Physician-Scientist Training Program (PSTP)

The Stanford School of Medicine Physician-Scientist Training Program (PSTP) was established to provide medical students greater opportunities for engaging in biomedical research while taking the required coursework and clinical practice leading to the MD degree. To enable that goal, a curriculum was created that embodies substantial periods free from formal classwork during the second and third academic years (see description of the “split” curriculum below). That format provides students with opportunities to engage in scholarly investigation and laboratory or clinical research within the medical school or on the university campus.

We believe that electing the combined academic/research opportunity provides students with a foundation for careers as physician investigators, a depleted but urgently needed phenotype. We have dubbed the program described above as the “Physician-Scientist Training Program (PSTP)” because throughout the period of studying and exploring, students will be guided and aided by faculty mentors committed to their progress and success.

The “Split Curriculum”.  While many American medical schools are decreasing the extent to which medical students study basic science, advances in molecular medicine, and research in general, Stanford created a curriculum – the “Split Curriculum”- that restores vigor to the basic courses and provides opportunities to engage in other scholarly activities available at Stanford University. An important feature of the split curriculum is to provide to students who aspire to careers as physician-scientists the opportunity and means for acquiring an in-depth research experience concurrently with the academic coursework required to become a doctor. Thus, the split curriculum permits students who have completed the first-year course work to use the unscheduled blocks of time in the ensuing years to pursue a research project while they complete the remaining preclinical course requirements. Students choosing to pursue research in the split curriculum can immerse themselves in challenging problems, follow the research wherever it leads, and, possibly, be a part of solving the problem they set for themselves.  Further, we believe that the concentrated focus on a challenging, longitudinal research project made possible by the split curriculum is more beneficial for gaining research experience than taking a gap year following completion of the preclinical coursework.

Students formally decide whether to split the curriculum at the end of their first year of medical school. Students who do so will begin their research during the Summer Quarter after their first year.  Splitting their remaining pre-clerkship curriculum amounts to 3 half days per week spent in classroom lectures or clinical activities (Mondays and Tuesdays in the second year, called “M2A”), Thursdays and Fridays in the third year (called “M2B”). The remaining 7 half days per week and summers are available for the student’s research project, as overseen by their selected research mentor. Funding is provided by Med Scholars, to ensure that no additional medical school debt accrues when spreading education and research over 5 years.

The split curriculum may appeal to medical school applicants and matriculated students who already have substantial research experience. However, students with only limited research experience but who have participated in summer research programs before applying to medical school are also strongly encouraged to consider research opportunities and to join the PSTP.  Any MD student who matriculates at Stanford is eligible to pursue the split curriculum, even if they choose not to participate in PSTP activities.

FAQ and Additional Resources

updated August 2022