MD with Distinction


UCSF Medical Students who intend to complete more intensive coursework and/or a project of the highest rigor can apply to the MD with Distinction program in their Pathway (MDwD). Students funded for yearlong research and all students in the Molecular Medicine Pathway must complete the MDwD.

General Requirements

The MD with Distinction will be awarded to graduating UCSF medical students if, in addition to fulfilling all of the requirements for the degree of Doctor in the School of Medicine, students also complete:

  • One of the five Pathways to Discovery programs (PTD), including both the general and Pathway-specific requirements for MDwD
  • An additional scholarship/research period
    • For MDwD students this program takes an additional year of school to complete. In some limited circumstances, students may be able to complete these requirements without taking an additional year.
  • A legacy project and subsequent written product which has been designed in consultation with and approved by an MDwD committee
  • More advanced or broader scope coursework beyond that required of students in the core Pathways program
  • Presentation at the annual spring Inquiry Symposium


MDwD students must:

  1. Confirm that they are in good academic standing and have approval from the Associate Dean of Curriculum prior to participating in Pathways to Discovery and the MDwD program
  2. Contact the Pathway director relevant to their proposed area of study

For Funded Projects:

  1. Contact one of the directors of the Resource Allocation Program for Trainees (RAPtr)
  2. Declare intent to pursue the MDwD and one of the five Pathways according to the RAPtr Yearlong Research page.

For Unfunded Projects:

  1. Complete and declare intent to pursue the MDwD on Pathways to Discovery enrollment.

Steps to Application

1. Summer after first year:

2. Spring of second year:

  • Consult with Pathway Director
  • Interview potential mentors
  • Review funding sources available to trainees at RAPtr
  • Begin developing yearlong research proposal

3. Autumn of third year:

  • Consult with Student Research Directors
  • Confirm ability to complete additional course work and extensive project work with advisory college mentor
  • Obtain approval from Dean's office
  • Submit Letter of Intent
  • Finalize yearlong research proposal (preview here).

4. Winter of third year:

MDwD Committee

Each student enrolled in the MDwD program must have an MDwD Committee. This group is charged with providing help and guidance during both the scholarly/research phase of the project and composition of the legacy product/thesis.

For All Projects (Current Deadlines):

  • After acceptance into the MDwD Program, students should consult with their mentors and submit the names of the faculty members of their MDwD Committee by end of July/early August (an email will be sent to you confirming date).
  • The MDwD committee is comprised of three faculty members approved by the project mentor and Pathway Director. For Molecular Medicine, the committee must include a Pathway Director.
  • MDwD Committees must arrange to meet at least three* times during the two-year MDwD program (see FAQ Question #7), which includes a research period (first year) and a writing period (second year). Depending on project type, additional meetings may be requested by the Pathway Director. *Molecular Medicine learners are only required to meet with their committee twice; the final meeting being with the Pathway Director.
    • First meeting: within first two months of research period (for most learners, this research period will be a year off between 3rd and 4th years of medical school)
    • Second meeting: within last two months of research period
    • Third meeting: during March, at least one month prior to final submission deadline of the MDwD completion or graduation year
  • MDwD products must be submitted for review in advance of the following deadlines (see current deadlines link):
    • MDwD completion/graduation year – Draft product due.
    • MDwD completion/graduation year – Final product due.

MDwD Program Timeline

(Same for both 5 and 4-year programs, unless noted with *)

November – Letter of Intent (prior to research year).

*None required for 4-year program.

January – RAPtr Application deadline

*June - Pathways Application (4-year program)

July – Declare Committee Members

July - September – 1st Committee Meeting

June – 2nd Committee Meeting

February – Draft product submission deadline

March – 3rd Committee Meeting

April – Final Product Submission

May – Presentation at Inquiry Symposium

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: How does the MDwD Program relate to the Pathway Program?

A: Students must be enrolled in a Pathway to be eligible for the MDwD. To be eligible for a Pathway, students must have a project approved by the Pathway Director.

Q2: How do a 'legacy product', a 'thesis' and a 'first-authored manuscript' relate to each other?

A: Project types vary by Pathway and scholarly interest. Not all MDwD products, therefore, are the same, though they are expected to be equivalently rigorous. All Pathway learners must complete a legacy product. For Pathway students completing an MDwD, this is usually, but not always, a first-authored manuscript submitted to a peer-reviewed journal which is completed under the guidance of their mentor and MDwD Committee. We no longer use the term 'thesis' since we are defining the legacy product according to the specific scholarly area.

Q3: I completed a summer research Deans Fellowship after Year 1 that evolved into a manuscript that was recently published. I am about to complete Year 3. Am I eligible for the MDwD Program?

A: As the recipient of a Dean's Summer fellowship, you are eligible to enter a Pathway, but you are eligible for the MDwD program only if you plan to complete a separate, unique project and legacy product (usually a written manuscript) before graduation. The MDwD does not "grandfather in" prior work, but supports work done prospectively with an established MDwD Committee advising you along the way.

Q4: I will be pursuing a yearlong fellowship at the CDC related to Clinical and Translational Research and would like to be recognized for this work at graduation by being awarded an MDwD. Is this possible?

A: Yes. You will need to contact the specific Pathway Director (e.g. Global Health, Health Professions Education, Health & Society, etc.) to ascertain whether your away experience (e.g., mentored project, curriculum) is deemed equivalent to the required Pathway course work. If your experience is deemed equivalent, you will be asked to establish a UCSF-based MDwD Committee. Since the MDwD Committee will assist you along the way, you must contact the Pathway Director no later than one month after you begin your away fellowship to gain approval. You will be expected to adhere to all deadlines established for the MDwD Program.

Q5: I have just received a yearlong Clinical and Translational Research Fellowship (CTR-FP) from the RAPtr Program. What do I need to do in terms of the MDwD Program?

A: As a Yearlong Fellow, you must also enroll in a Pathway and are required to complete the MDwD Program. You need not apply separately to the MDwD Program, but should work with your mentor as soon as possible to establish your MDwD committee. Specifically, your mentor will act as your committee chair and will help identify one or more additional faculty members to advise you along the way. By August 1st of your research year, you will need to declare the names of your committee members to the Pathways to Discovery Central office. It is important that you establish deadlines and benchmarks throughout your fellowship year to assure you are on-track to complete your legacy product.

Q6: I'd like to enroll in the MDwD Program, but I have not submitted a successful proposal to RAPtr. Is there any other way to be enrolled in this program?

A: Yes, you can submit an application for MDwD during the June 1st application cycle. Students in this category will carry out unfunded projects only. Consult with your Pathway Director to determine which appropriate program duration is right for you.

Q7: I do not plan to take an additional year off to complete my research. I have been approved for a RAPtr quarterly fellowship instead. Can I still participate in the MDwD program?

A: It is possible, but it may be very difficult to complete the MDwD requirements on a short timeline. You should seek advice from the Pathway Director, as to the feasibility of your plan. This meeting must occur within one month of notification of the approval of your proposal. If approved, you will need to apply to a Pathway by June 1st and adhere to the deadlines outlined above.

Q8: My MDwD Committee has been established, but it is difficult to find a time for everyone to meet and get the input I need. I am concerned that I am off my timeline. What should I do?

A: As a first step, you should speak to your mentor. If you are in the CTR Yearlong Fellowship, you should also seek advice from your Fellowship Directors. You may also seek the advice of the Pathway Director.

Q9: My project is not turning out as I envisioned, and I am afraid I will not be able to complete a manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal. This was going to be my legacy product. What should I do?

A: You should discuss potential alternative legacy products with your mentor and MDwD Committee and seek approval of an alternate legacy product from the Pathway Director. An alternative legacy product, for example, may be a systematic review of the topic suitable for publication along with a written explanation of why you were unable to complete your intended plan.

Q10: Why are there so many different deadlines and programs?

A: Pathways to Discovery and the MDwD programs are designed to accommodate as many different types of learners as possible while adhering to high standards. With flexibility comes complication. If you have any questions, the Pathway Director and Pathways staff are available to help you navigate your way through the process.

If you have additional questions about the application/proposal submission process, contact Avila Reed(link sends e-mail).