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J Neurosurg. 2014 Mar;120(3):730-5. doi: 10.3171/2013.11.JNS122370. Epub 2013 Dec 20.

Impact of PhD training on scholarship in a neurosurgical career.

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Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Center; and.



The purpose of this study was to report the prevalence of neurosurgeons with both medical degrees (MDs) and doctorates (PhDs) at top-ranked US academic institutions and to assess whether the additional doctorate education is associated with substantive career involvement in academia as well as greater success in procuring National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding compared with an MD-only degree.


The authors reviewed the training of neurosurgeons across the top 10 neurosurgery departments chosen according to academic impact (h index) to examine whether MD-PhD training correlated significantly with career outcomes in academia.


Six hundred thirteen neurosurgery graduates and residents between the years 1990 and 2012 were identified for inclusion in this analysis. Both MD and PhD degrees were held by 121 neurosurgeons (19.7%), and an MD alone was held by 492. Over the past 2 decades, MD-PhD trainees represented a gradually increasing percentage of neurosurgeons, from 10.2% to 25.7% (p < 0.01). Of the neurosurgeons with MD-PhD training, a greater proportion had appointments in academic medicine compared with their MD-only peers (73.7% vs 52.3%, p < 0.001). Academic neurosurgeons with both degrees were also more likely to have received NIH funding (51.9% vs 31.8%, p < 0.05) than their single-degree counterparts in academia. In a national analysis of all active NIH R01 grants awarded in neurosurgery, MD-PhD investigators held a disproportionate number, more than 4-fold greater than their representation in the field.


Dual MD-PhD training is a significant factor that may predict active participation in and funding for research careers among neurological surgeons at top-ranked academic institutions. These findings and their implications are of increasing relevance as the population of neurosurgeons with dual-degree training continues to rise.

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