health) who has done some research, and I have colleagues who do many different types of research with varying combinations of degrees. MD or DO alone, MD or DO + PhD, or just PhD (e.g. in fields like biomedical engineering).

There are a number of MD-PhD or DO-PhD combined programs where usually you do 2 years of med school, then complete the PhD (which often is 4 but can be much more), then return for the last 2 years of medical school - and may or may not go on to complete residency. Some MD/DO PhDs practice clinical medicine, whether they do research or not. I imagine this is much the same for DVM-PhD programs.

But more to the point, what is most important is for you to reflect on your ultimate goals. Are you specifically interested in working on animal models? Or do you want to obtain the education that provides you the most possible options, so that you can determine along the way where you feel you can make the greatest impact?

There are vast numbers of ways to engage in research that improves the health of humans, and animal models is only a subset of the diverse possibilities.

The potential advantages of DVM over an MD/DO is something I had not previously considered, and I can see how expertise in the animal models would be beneficial in some research. But again, are you sure you want to focus primarily on animal models? Consider that DVM may limit your scope of what you can do in clinical research involving human subjects.

The other paths include MD or DO alone, MD PhD, DO PhD, PhD alone (in fields like Biomedical Engineering etc), PharmD (pharmacy doctorate), or others.

Of the two you mentioned, the MD-PhD (or PhD alone) may open more doors for you in research overall, since animal research is only one section of medical research. The MD/DO when combined with PhD does give advantages over PhD alone in some circumstances, from what I understand, but is not always necessary.

What an MD/DO can give you is a thorough grounding in both the fundamentals of human physiology/pathophysiology AND its clinical management. Completing a residency in clinical medicine also gives you the experience and skills to actually practice medicine in addition to doing research.

Again, I recommend talking with people with the degrees and combinations I mentioned. Your school's advising counselors should be able to help arrange that, or contact a local university with a med school or phd program to request to speak with their advisors, or with researchers. They may help you as a prospective student.

As a parting thought, you might also consider public health if you are aiming to do what you say here:

see human suffering diminished and eliminated as much as possbile during my lifetime.

Public health is sometimes overlooked, since people don't necessarily know about it as a field - but they definitely know the effects of it. Public health is all about improving the health of entire populations through multiple angles, including many branches of research. It incorporates (and offers specializations in) epidemiology, biostatistics, disease prevention, education, program design and analysis, population management, policy and administration, and other elements. Vaccinating the population has been a joint effort of medical research and public health.

Read about public health and maybe talk with the department at a university - it's actually a really rich and diverse field with lots of opportunities.


A PhD is a research degree, so you should get a PhD if you want research-focused training. MD and DVM are clinical degrees - they do not specifically train you how to do research. I think one great reason to choose MD is if you would prefer to treat human patients; likewise, if you'd prefer to treat animal patients, you should get a DVM. If you just want to do medically-relevant research, your question should be, Do I want to focus on human medicine or animal medicine? There are a TON of MD/PhDs, MDs, and PhDs who work with animal models doing human-relevant research. (And, obviously, DVM/PhDs and DVMs who work with animal models doing human-relevant or animal-relevant research.) I would suggest that if your primary goal is to understand human disease, you should get an MD PhD. If your primary goal is to work with animal models to understand animal disease, you should get a DVM PhD. I'm an MD PhD student, so for more info about what the process of getting an MD PhD is like, you can visit my blog: https://raymdphd.blogspot.com/

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