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Alumni Corner

To our alumni:
This alumni corner is set up so that current undergraduate students at Binghamton can find out more about varied careers and paths toward those careers that you have taken. If you are willing to share your experience, please contact

KAREN WINKFIELD received her B.S. in Biochemistry in 1997. While at Binghamton, Karen did undergraduate research under the auspices of an educational grant to our university from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She was recipient of the Award for Excellence in Biochemistry, and the Aswad award for the most outstanding pre-medical student of the year. Karen is in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Duke University, working toward an M.D./Ph.D. degree. Many students are attracted by the idea of medical research but wonder at the commitment of 7 years. Karen shares her thoughts on the subject, describes her program, and gives advice on what you need to do to get into the program.

I am a 5th year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Duke, which culminates in a combined MD/PhD degree. The medical school at Duke University has a very unique curriculum. Instead of the traditional two years of basic science followed by two years of clinical rotations, Duke has whittled the basic science portion of the curriculum down to one year. This means that clinical rotations begin the second year of medical school. The third year is an academic year that can be used to gain research experience, or to get another degree such as a Masters in Public Health or a Masters in Clinical Research. The 4th year is comprised completely of elective clinical rotations.
For MD/PhD candidates, this curriculum is a definite plus. Many medical scientists go into academic medicine where they maintain a clinical practice AND basic science research. In my case, I wanted to choose a research topic that complemented my clinical subspecialty. Unfortunately, I had very limited exposure to clinical medicine prior to medical school. My 2nd year rotations gave me a good idea of the types of specialties that would interest me and opened my eyes to a completely different field of research. I began my PhD during my 3rd year of medical school and have completed two years towards getting my degree.

The time has flown by so quickly. I believe the toughest part of the program was this past summer when my classmates graduated to become physicians. It was tough because although they will still be in training as resident physicians, they are no longer in school. Three years still loomed in front of me -- did I really want to continue living like a student?? Needless to say, I am still here at Duke and making good progress with my research. The science is fun and I am learning a great deal about teaching and mentoring. Before I know it, I'll be back on the wards finishing up my
4th year of medical school.

My research is in the field of oncology, particularly breast cancer. I fell in love with women's health and plan to complete my residency training in obstetrics/gynecology. My goal is to continue training as a fellow in gynecologic oncology, but I have been encouraged not to focus on fellowship training right now. So, although that is my current plan, that may change during my residency training.

Having both an MD and a PhD opens up so many doors. I've been fortunate enough to win several basic science awards and grants, two of which came from pharmaceutical companies (Merck & Bristol-Myers Squibb). In accepting the awards, I was invited to visit the companies to tour their research facilities and production plants. I had never considered a career in industry before, but so much amazing science is done there. They are particularly interested in medical scientists because we have dual training, which is so beneficial in drug discovery and marketing. Whether a person chooses basic science, academic medicine, clinical practice, industry, or business, the combined degree is an attractive attribute.

The MST Program is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which means that tuition is fully paid and students receive a stipend. The NIH allots a few of these scholarships per qualified medical school. For example, when I entered medical school, there were only 6 slots available for the MD/PhD program out of 100 students entering. So, I think the best way prepare oneself for an M.D./Ph.D. program while in college is to study hard!! Grades are very important because competition for the program is so intense. Be sure to have AT LEAST one year of basic science research before applying -- some schools require more. Many schools only require MCAT scores, but a few may ask for the GRE. Take an MCAT prep course if you don't think you can study effectively on your own; the scores are often used as an initial screen. Write a good personal statement that reflects your interest in medicine and basic science; have lots of people read it and critique it. And finally, talk to current MSTP students at schools you're interested in. Please contact me if you want more information about Duke's program (

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Last Updated: 6/5/09