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Acad Med. 1997 Sep;72(9):820-30.

Profile of the graduate student population in U.S. medical schools.

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Division of Biomedical Research (DBR), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Washington, D.C. 20037, USA.


The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) sponsored surveys of accredited U.S. medical schools in 1994-95 and in 1995-96 to gather enough data to determine an accurate profile of the population of students enrolled in and/or graduated from biomedical PhD and MD-PhD programs at these institutions. Previously collected data on the graduate student population at medical schools often did not distinguish between PhD students at the medical school and graduate students in other parts of the university. The AAMC surveys defined a medical school PhD- or MD-PhD-trained student as one whose major professor holds his or her primary appointment in a department of the medical school. The data were the result of census-taking by the responding schools on October 1, 1994, and October 1, 1995. There were 81 responses to each of the two surveys. Overall, 104 medical schools supplied data in either one or both of the survey years. When the data are extrapolated from the sample to the total population of 122 medical schools that award graduate degrees, a number of interesting estimates emerge. (1) When compared with the 1995 data for 18 biomedically-related biological science disciplines from the National Research Council's Survey of Earned Doctorates, the AAMC survey indicates that approximately 60% of the 4,000 PhDs awarded were earned by students studying at U.S. medical schools. (2) The total enrollment of PhD students in U.S. medical schools is approximately 18,600, a number that is about 25-30% of the number of medical students currently enrolled at all accredited U.S. medical schools. In some institutions, the number of graduate students rivals the number of medical students. (3) PhD students are enrolled in a wide variety of programs bearing titles reflective of a trend toward "interdisciplinary" rather than "departmental" degrees. (4) At a given time, the number of students supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants is nearly twice that provided for by NIH traineeships. In addition, all forms of institutional support provide for more than one-third of the PhD students in U.S. medical schools. (5) Approximately 24% of enrolled students are international students on temporary or permanent visas. (6) The data obtained from the two surveys of graduate programs within medical schools are relatively consistent, enabling more confidence in the reliability and accuracy of findings presented in this report.

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