M.D.-Ph.D. Program

M.D.-Ph.D. Training in Physiology and Biophysics

Degree requirements

Graduate study in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the School of Medicine is a highly individualized undertaking, and required course work represents only one component. Each student’s program is tailored to meet his or her particular interests, with the primary emphasis on developing research skills and the capacity for independent scholarship and with the recognition that career goals for many M.D.-Ph.D. physician-scientists are distinct from those of most Ph.D. trainees.

Opportunities for research experience begin prior to entering the graduate phase (prematriculation and summers after M1 and M2 years of medical school), when students spend time working in several faculty laboratories of their choice. These lab rotations enable students to examine faculty research projects, experimental approaches, and laboratory environment and to select an areas for specialization. During the first year of graduate training (G1), students take graduate courses selected to optimize their training and devote time to independent research under the guidance of a faculty adviser. During G2 and subsequent years, most effort is devoted to independent research. Department-sponsored seminars and other activities give students opportunities to discuss their research interests with visiting scientists and to present their research both internally at national professional meetings.

The Ph.D. component of training in physiology and biophysics for M.D.-Ph.D. students normally takes at least three years to complete. Courses taken during the M1 and M2 years of medical school satisfy a number of core course requirements, and additional elective courses are completed in the G1 year. On satisfactory completion of course work, students must pass written and oral comprehensive examinations to qualify for degree candidacy. Following admission to candidacy, each student must conduct a substantial original research project, prepare a written dissertation, present their work in a seminar, and defend it successfully in an oral examination. Eligible M.D.-Ph.D. students are required to prepare and submit an NIH F30 predoctoral training grant application, which is usually based on the dissertation proposal defended during the comprehensive examinations. Students also are encouraged to submit predoctoral training grant applications to other funding sources. Acceptance of a peer-reviewed first-author (or co-first-author) manuscript in a scientific journal indexed in PubMed or Web of Science, that is based on experimental research conducted during Ph.D. training (rather than a review, commentary, case note or similar publication) is required of all M.D.-Ph.D. students prior to returning to the M3 phase of medical school.

In addition to completing VCU School of Medicine requirements for the M.D. degree and the general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students must complete a minimum of 66 credit hours for the Ph.D., including directed research. 


Based on the equivalent knowledge acquired by successfully completing MEDI 150, MEDI 200, MEDI 250 during the M1 and M2 years, and IBMS 651 M.D.-Ph.D. Journal Club, the following 16 cr-hr of core program courses are waived: BIOC 503 (5 cr-hr), BIOC 504 (5 cr-hr), PHIS 501 (5 cr-hr), and PHIS 650 (1 cr-hr).




Non-core courses

IBMS 600

Laboratory Safety


IBMS 620

Laboratory/Clinical Rotations


OVPR 601

Scientific Integrity


or OVPR 602

Responsible Scientific Conduct

or OVPR 603

Responsible Conduct of Research

Program core courses

BIOC 503

Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology


BIOC 504

Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology


IBMS 651

M.D.-Ph.D. Journal Club (one credit course, required fall and spring semester of M1 year


IBMS 652

M.D.-Ph.D. Science and Disease


IBMS 653

M.D.-Ph.D. Seminar (0.5 credit course, required fall and spring of M1, fall of M2, and during G phase except in semester of defense


PHIS 501

Mammalian Physiology


PHIS 650

Critical Thinking in Physiology


PHIS 689

Physiology Preseminar Highlights (one-credit course, required each fall and spring semester)


PHIS 690

Physiology Research Seminar (one-credit course, required each fall and spring semester)


PHIS 695

Research in Progress (0.5-credit course, required each fall and spring semester)


Program core directed research


PHIS 697

Directed Research in Physiology (variable credit course, required each semester)


Elective program courses

Select six credits from:


PHIS 604

Cell Physiology: Cardiovascular and Respiratory


PHIS 606

Molecular Basis for Disease


PHIS 607

Cell Physiology: GI and Endocrine

PHIS 612

Cardiovascular Physiology


PHIS 615

Signal Detection in Sensory Systems

PHIS 620

Ion Channels in Membranes

PHIS 630

Methods in Molecular Biophysics: A Practical Approach

Other 600 level courses (e.g., in ANAT, BIOC, BIOS, HGEN, IBMS, MICR, PHTX or CCTR) approved by the department graduate program upon the recommendation of your advisor or advisory committee.

Total Hours


The minimum total of graduate credit hours required for this degree is 66.

Typical plan of study
Many students take more than the minimum number of hours required for the degree program. The total number of hours may vary depending upon the program, nature of research being conducted or in the enrollment or funding status of the student. Students should refer to their program websites and talk with their graduate program directors or advisers for information about typical plans of study and registration requirements.

Graduate program director
Roland N. Pittman, Ph.D.
Professor of Physiology and Biophysics

Additional contacts
Carlos Escalante, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics
Assistant director, Graduate program

Christina Kyrus
Graduate program coordinator

Program website:



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