Spotlighting our D.M.D./Ph.D. Program

Alumni Affairs
October 13, 2021
MUSC Dental Clinic at night

As many of you are aware, the College of Dental Medicine provides a fantastic opportunity for students to receive their D.M.D., meanwhile working toward a Ph.D., as well. This program is called the dual-degree D.M.D./Ph.D. program, also known as the Dentist Scientist Training Program (DSTP).

This program begins with one year of dental school, followed by approximately four years of research, and then the three final years of the dental school curriculum. This paradigm helps students concentrate on their research and/or clinical work for better retention and offers a more satisfactory blend of academic and patient experiences.

We have seen so many amazing individuals come out of this program that we thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this program via a current student and her mentor.

For this, we interviewed Alexandra Rogers-DeCotes and her mentor, Christi Kern, Ph.D.

Dr. Kern, please explain the DSTP program.

Dr. Kern

As a D.M.D./Ph.D. mentor who oversees the research (Ph.D.) portion of the dual-degree program, I look at this program as a unique and challenging opportunity, for a very select group of students, to initiate training for a future career that combines both research and clinical duties in an academic setting. One of the most exciting aspects about the program to me is that it allows trainees to design a highly specialized career that caters to their talents and interests. The D.M.D./Ph.D. program typically takes eight years to complete and there are high expectations of these students both from the graduate school for the Ph.D. portion, as well as in the dental school for their D.M.D. Alex Rogers-DeCotes is in her eighth year of this program so her recent international award is the culmination of a long-standing dedication to research that has been enriched by her clinical training. I also want to mention that MUSC is one of the few programs nationally to have a D.M.D./Ph.D. program supported by a prestigious National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, T32 training grant.

Alex, why did you choose the D.M.D./Ph.D. route versus solely your D.M.D. or Ph.D.?

Alexandra Rogers-DeCotes

I initially was interested in research. As a junior in college, I realized that I also wanted to pursue dentistry. Luckily, there was a program that was tailored to my interests. Since joining the program and entering clinic, I have learned that my clinical experience shapes how I ask research questions, and my research experience shapes how I treat my patients.

Dr. Kern, why did you choose to be a mentor?

Dr. Kern

One of the exciting aspects for me was that Alex initiated a new research direction for my lab. We worked as a team from the beginning in her rotation research experience to design a project that incorporated her interests in oral health and my expertise in extracellular matrix biology. I valued the opportunity to train a very talented and dedicated student as well as acquire expertise in craniofacial biology, which has afforded me additional opportunities in the craniofacial research community.

Alex, what are your plans upon graduation?

Alexandra Rogers-DeCotes

I am applying for the NIDCR Dental Clinical Research Fellowship. Following graduation, I hope to be at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, conducting research with some of the greatest scientific investigators in the world. I hope to continue studying the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and hope to contribute to treatments for TMJ disorders.

Thank you, Alex Rogers-DeCotes and Dr. Kern for your openness and support of the College of Dental Medicine D.M.D./Ph.D. program.


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