1.05 Five-Year MD Program-- Pathways

The standard MD program at Harvard Medical School takes four years to complete; however, students may apply to postpone graduation for a year if they:

  • Want to obtain another degree (e.g. MPH, MPP);
  • Want to spend a year doing a scholarly project;
  • Want to take an additional year of formal coursework.

Students who need time off for extenuating medical/personal issues are advised to take a Leave of Absence from the School (Section 2.09). Students who are not in good standing at HMS are not eligible to enroll in an additional academic year for the scholarly endeavors outlined above. Students may be eligible to be enrolled at HMS for additional periods for purposes of remediation or completion of degree requirements. An additional year will not be granted for students who have completed their MD requirements and/or are within 6 months of graduation.

Adding an Academic Year to the MD Program

Students considering postponing graduation from the MD program for any of the reasons outlined above should be aware of the rules governing academic progress and time to degree at Harvard Medical School (Policy on Length of Time to Complete the MD Degree, Section 2.08Curriculum Continuity: Policy on Interruption, Section 2.18; Satisfactory Academic Progress, Section 2.19) and Tuition Requirements for MD Degree Candidates (Section 6.02). Ordinarily, students who take advantage of the 5-year MD program will be charged full tuition for the first four years and reduced tuition in the fifth year and any subsequent year (Section 6.01).

Students who wish to pursue another degree (e.g., MPH, MPP, MBA, PhD) are not considered to be enrolled in a 5-Year MD program. While students are pursuing another degree, their status is tracked as Other Degree Program (ODP), and, generally, tuition and fees are being charged by and paid to the other school.

Initial consultation with the Academic Society

As soon as a student contemplates taking an additional year, they must initiate a preliminary consultation with the Advisory Dean or Advisor in their Academic Society. That consultation will include a consideration of the rationale, timing and overall career implications of the additional year. Since taking an additional year has both enrollment status and financial implications, this consultation will require several sessions, possibly with additional referrals to the Office of Learning Resources and Support, HMS Registrar, Harvard University Health Services (HUHS), Financial Aid, Society Scholars in Medicine fellow, etc. These requests will ultimately require formal application and review and will have specific deadlines associated with them (see Section 3.03: Office of Scholarly Engagement). Students should also develop a Plan B that will be pursued if the initial proposal is not approved; typically, Plan B would involve continued enrollment in courses that meet the graduation requirements of the MD curriculum.

Students must demonstrate how they will support themselves financially during the additional year; a meeting with a representative of the Financial Aid Office is mandatory for students who receive financial aid. Competitive funding for such years through a research assistantship, traveling fellowship, or other mechanism may be pursued through the Office of Scholarly Engagement.

Timing of the additional academic year

The timing of an additional academic year is important. Because each phase of the MD curriculum follows from, builds upon, and reinforces the preceding one, students ordinarily are expected to progress developmentally in an uninterrupted temporal sequence (see Section 2.18). For the Pathways curriculum, an additional year should occur no sooner than the end of the PCE. Interrupting the MD curriculum before the PCE disrupts this important pedagogic sequence. Hence:

  • Students interested in pursuing a Master’s degree in conjunction with the MD degree may enroll in a Master’s program (either at another Harvard school or at another university) only after successfully completing the PCE and prior to beginning the final year of the MD program.
  • Pathways students interested in undertaking a new scholarly project may do so only after the PCE. The one exception to this rule is made for students in the HST program already intensively engaged in a scholarly research project who want to continue the project full-time for a year before the PCE. If permission is granted, the research must end in time for the student to begin clerkships and the longitudinal components of the PCE at the designated entry points (April and October). Under unusual circumstances, a Pathways student may petition the Council of Academic Societies (CAS) to pursue a year of research after nine months of the PCE. The research project in such situations would ordinarily be one that has begun during the first year of the MD program and that an externally funded program requires the research year to begin in July.

Enrollment status during an additional year

Students who are actively making progress toward the MD degree doing credit-bearing activities (e.g., approved scholarly projects) will be designated as Enrolled at HMS (see Section 2.19)The enrollment status of students who are enrolled in a master's or other degree program (at Harvard or elsewhere) is tracked as Other Degree Program (ODP) – students are not enrolled at HMS when enrolled in another degree program.

Application for an additional year

All projects for academic credit must be reviewed and approved by the Faculty Committee on Scholarship in Medicine (see Section 3.03 for details on the format and submission deadlines for the project proposal, mentor contract, etc.). Once all required approvals have been obtained (from the Faculty Committee on Scholarship in Medicine or from an approved outside funding agency; through acceptance into a master's degree program; and following review and approval by the HMS Registrar, financial aid [if applicable], etc.) as necessary, students meet with their Academic Society Advisory Dean or Advisor to review all of the documentation and construct a monthly schedule for the additional year (e.g., project dates and timeline, proposed course schedule, degree program dates). An application for an additional year is then submitted for review by the Council of Academic Societies (CAS). Students will be notified of a decision on their application within one week following the CAS meeting at which the application was reviewed.

Last updated 7/1/21