timing of defense and return to clinics

A commonly asked question among MD-PhD students is “when do I need to defend if I want to graduate the following year?” The answer to this is different for different students. Many students will need to defend in August or early September to be well-positioned to apply for residency the following summer/fall (eg August 2023 to apply in 2024 and graduate in May 2025) . Some will be able to defend a bit later and still be fine, others will need to defend even earlier in the summer. Note that students who completed only one block of clerkships, rather than the standard two, before the PhD will have to return earlier and many may target a May/June defense. There are a number of factors that go into determining your optimal defense date and return to clinics. One element of planning is the structure and dates for Module 4.  Some of the other main issues include: how decided you are on clinical field; whether the field(s) you are considering require significant elective time and/or away electives; your prior clinical record; optimal timing of Step2 and other considerations….

The range of issues that need to be considered when planning your return schedule is captured in a little mnemonic referred to as the DOCTOR Equation:

Decidedness +

Optimal elective time and optimal timing of step 2CK +

Clinical field specifics +

Temperament +

Opinions of faculty advisors +

Record (grades, PhD)


the optimal date for your return to clinics.

Once you have determined your optimal date for your return to clinics, then you should ideally schedule your defense AT LEAST four weeks earlier than that. Note that close communication with your Graduate Group Coordinator about the defense date and paperwork is essential. Be sure to be aware of your Graduate Group’s expectations and requirements around submission of the dissertation and conferral of the PhD. It is optimal to defend, then have a week or two immediately following that to do any necessary dissertation revisions and complete PhD related paperwork for your Graduate Group. Ideally, after that, you would also have a week for vacation and an additional week to do some clinical reading and gearing up before the start of Med 250.