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About Mack Michell-Robinson

Mack Michell-Robinson is a third-year MD-PhD student at McGill University. His PhD research is in the field of neurology, focusing on developing experimental models of a rare disease of the central nervous system, along with gene therapies to treat it. Prior to medical school, Mack completed both bachelor’s and master of science degrees, and worked as an associate scientist at a Fortune 500 biotechnology company.


You know you’re interested in pursuing an MD-PhD degree, but you’re not sure where to start. With over 50 distinct MD-PhD programs in North America, choosing the right program to apply to is a complex decision. Building and submitting a personalized, high-quality application is of paramount importance. There are too many programs to apply to all of them at once!


  • You must balance academic excellence and life beyond the lab when considering an institution for your MD-PhD studies.

  • There are multiple public resources at your disposal that can help determine the research excellence at an institution. Use publication records and grant funding records to determine how successful a research group and/or department is.

  • Apply to institutions offering the type of training you’re interested in, corresponding to the career you want to have.

  • Program funding in the United States is either MSTP or non-MSTP. Both are generous funding packages, but they may have geographical restrictions for applicants and/or different training requirements. Non-MSTP programs may not offer the same funding across all institutions, while MSTP funding packages are generally similar. Don’t forget to look at taxation when determining the amount of funds you will have available for living expenses.

  • Internal program funding in Canada varies by institution; meanwhile, external funding opportunities such as federal and provincial scholarships may have additional geographical restrictions.

The first step on the path to an MD-PhD degree is choosing a program in order to build the appropriate application. This chapter and the next aim to help you get started by breaking down the information you need to choose a program and then help you build a winning application by explaining what MD-PhD programs are looking for in candidates.

This chapter will cover important considerations for choosing an MD-PhD program that go beyond choosing a typical medical school program. These include how to evaluate research excellence at an institution or lab of interest, and an introduction to the structuring and financing opportunities available in MD-PhD programs in North America.

Assessing Research Excellence

We take it for granted that excellence is the primary motivator for an MD-PhD aspirant, so naturally it is appropriate to pick a program that is excellent, too. Unfortunately, academic excellence can be a difficult thing to ascertain before entering a program. All programs have an incentive to portray themselves as excellent to candidates, just as all candidates have ...

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