The mission of the Penn Vet VMD-PhD program is to train outstanding clinician-scientists who will make valuable contributions to the advancement of science and medicine through research, clinical activities, and teaching. The complex problems presented by animal and human medicine today are ideally approached by investigators with broad experience in numerous species. Biomedical research often requires studies on multiple species, each with distinct properties. Individuals with comparative medicine training, coupled with rigorous research experience, are particularly well equipped to identify unique features of various animal models for human disease, and to press forward frontiers in human and animal health. Penn Vet provides an outstanding environment for the training of future leaders. We accomplish our mission by selecting outstanding individuals for acceptance into our programs, who then acquire the education and skills needed to become successful clinician-scientists. Throughout this training period, students are provided with career counseling and advice needed to progress successfully to the next level of their training.
How the Program Works
VMD and PhD studies are interwoven throughout the program. Students perform their veterinary training at the School of Veterinary Medicine, and their PhD training usually in one of the 9 Biomedical Graduate Groups. Students typically begin with the core basic science veterinary curriculum in the first 2.5 years. This provides a solid foundation in medically-relevant biomedical science. Over the next year, students generally complete their PhD coursework in the Graduate Group of their choice (see below). Students are able to join any graduate group within the University giving them them over 500 thesis laboratories to choose from. During the first 2-3 years, students perform laboratory rotations with faculty in their graduate group to identify the laboratory and thesis mentor for their PhD thesis research. Students then perform full time thesis research until their project is completed. This generally takes about 3 years. A clinical connections program is in place to enable students to maintain their clinical skills during thesis research years. The program concludes with veterinary clinical requirements and students receive VMD and PhD degrees concurrently.
The 9 campus-wide Biomedical Graduate Groups are listed below. Numbers of faculty in each group are listed in parentheses.
For more information on the Biomedical Graduate Groups at Penn, see
- Year 1: Full time Vet School curriculum, 1-2 graduate courses, first laboratory rotation
- Year 2: Full time Vet School curriculum, 1-2 graduate courses, second laboratory rotation
- Year 3: Complete Vet Core courses, Complete Graduate courses, Preliminary Examination, Third Laboratory Rotation
- Year 4 and beyond: Thesis research, Clinical connections program, Retreats, Seminars
- Final Year: Defend PhD thesis, Clinical Rotations, Graduate
The average time required for completion of the program is usually 8 years. The largest variable is the time needed to complete the PhD thesis research phase of the program. While we are committed to providing students with training that is completed in as short of a period as possible, we do not believe that an abbreviated PhD thesis training period best prepares our students for the future. We therefore, provide extensive oversight and advising that enables students to complete the program as efficiently as possible, while at the same time maintaining excellence in their PhD thesis research.
All students admitted into the program receive financial support. Financial support is provided through either the Medical Scientist Training Program grant funded by the National Institutes of Health, or through other Training Grants and institutional resources. Students admitted into the program are provided with Veterinary School and Graduate School tuition and fees, student health insurance, and a graduate level stipend. Support is provided for the entire length of the program, as long as a student remains in good standing.
The VMD-PhD program involves multiple components and vast research opportunities are available to students. To effectively navigate the program, students receive extensive advising throughout their education. Prior to entry, students are provided with a package of information describing the program and its complexities. The first week at Penn, each student meets individually with the Program Director who charts out a tentative curricular plan tailored to the interests and needs of the student. Students also attend the Vet School and their respective Graduate Group orientation meetings during this week. Each student is also assigned a faculty mentor who is a member of the VMD-PhD advisory committee. These faculty mentors meet frequently with the students to monitor progress, to provide advice, and to serve as role models (many advisors are VMD-PhD graduates, themselves). The Program Director meets with students as a group numerous times throughout the year and is available for one-on-one meetings as necessary. Additional advising is provided by the individual Graduate Groups. Each Graduate Group provides a committee that offers advice on course selection and laboratory rotations. Ultimately each student chooses a faculty mentor for the thesis phase of their work. This mentor provides an important advising function on the doctoral portion of the program. In addition, each student meets every 6 months with a thesis committee that provides direction on their research project. Toward the end of the program students meet with the Associate Dean of the Vet School for advice on clinical rotations, internships, and residencies.
Additionally, during the summer months, VMD-PhD students meet weekly with the Program Director and about 20-24 other veterinary students performing research at Penn. At these meetings speakers are invited who provide information on careers in academia, the pharmaceutical industry, or government agencies. These meetings also cover topics such as grant writing, funding opportunities, and presentation of research in oral, poster, and written formats. Students also meet twice per year for social events including a Bar-B-Q picnic and a formal dinner at the Program Director’s home. Each month VMD-PhD students participate in a monthly Combined Degree Series in conjunction with the MD-PhD students at Penn. These monthly events provide students with opportunities to present scientific and clinical work in a Grand Rounds format. Some of these meetings focus on advising how to choose a research rotation lab, how to select a residency or postdoc, and how to navigate the program in general. Finally, students meet once a year each August for the Combined Degree Retreat in association with the MD-PhD students at Penn. This meeting includes student presentations, student posters, clinical specialty meetings, and an outside speaker. In summary, students receive extensive advice during their stay in the program and receive extensive information on career opportunities upon completion of the program.
Penn is located in Philadelphia, one of the nation’s largest cities with excellent cultural and recreational opportunities. The Philadelphia metropolitan area is a magnet for higher education with the largest number of colleges and universities in the United States. Philadelphia is home to Independence Hall and is full of rich colonial history. The City is packed with museums, art exhibits, restaurants, concert halls, and small clubs. Philadelphia offers a diverse environment with multiple neighborhoods and a rich mixture of ethnic cultures. For the sports enthusiast, Philadelphia is home to numerous professional sports teams as well as to strong collegiate athletics. The City offers an extensive and efficient mass transit system, and is home to the nation’s first zoo, and the nation’s largest city park (Fairmount Park).
Student social events are held throughout the academic year and offer students a chance to catch up with classmates and meet students in other phases of their training. Official social activities include a summer Bar-B-Q and a dinner in December at the Program Director’s home. At the Annual Retreat, students and faculty gather together to share their perspectives and to learn about one another's work. Joint monthly meetings with students in the MD-PhD program, and additional VMD-PhD meetings enable students to share information and experiences.
Academically, Penn prides itself on being a well-integrated University, and values and encourages interdisciplinary scholarship. The School of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Medicine, the School of Graduate Arts and Sciences, the Wharton School of Business, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are all located within a few minutes walk of one another. Our multidisciplinary philosophy, this geographical proximity, and the outstanding scholarship taking place in each of Penn's Schools allow the VMD-PhD program to offer dual degree opportunities across a wide range of disciplines. The diverse cultural opportunities within the City of Philadelphia, the multidisciplinary philosophy of the University, and the active social opportunities available at Penn provide a rich environment for student life.