Geisel reverses M.D./P.h.D. application suspension
The Geisel School of Medicine’s M.D./Ph.D. program will recruit and accept applications for future classes for at least two more years, reversing a decision to suspend the program made earlier this month.

Geisel Dean Wiley Souba announced the decision to continue accepting applications in an email to Geisel faculty, staff and students on Thursday morning. The program, which aims to train physician-scientists, will aim to matriculate two students this fall and two additional students in the fall of 2015, Souba said in the email. This will coincide with an internal review of the program conducted by faculty and students to identify best practices and funding sources at peer institutions. In a previous interview, Souba said that admissions were suspended to allow the administration to examine the program and determine its optimal size. He cited the program’s cost as a reason behind the decision, as Geisel’s program is not funded by the National Institutes of Health. M.D./Ph.D. program coordinator and Geisel professor James Gorham said the administration will form a task force to discuss the size of the program relative to the size of the school. He said that he and his peers are glad that the program has been reinstated. Twenty-five Geisel students are currently working toward their M.D./Ph.D. degree. When the decision to suspend the program was first revealed, about 1,000 students, alumni, faculty and staff signed a petition outlining concerns. Biology professor Lee Witters, who also teaches at Geisel, said that M.D./Ph.D. students played an integral role in overturning Geisel’s decision to suspend applications by presenting a polished, cogent argument. He had personally approached students, he said, encouraging them to get in touch with faculty. “I did that out of concern,” Witters said. “I’m a physician-scientist myself. I thought I had a pretty good perspective of what goes on in the medical school and what the impact of not having the program would be on the wider community. I thought they needed that perspective.” Several current M.D./Ph.D. students, including Andrew Giustini, Cynthia Hahn and Geoffrey Noble, spoke with Souba and the wider Geisel community about the program’s future. “We look forward to continuing these partnerships with the Dean’s office, faculty and students as we examine strategies for strengthening the program in its role as an essential component of Geisel’s educational mission,” the three students said in a statement. Other initiatives to resurrect the program included community letters and emails to College President Phil Hanlon, the Board of Trustees and the Geisel Board of Overseers, as well as individual letters from faculty members to Souba, Witters said. He also credited local media coverage with raising awareness. “If there had not been a public outcry against it, this would not have been reversed,” Witters said. “To suggest that [the administration] would’ve reversed this decision if no one had said anything would be naive and disingenuous.” Following Souba’s first announcement, the National Association of M.D./Ph.D. Programs sent a letter to Hanlon, Souba and the Geisel senior associate dean of research Duane Compton encouraging administrators to restart admissions to the program. The letter, signed by association president Dianna Milewicz and nine past presidents, said that suspending Geisel’s M.D./Ph.D. program would devalue research, sacrifice academic diversity and contribute to a lack of physician-scientists. The association’s message also addressed Souba’s initial point about the M.D./Ph.D. program’s prohibitive cost. “It is also clear that the net financial impact of an M.D./Ph.D. program can be positive and well worth the investment,” the letter said. “We think that the benefits of a vibrant M.D./Ph.D. program to an academic medical center far outweigh the financial costs.” Association president-elect Terence Dermody, who signed the letter, applauded Souba’s decision to restart admissions, adding that the greater M.D./Ph.D. community will be pleased and supportive. Training physician-scientists, he said, is critical in allowing for future medical discoveries. Current Geisel M.D./Ph.D. student Ana-Maria Dumitru said the Geisel administration has been receptive to the advocacy efforts, and that the outpouring of support shows how much the community cares about the medical school’s future. “[This decision] affirms why I chose to come to Dartmouth in the first place,” she said. “I realized that this was an environment where lasting relationships were formed and where each individual had a voice.” Witters said Geisel’s faculty council, a group made of two representatives from every department, voted unanimously to maintain the program. They also suggested that it should be expanded. The initial decision to cancel the program, Witters said, “came out of left field.” “I don’t know how many people participated in making the decision, but I’m confident that it was a small number,” he said. Although the M.D./Ph.D. program will continue for at least the next two years, Witters said that he is uncertain whether the program will be earnestly reevaluated. “I want to be sure that people are being forthright and honest about the evaluation,” he said, “not just delaying the killing of the program until all the furor dies down.” Souba was unavailable for comment by press time.
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