MD/PhD in Biomedical Informatics

The MD/PhD program in Biomedical Informatics combines the study of medicine with a specialization in the science of medical information. After two years of medical school, the student enters the doctoral program on a full-time basis, completing all coursework and the dissertation in three or four years. The medical degree is then completed in the following two years. Ideally, medical students will incorporate fundamental courses in Biomedical Informatics into the first year of medical school. The summers after the first and second years of medical school enable students to focus on an informatics project with an advisor. The summer sessions are also an opportunity to address deficiencies such as preparatory courses in computer science. The qualifying exams are taken after the first and second years of the PhD program, and the dissertation is written and defended in the following two years.

Degree Requirements

60 points of Columbia University instruction and 6 residence units.  MD students are exempt from the domain courses degree requirement.
Yearly mid-semester progress reports completed in conjunction with advisors
Breadth and Depth (Oral I and Oral II) Preliminary Examinations


Students who meet computational or mathematical objectives through prior graduate preparation are not required to take further courses in these areas. Students must consult with their academic advisors to determine such placement, select appropriate courses to meet core objectives, and choose electives.

Breadth and Depth Oral I and Oral II Preliminary Examinations

Breadth (Oral I) Examination: A one-hour, closed oral exam is administered by faculty members to assess a student’s breadth of knowledge of the field, the ability to express this knowledge verbally, reason with it, and synthesize concepts from different areas. The exam is normally taken from April-July or in January. Students may take this examination no more than twice, preferably with at least 4-6 months between the first and second attempt. Failure of two consecutive Breadth examinations may result in dismissal.

Depth/Oral II Examination: The Depth/Oral II Preliminary Examination takes place 6-12 months following the Breadth Examination. This exam is the final requirement before a PhD student receives the MPhil Degree and applies for doctoral candidacy, provided that the student has earned the requisite 6 residence units. Within 6 months of receiving the MPhil degree, the University requires that students take their preliminary proposal defense, so the timing of the Depth Exam should be planned with that in mind. The Depth Exam assesses the ability of the student to survey the literature in a given area, synthesize achievements, identify gaps, and propose research questions. The student will select a specific problem based on that work and present a detailed methodology to address the problem. Before an exam is scheduled, the student’s advisory committee should review completed work to date and assess the student’s readiness to undertake the exam. The work completed as part of the exam is intended to provide a basis for the doctoral dissertation.

Research and Dissertation

MD/PhD students begin project work in Biomedical Informatics during the summers between the first and second year of medical school. Research continues during each semester of the doctoral program in the Biomedical Informatics Project course (BINF G6001) and Doctoral Research (BINF G9001). Research helps the student gain experience in posing scientific hypotheses, conducting experiments, building information systems, measuring impact, and working toward the doctoral dissertation. Each doctoral student works with a faculty advisor in the department. Students are expected to meet with the advisor at least once per week, either individually or as part of a lab. Each student has an advisory committee consisting of the primary faculty advisor and two additional members of the department. This advisory committee forms the internal committee for the student’s dissertation. Two external members will be added for the dissertation defense. The student arranges yearly meetings with the internal advisory committee to review progress.


The University provides full funding for MD/PhD students to cover tuition and fees, single student health insurance coverage, and a stipend. International students may need to seek funding from a faculty grant for their second year of funding until degree completion.