Dartmouth’s Geisel School Suspends M.D.-Ph.D. Program

Hanover — Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine is taking a hard look at a program that trains students in both medicine and research, putting new admissions on “pause” even as applications to the school this year reached a record high.

No new students will be admitted to the combined M.D.-Ph.D. program while Geisel officals weigh whether the program is worth the money the school spends on it every year.

Geisel Dean Wiley “Chip” Souba notified faculty and students of the decision in an email on Thursday. Suspending admissions to the program would allow Geisel to study how it “fits into the school’s overall strategic goal of sustainability and excellence,” he wrote.

In a statement to the Valley News, Souba said he met this week with the students enrolled in the program and would honor any outstanding offers that were accepted by students in this year’s applicant pool. The program is still active, he said, but won’t be adding any new students for the foreseeable future.

“I am committed to working with our students to continue these healthy discussions, and along with Geisel faculty and Dartmouth College input, we will discern the best way forward,” Souba said.

Such programs are designed for those who want to become research physicians, and graduates often go on to become faculty members at medical schools, universities and research institutes, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The 25 students who are enrolled in Geisel’s program will not be affected, Souba said. However, cost concerns have forced Geisel and other medical schools to consider scaling back their M.D.-Ph.D. programs or eliminating them altogether, according to Geisel.

Dartmouth spends more than $1 million annually on the program to cover tuition, fees and stipends for the students. There are other costs to recruit students and manage the M.D.-Ph.D. program, and Dartmouth does not receive federal funding to support it.

Brown University has limited slots in its M.D.-Ph.D. program and the University of Vermont stopped enrolling new students for its program about five years ago.

Steven Lidofsky, director of UVM’s program, said the school stopped accepting new students for financial reasons after the state of Vermont slashed UVM’s funding during the recession. There are now about a dozen students still enrolled.

Such programs offer intangible rewards, such as attracting motivated and bright students, but force deans who are facing short-term budgetary pressures to make difficult decisions, Lidofsky said. It might take 10 years for a student to finish her doctorate, and the money used to subsidize that education might be spent on faculty that, through research grants, help bring in new funds to address a budget shortfall.

“I think it costs a lot up front,” Lidofsky said. “And the short-term gains are not easy to track down.”

Still, these rigorous programs can attract faculty and inspire the larger class of students, he said.

“This is a group that is going to engage in dialogue, challenge dogma and make the learning experience more interesting for everybody,” he said.

Geoff Noble, who is enrolled in Geisel’s M.D.-Ph.D. program, said he and other students have been talking with Souba and hope to find some way to keep it going.

“We are currently engaged in a conversation with the Dean’s Office to find a creative solution to this issue,” Noble said in an e-mail. “We, as students, are optimistic of this development, and are hopeful that a resolution will be arrived at soon.”

Geisel’s announcement comes amid a 27 percent jump in applications to the medical school for next year. More than 5,200 prospective students are vying for fewer than 90 spots. Geisel officials said they don’t know why so many people have applied this year, but suggested that it had to do with the medical school boosting its public profile.

“As the work of our students, graduates, faculty and researchers has increasingly been featured in the news … more prospective students and applicants are exposed to the work that is taking place here and are excited about the prospect of studying here and joining this very vibrant community,” said Aileen Panitz, assistant director of admissions, in a news release.

Danos Joins D-H Board

Meanwhile, Dartmouth-Hitchcock is paying close attention to its finances and has appointed the dean of Dartmouth’s business school to a key leadership position.

Paul Danos, dean of the Tuck School of Business, has recently been appointed to Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s board, and also to the board of the parent organization, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health.

Danos, who has a background in financial accounting, will be the chairman of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s finance committee and serve as treasurer of both boards.

Robert Oden, chairman of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s board, said Danos would help the institution navigate a time “of exciting opportunity, accompanied necssarily by complex challenges.”

“As the board works with our CEO, Dr. James Weinstein, to shape what we believe will be the health care models of the future, it is essential that we continue to fulfill our responsibility for financial stewardship,” Oden said in announcing Danos’ appointment. “We are fortunate to have right here, at Dartmouth’s Tuck School, one of America’s business education leaders, and we are more fortunate still that Dean Paul Danos has agreed to join our board.”

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.