1.05 Five-Year MD Program

Medical Education

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1.05 Five-Year MD Program

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 academic 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 2.08; Curriculum 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 a facilities fee (reduced tuition) in the fifth 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 a student is pursuing another degree, his/her 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, he/she must initiate a consultation with the Advisory Dean/Director or Associate Director of the student’s Academic Society. That consultation will include a consideration of the rationale, timing, enrollment status, financial implications, and overall career implications of the additional year. This may require several sessions, possibly with additional referrals to the Office of Advising Resources (OAR), 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 3.08, Scholars in Medicine). 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 Scholars in Medicine Office.

Timing of the additional academic year

The timing of an additional academic year is important. Because each phase of the first three years of the New Pathway MD curriculum follows from, builds upon, and reinforces the preceding one, students are expected to progress developmentally from normal systems to pathophysiology and then to clinical medicine in an uninterrupted temporal sequence (see Section 2.18). For the Pathways curriculum, an additional year should occur no sooner than the end of 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.
  • New Pathway and Pathways students interested in undertaking a new scholarly project may do so only after the PCE. The one exception to this rule for New Pathway curriculum is made for students already intensively engaged in a scholarly 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 beginning of April. In exceptional cases, delaying the start of clerkships until July may be possible. Under unusual circumstances, a Pathways student may petition the Council of Academic Societies (CAS; Section 3.06) 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 (e.g., a Howard Hughes fellowship) requires the research year to begin in July.

NB:  Beginning clerkships as late as August limits time in the final year of medical school for completing the subinternship requirement and enrolling in exploratory clinical electives in time to inform career choice and to have feedback included in the MSPE (Dean’s Letter). Slots in the one-month core clerkships in May, June and July for students who return later than April 1 will be made available only after students who are beginning the PCE in April been accommodated.

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 3.08 for details on the format and submission deadlines for the project proposal, mentor contract, etc.). Once all the 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, the student meets with the Advisory Dean/Director or Associate Director of their society 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 on 3/3/16