MD-PhD in Health Economics Admissions – Testing

This is a continuation of my series on joint degrees in medicine and social sciences, in response to frequently asked questions I receive from undergraduates.

The short version: Take the MCAT and the GRE. Do well on the MCAT and GRE quantitative section.

The longer version: Like with coursework, there are no efficiencies or shortcuts here. You have to separately prepare for MD and PhD admissions and earn test score competitive for both.

MD admissions require the MCAT. Officially, many programs do not have score cutoffs. Unofficially, they expect top tier MCAT scores. You can find evidence of this in the extremely high average scores of matriculating students. Consult elsewhere on the internet for more specifics on what constitutes a “good” MCAT score (there are any number of resources discussing this topic).

Do not expect any leniency in evaluating your MCAT score because you are a dual degree applicant. A high GRE score will not in any way make up for a low MCAT score. Your MCAT score needs to be competitive for traditional MD-PhD admissions (a higher bar than MD only applications).

PhD admissions often requires the GRE. MD-PhDs in non-traditional disciplines often have to apply separately to the PhD program. Applicants apply though the standard PhD applicant portal and are evaluated by the PhD admissions committee.

Some programs will consider health services applicants through their standard MD-PhD pipeline. At these schools, you would apply to MD-PhD program through AMCAS with your MCAT score and be done with it. GRE scores are not necessary. These programs tend to be oriented towards health services/public health research and very closely affiliated with schools of medicine.

However, having (good) GRE scores will open more doors.  Many programs (including the UChicago MeSH program) require a separate application to the PhD program(s) of interest. PhD programs generally require a separate application is they are not explicity health focused (e.g. PhD programs in economics, public policy, history, anthropology, etc.) around the country.

PhD programs in health economics and allied fields usually care only about the quantitative GRE score.  So don’t sweat your score on the verbal section (Finally, something you can relax about!). However, expectations for the quantitative section are high.

The quantitative GRE score is often used a screener nowadays. PhD programs use the GRE score the winnow down the applicant pool to a manageable size. The surviving applications are read and considered for admission.

As such, a high quantitative GRE score is essentially a requirement for admission to the PhD. However, a high score alone won’t get you in. Everyone being seriously considered for admission has a high score.

What is a high enough score? My sources say high 160s (ideally 167+) to get through the screener. However, you may want to consult elsewhere on the internet or with admissions offices, as the cutoffs can change year to year.

A final note: For PhD admissions, PhD only standards generally apply. At a minimum, you need to be a qualified applicant, which includes a high GRE score. The joint degree may help you stand out in the large pool of qualified applications.  Anecdotally, PhD programs are a tad more forgiving for MD-PhD applicants. However, the extent of that forgiveness should not be overstated. Top ranked PhD programs may not be forgiving at all. However, lower ranked PhD programs may be a bit more flexible.