Study Finds Vast Racial Disparities in Attrition Rates From M.D./Ph.D. Programs

Working at the intersection of research and patient care, physician-scientists with both a medical degree and a Ph.D. provide an essential contribution to biomedicine. But a new study led by Mytien Nguyen, a student at Yale Medical School, finds that Black M.D./Ph.D. students are 83 percent more likely than White students to leave medical school and 50 percent more likely to graduate with only a medical doctorate.

For the new study, the researchers assessed attrition rates among students who matriculated to M.D./Ph.D. programs between 2004 and 2012, following their enrollment status through 2020. They found that 20 percent of Black M.D./Ph.D. students graduated with an M.D. only, compared to 12.4 percent of White students, 11.4 percent of Asian students, 13.2 percent of Hispanic students, and 9.8 percent of multiracial students. And Black students (8.4%) were nearly twice as likely to leave medical school than White students (4.3%). In total, 29 percent of Black students did not complete their full M.D./Ph.D. training, compared to 17 percent of White students.

“The research that physician-scientists do and the questions they ask are immediately applicable and translatable. They are critical for improving the innovation in biomedical and clinical research,” Nguyen said. “But we’ve seen a decline in the number of physician-scientists over the years.” The study’s findings present a warning for the diversity and innovation of the biomedical research workforce.

The full study, “Association of Racial and Ethnic Identity With Attrition From MD-PhD Training Programs,” was published on the website of JAMA Internal Medicine. It may be accessed here.

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