Ferid Murad, M.D., Ph.D., just won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for his work on nitric oxide. Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., heads the National Human Genome Research Institute. And 49 investigators who hold both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees are funded by the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

What these disparate observations reflect is the rise of the M.D.-Ph.D., whose training and professional pedigree dovetail nicely with two hallmarks of the current biomedical arena: rapid advances in disease-related research and expansion efforts under way at many medical centers. Enrollment in M.D.-Ph.D. programs has ballooned over the past decade, and some M.D.-Ph.D.s match or outperform Ph.D.s on certain measures of career success, according to a new study.

Nevertheless, troubling questions remain about the role and future of M.D.-Ph.D.s. Some proponents of dual-degree programs expected graduates to bolster the ranks of clinician-scientists. Instead, most M.D.-Ph.D.s turn to basic research after...

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