The Med into Grad program

The training of medical and graduate students is quite distinct. While medical education must focus on clinical application, Ph.D. students usually attack a research problem that has no obvious clinical connection. We are secure in our belief that many of these projects will pay off for medicine, public health, or industry. Graduate students who are exposed to the rapid progress of basic research might, if properly trained, bring that knowledge and energy to clinical problems. Columbia University offers such a mechanism through the Med into Grad Program. The Med into Grad Program is led by Ronald Liem, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology. The Co-directors of this program are Howard Worman, M.D., Professor of Medicine and of Pathology & Cell Biology, and Patrice Spitalnik, M.D., Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute started this initiative to support the programs that incorporate an understanding of the principles of medicine and disease into the education of Ph.D. researchers, in 2005. After initial support by the HHMI, most of these programs are continuing, including the one at Columbia.

PhD Programs in the Molecular Basis of Health and Disease and a Common Course

To foster a direct interest in disease and the complexities that clinicians and researchers confront we organized a one year course called: "Mechanisms of Human Disease". It is directed by the Director of the Med into Grad Program, Dr. Ron Liem and is taken by students interested in translational research. It is a one year course, and at least one semester of this course is required for admission to the Med into Grad Program. This one year course has six modules three each semester. Each module is primarily concerned with one organ system and one or more diseases associated with this organ system. Each module describes the physiology, nutritional status, health, pathophysiology, and anatomy of an organ system and its role in disease. Intensive reading and discussion cover the pathologies associated with the disease and their molecular basis. Finally, interventions and therapeutics are discussed for each disease. Students meet patients or caregivers of patients. This is a new experience for Ph.D. students, who do not usually see the effects of a disease on a person.

Structure of the Med into Grad Program

Eligible students apply for admission into the Med into Grad Program at the end of their first or second year of PhD training, having completed at least of the semesters of the Mechanisms of Human Disease course. They will be chosen based on their records, their application essay describing their interest in the Med into Grad Program and a personal interview with the Program Directors. During the year that they are part of the Med into Grad Program, the students will be assigned a clinical mentor in their area of research. They will attend clinic or rounds with their clinical mentor once or twice a month. The students also go on hospital rounds at least once during the year. The Program Directors meet with all the students twice a month and the students take turn presenting cases that they observed. Students get course credit for their participation in the Med into Grad Program and it will count as an elective course in their home program.

Students will observe the requirements of their home programs with regard to other coursework, the qualifying examinations, seminar attendance or other elements of the graduate programs.


Applications for doctoral study should be sent to one of the existing eligible graduate programs. Application to the Med into Grad Program option occurs late in the first or second year of enrollment.