UNMC supported its first MD-PhD student in 1983. Although there was no official program at the time, UNMC graduate programs, especially the Department of Pathology and Microbiology, offered support for students who were interested in pursuing the physician-scientist dual degree.
In 1994, with 10 active students interested in pursuing MD-PhD training, the College of Medicine recognized the need for a formal MD-PhD training program. Thus, the MD-PhD Scholars Program was established in 1994 under the leadership of Dr. Ira Fox. In 2007, under the co-directorship of Dr. Shelley Smith and Dr. Debra Romberger, the program rapidly grew in size and reached over 30 students. With the growth of the program came increased student interests in diverse fields, and the directors responded to the students’ needs by expanding the program campus-wide, increasing the selection of degree programs available to scholars, and including research conducted across the University of Nebraska system. In 2017, Dr. Romberger transitioned to Advisory Committee Chair and Dr. Justin Mott joined the program as co-director. In 2019, Dr. Smith stepped back from her role as director of the program, and Dr. Mott became the main director of the UNMC MD-PhD Scholars Program. In 2020, Dr. Allison Cushman-Vokoun and Dr. Al Fisher became Associate Directors of the program.
UNMC's College of Medicine and Graduate Studies have generously supported the MD-PhD Scholars Program since the formal program was established in 1994. All current scholars receive a generous stipend for living, and their tuition, health insurance, and other student fees are covered by either the College of Medicine or their graduate program depending on their year of study.
Based on student suggestions, the program has established various extracurricular activities that create an integrated clinical and research experience. These include clinical rotations during graduate studies, bi-monthly student-run case conferences in the grand round format, an annual retreat with workshops exploring various topics pertinent to physician-scientist development, and personal reviews and informal meetings between scholars and directors. Regularly scheduled events such as the annual picnic, bi-weekly lunch gatherings, and the annual graduation banquet all foster a sense of community and give students opportunities to socialize and bond in a relaxed atmosphere.
This belief in putting the students first through strong mentorship has resulted in multiple internal and external grants awarded to MD-PhD Scholars.
In order to bring together a group of highly motivated, creative and intelligent students with a strong sense of camaraderie and unity, the program established an internal advisory committee of faculty members that provide careful consideration for each applicant. These dedicated members from all major disciplines are not only prominent scientists in their respective fields but carry with them strong reputations for mentorship and a long-standing dedication to training physician-scientists. Their willingness to invest substantial time and energy towards selecting scholars best fitted for the program reflects the importance that the UNMC College of Medicine and Office of Graduate Studies place upon fostering future physician-scientists.
Alumni of UNMC's MD-PhD Scholars Program have pursued a variety of careers in research and academic centers, private practice, and biotechnology and industry. Given the tremendous program growth in the past couple decades, many alumni are still in the training phase of their career.