New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA

General Overview

VMD-PhD ProgramVMD-PhD (DVM-PhD) training prepares students for multiple diverse career pathways. Graduates play vital roles in our society by excelling in the areas of biomedical research, human and animal health, public health, pharmaceutical research, contract research, government service, military careers, and academic careers.

Biomedical Research

  • The complex problems presented by human and animal medicines today are ideally approached by investigators with broad experience in numerous species and who understand biology in both molecular and whole animal contexts. Veterinary scientists have played key roles in the fields of stem cell biology, molecular immunology, transgenic animals, and virology (amongst many other biomedical-related fields). Veterinary scientists address scientific problems in multiple species at the molecular level and apply that knowledge to whole animal physiology.

Human Medicine

  • Basic biomedical advances obtained in multiple species drive progress in human medicine. 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 both human and animal health. Veterinary scientists make key biomedical advances directly applicable to human medicine.

Public Health

  • Epidemics arise when infectious diseases move from animals to humans then acquire the ability to move between human individuals. Veterinary scientists are highly skilled at understanding how diseases spread between multiple species, as well as how they spread within populations of the same species. Recent public health outbreaks of Ebola virus, SARS-CoV2, and West Nile Virus illustrate this point well. Veterinary scientists have played important roles in diagnosing these outbreaks and in developing responses to outbreak containment. Veterinary scientists thus, play crucial roles in protecting public health.

Preparing for the Future

  • Biomedical Research is entering an era that requires the application of molecular knowledge to organismal physiology. Individuals trained in comparative medicine will be uniquely qualified for making advances in Biomedical Research, and for addressing worldwide public health, biosafety, and bioterrorism issues. Nationwide there is a great shortage of individuals with this training.

Why Combined Degree Studies at Penn?

Penn Vet provides an outstanding environment for the training of future leaders. The School is in the heart of a large biomedical research campus perfectly suited for combined degree studies. Students have more than 600 research laboratories to choose from for their doctoral research, and benefit from two world-class veterinary hospitals for their clinical training (Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, with one of the largest emergency case loads in the nation, and George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals with one of the largest equine case loads). Each year the University of Pennsylvania ranks near the top of the nation with regard to research funds from the National Institutes of Health, and ranking of its individual schools. The University consists of a vast network of research laboratories and core facilities, and operates many multidisciplinary research institutes and centers.


Penn Vet was founded in 1884 and currently ranks near the top of all veterinary schools in NIH funding. Penn Vet consists of four departments with 115 faculty members. The School maintains close ties to the Penn School of Medicine, our nation’s oldest medical school, which also ranks near the top of all medical schools in research and NIH grants.

Penn Vet operates numerous multidisciplinary research centers and faculty members participate in many research centers and graduate groups throughout the Penn campus. Students in the VMD-PhD program become active members of the entire University research environment and perform their thesis research with any of the 600 biomedical faculty members within the University. An extraordinarily rich environment for combined degree studies is provided by these 600 active research laboratories, the vibrant Biomedical Graduate Groups, the multiple seminar series throughout the University, and the numerous campus-wide Institutes and Centers.

Clinical Training

Students receive outstanding veterinary didactic and clinical training at two locations. Small animal clinical training is performed at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania located on the main Penn campus.

Ryan opened in 1981 and enjoys a worldwide reputation for excellence. This hospital has the largest small animal caseload of any veterinary school in the United States and one of the busiest emergency units in the world. Ryan Hospital was designated as a Certified Level I Facility by the Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society.

Students receive clinical training on large animals at New Bolton Center Hospital located on our campus in Kennett Square (45 minutes from Philadelphia). Patients comprise equine, bovine, porcine, cervid, and camelid patients, and carries the largest equine caseload in the U.S.

Both hospitals are well equipped with excellent clinical facilities. 

The outstanding University-wide Biomedical Research environment and the rich clinical training programs at the School of Veterinary Medicine are woven together to produce an unparalleled environment for VMD-PhD combined degree studies.

The VMD-PhD Program at Penn: History & Expansion

Program History

The VMD-PhD Program at Penn has been in existence since 1969 and is the nation's largest and oldest program of its kind. Penn VMD-PhD alumni account for 50% of all students trained by veterinary combined degree programs nationally.

The VMD-PhD Program has been enormously successful.  It was initially directed by Dr. Ralph Brinster, a pioneer in production of transgenic animals and reproductive biology.  The Program has been continually funded by the National Institutes of Health via Penn's Medical Scientist Training Program, and more recently was awarded an NIH Training Grant (T32) for students in infectious disease disciplines. 

Additional funding comes from private sources such as the Armour-Lewis Foundation, endowments, scholarships, private donations, as well as from the School of Veterinary Medicine itself.   Program graduates are exceptionally well-qualified to integrate multiple levels of science ranging from molecular biology to whole animal physiology. 

More than 85% of Program alumni are in careers involving biomedical research.  Penn Vet VMD-PhD alumni represent a rich pool of talented interdisciplinary scientists whose expertise greatly enriches the scientific community.  Our graduates show a high level of achievement, a steady positive progression in seniority of academic faculty or industry positions, and command a collective funding base of over 100 million dollars.

Program Expansion

The National Academy of Sciences has published several reports demonstrating an acute national shortage of veterinarian-scientists needed for industrial, academic and government positions. To help meet this need, the VMD-PhD Program at the University of Pennsylvania has doubled in size since 2002, providing a pipeline of talented scientists for industrial, government and academic positions, augmenting the biomedical enterprise to meet a pressing national need.


The VMD-PhD Program receives support from numerous sources.

Federal Sources
  • MSTP Grant GM07170
  • T32 Grant AI070077
Private Sources
  • Mindy and Andy Heyer Endowment
  • Marookian Endowment
  • Schwartzman Endowment
  • Spitzer, Rattner, and Preston Scholarsips
  • Armour-Lewis Foundation
Internal Support
  • School of Veterinary Medicine

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some of the career opportunities post-graduation?
    • Graduates of the Program are qualified for a hugely diverse array of career opportunities.  These include employment at academic institutions, in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, at government health and science agencies, in the fields of public health and emerging diseases, in regulatory medicine, in contract research and military service, and in clinical research and/or practice.  The wealth of opportunities is endless.
  • How is the curriculum organized within the VMD/PhD Program?
    • VMD and PhD studies are interwoven throughout the Program.  Students receive their veterinary training at the School of Veterinary Medicine, and their PhD training usually in one of  the nine Biomedical Graduate Groups (though they may choose from any of the graduate groups within the University).  Students typically begin with the core basic science veterinary curriculum in the first 2.5 years of study.  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.  Students are able to join any graduate group at Penn, giving them over 500 thesis laboratories from which to choose.  During their second and third years, students perform laboratory rotations with faculty in their graduate group to identify the laboratory and mentor for their thesis research. Students then perform full-time research until their project is completed, about three years on average.  A clinical connections program is in place to enable students to maintain their clinical skills during thesis research years.  The Program concludes with thesis defense and veterinary clinical requirements, and students receive their VMD and PhD degrees concurrently.

      Sample Curriculum

      • 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 coursework, candidacy examination, third laboratory rotaiton
      • Year 4 and beyond:  Thesis research, clinical connections program
      • Final Year:  PhD thesis defense, clinical rotations, graduation
  • What type of research is supported by the Program?
    • Students are able to perform their research within any of the graduate groups at Penn.  Most work with faculty in one of the Biomedical Graduate Groups.
  • How do I choose a thesis laboratory?
    • Students choose a thesis lab based on research rotations performed with faculty within their graduate group.  Rotations are usually performed during the summers of the first 2-3 years of the Program.  Advising is provided for finding a thesis laboratory, but considerable information on potential thesis laboratories can be found on the individual graduate groups websites.
  • Is funding available for VMD/PhD students?
    • Students admitted into the Program are provided with Veterinary and Graduate School tuition and fees, student health insurance, and a graduate level stipend.
  • How long does the Program take to complete?
    • The Program usually takes about eight years to complete. The most variable time period is the PhD thesis research phase.  We are committed to providing students with training that is completed in as short a period of time as possible.  However, we do not believe that an abbreviated PhD thesis training period best prepares our students for the future.
  • What are the areas of PhD study in the Program?
  • Do graduates continue to perform clinical work?
    • Many graduates continue to perform clinical medicine in conjunction with their research projects.
  • How do I apply?
    • To apply to the VMD/PhD Program, two applications are needed:  the VMD/PhD Program application, and the Vet School application. The VMD/PhD Program application is due November 1st of each year for admission the following fall.  The Vet School application is due September 15th for admission the following fall.
  • What are the criteria for admission?
    • Criteria considered for admission to the VMD/PhD Program are:
      • Undergraduate GPA:  There are no cut-offs, but obviously the higher the better.  The average GPA of recent matriculates is 3.75 (ranging from 3.5 to 4.0).
      • Research Experience:  It is imperative that candidates have considerable research experience.  Students usually have multiple in-depth research experiences.
      • Letters of Recommendation:  Letters of the greatest influence are those from faculty who have seen your research skills up close.
      • Interviews:  During interviews, applicants meet with Penn faculty and discuss their past experiences and future goals. 
      • Goodness of Fit:  Can the Program deliver the training you need to achieve your goals?
  • What sort of research experience is needed for admission?
    • Most students have multiple, in-depth research experiences that enable them to address questions experimentally.  Students should know the background areas and understand the context of their own work in the larger picture of the scientific field under study.
  • How competitive is the admissions process?
    • The process is highly competitive.  Currently 10-15% of applicants are offered admission.
  • Can I use the same letters of recommendation for my Vet and Combined Degree applications?
    • Letters sent to the School of Veterinary Medicine through VMCAS do not reach the VMD/PhD Admissions Committee. Letters must be sent separately to the VMD/PhD Program.  While you may use the same referees and/or letters for both, letters from persons who are familiar with your research interests, experience and abilities are most strongly weighted in the VMD/PhD admissions process.

      Letters, along with the downloadable Recommendation Form, may be emailed or sent via postal service to:

      Dr. Michael Atchison
      Director, VMD/PhD Program
      School of Veterinary Medicine
      University of Pennsylvania
      3800 Spruce Street
      Philadelphia, PA 19104

  • Are foreign applicants eligible for the Program?
    • Yes.
  • Can I apply to the VMD/PhD Program after admission to Vet School?
    • Yes, students can apply after enrollment in the School of Veterinary Medicine, or after enrollment in one of Penn's graduate groups.
  • Can I apply separately to the PhD Programs at Penn?
    • Yes, students can apply separately to the Penn graduate groups.  However, separate admission to the Vet School and a Penn graduate group does not constitute admission to the VMD/PhD Program. Admission to the Program requires a VMD/PhD application as well as a Vet School application.  Conversely, when applications to the School of Veterinary Medicine and the VMD/PhD Program are completed, it is not necessary to apply separately to a Penn graduate group for admission to the VMD/PhD Program.  For admission to Biomedical Graduate Studies exclusive of your Vet and VMD/PhD applications, please apply directly to BGS.

VMD/PhD Newsletters

One of the best ways to get to know us is by reading through our newsletters:

2021 Fall Newsletter Download
2020 Fall Newsletter Download
2019 Fall Newsletter Download
2018 Fall Newsletter Download
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2011 Fall Newsletter Download
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