Med into Grad Program

​Integrating Medical Knowledge into Graduate Education

The training of medical and graduate students is quite distinct. While medical education must focus on clinical application, PhD students usually attack a research problem that has no obvious clinical connection. We are secure in our belief that many of these research projects will pay off for medicine, public health, or industry. Graduate students who are exposed to the rapid progress of basic research might, if properly trained, bring that knowledge and energy to clinical problems.

Columbia University offers such a mechanism through the Med into Grad Program, which is led by Ronald Liem, PhD, professor of pathology and cell biology, with co-directors Howard Worman, MD, professor of medicine and of pathology and cell biology, and Patrice Spitalnik, MD, professor of pathology and cell biology.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) started this initiative to support the programs that incorporate an understanding of the principles of medicine and disease into the education of PhD researchers, in 2005. After initial support by the HHMI, most of these programs are continuing, including the one at Columbia.

Mechanisms of Human Disease

To foster a direct interest in disease and the complexities that clinicians and researchers confront, we developed a course called Mechanisms of Human Disease. It is directed by the Director of the Med into Grad Program, Dr. Ron Liem, and is taken by students interested in translational research.

Note: At least one semester of this course is required for admission to the Med into Grad Program.

This one-year course has six modules, with three each semester. Each module is primarily concerned with one organ system and one or more diseases associated with this organ system. Each module describes the physiology, nutritional status, health, pathophysiology, and anatomy of an organ system and its role in disease. Intensive reading and discussion cover the pathologies associated with the disease and their molecular basis. Finally, interventions and therapeutics are discussed for each disease. Students meet patients or caregivers of patients. This is a new experience for PhD students, who do not usually see the effects of a disease on a person.

Structure of the Med into Grad Program

As part of the Med into Grad Program, students will be assigned a clinical mentor in their area of research. They will attend clinic or rounds with their clinical mentor once or twice a month. The students also go on hospital rounds at least once during the year. The Program Directors meet with all the students twice a month and the students take turns presenting cases that they observed. Students get course credit for their participation in the Med into Grad Program and it will count as an elective course in their home program.

Students will observe the requirements of their home programs with regard to other coursework, the qualifying examinations, seminar attendance, or other elements of the graduate programs.


The program will start in January and continue through the calendar year.  All eligible students will receive an email informing them that applications are open late during the fall semester.  To be eligible, students must have completed at least one of the semesters of the Mechanisms of Human Disease course.  For the application, students are asked to submit their academic records and an application essay describing their interest in the Med into Grad Program.  They will also have a personal interview with the Program Directors.

Note: Participation in the Med into Grad program is only open to students currently enrolled in one of our existing eligible graduate programs. Potential applicants for these programs can find more information about the application process and guidelines by visiting our Applying section.


For questions regarding the Columbia University Med into Grad Program, please contact: