Medical School

Graduation with Honors

The Medical College of Wisconsin offers opportunities for students to graduate with an Honors distinction in specific areas, consistent with components of the MCW institutional mission.

Graduation with Honors

The Medical College of Wisconsin offers opportunities for students to graduate with an Honors distinction in specific areas, consistent with components of the MCW institutional mission.  These include:

  • MD with Honors in Research
  • MD with Honors in Community Engagement

Context: MCW’s Scholarly Pathways and summer research programs provide structure and support for students to excel and pursue an area of scholarship with the guidance of a mentor.  Thus, the general expectations for scholarly achievement at MCW are high.

Purpose of the Honors Programs: To recognize and support students who demonstrate exceptional commitment and performance in a selected area that goes above and beyond general the expectations for medical school graduation. 

Distinctions are not pathway-specific; i.e. it is possible for students to achieve an Honors distinction regardless of pathway if requirements are met.  However, certain pathways may be more closely associated with a distinction area, as requirements are supported by structured pathway activities.

Specific requirements for Honors distinctions vary.  Common requirements include:

  • Achievement of prerequisites for the Honors Program, including: 1) good academic standing; 2) outstanding performance history relevant to the distinction area during the first three semesters of medical school (e.g. “over and above” expectations); 3) progress toward completion of the MCW scholarly project requirement, including (at minimum) and approved Scholarly Project Proposal.
  • An Honors application, approved by the Honors Committee, which includes: 1) a plan for continued educational enrichment in the area, 2) a proposal for an Honors project which extends beyond the required scholarly project; 3) a mentor/sponsor letter of support which includes activities already completed and a commitment to continued support;
  • Evidence of sustained commitment to the area as demonstrated by extended time involvement and effort in the area, including a commitment to dedicate time during the third year (pathway and/or an elective) to the area.
  • An end product that is reviewed and approved by the Honors Committee. This could be a thesis or project report or other “body of work,” as specified by each individual Honors area, but must exceed the expectations for the general scholarly project requirement. Publication in a peer-reviewed forum is encouraged.   Characteristics of projects that will be considered in awarding an Honors designation at graduation include Originality (student has a lead role), Quantity (substantive, significant commitment of time and intellect), Quality (Valid, appropriate), Relevance to medicine, and Impact. 

Participation in an Honors Program does not guarantee an Honors Distinction at graduation.  Students may not participate in more than one Honors Program.

Honors in Research

The Honors in Research Program is an optional research training opportunity that enables medical students to extend their summer research training experience throughout their educational program with the goal of 1) exploring additional aspects of their project that potentially may generate new data or add knowledge to their investigation, and 2) further enhancing the student’s overall research exposure. Students will be recognized at graduation with the MD with Honors in Research on their diploma, and with Honors in Research on their transcript, pending the satisfactory completion of the Honors requirements.

Who is eligible?

The Honors option is open to MCW medical students who participated in the formal Medical Student Summer Research Training Program for 8 -12 weeks, supervised by MCW faculty investigators. Students participating in research programs away from MCW or outside of the summer research program are not eligible to apply.

What are the requirements?

Students must:

  1. Complete a total of 16 weeks of *mentored research training on one project, including the weeks spent during the summer research program, and
  2. 2) submit an approved research thesis by November 1 of the M4 year.

The Honors project must be an extension of or very closely related to the original summer research project. Time spent writing the thesis does not count toward the 16 week requirement. Additionally, Honors candidates must maintain a satisfactory academic record throughout the medical education program. * The mentor must be a full-time MCW faculty member and must provide a letter of support for the applicant at the time of application and a letter verifying the completion of the training at the time the Honors thesis is submitted (see additional information below).

When can I complete the additional lab time?

Approved honors candidates who complete 12 weeks of research during the summer may complete the additional training time by taking a 4-week graded research elective during the M3 year or in the months of July or August of the M4 year. For students completing only 8 or 10 weeks of training during the summer, the additional 6 or 8 weeks of required lab time may be completed in a combination of a 4-week elective, as described above, plus noncore Pathway time and personal time. The student must provide a plan for completing the time. The Honors application must be approved prior to beginning the additional time in order for it to “count” toward the 16 week requirement.

The learning activities are determined by the research preceptor and the student. The preceptor completes the standard third-year evaluation currently used for graded electives. Students are graded on the standard five-point grading scale.

What are the application requirements?

The Honors application must include the following information:

 For the original project:

  • Explain the background and scientific significance of the original project.
  • State the hypothesis and original specific aims.
  • Briefly explain how they were achieved (methods).
  • Briefly describe the results of the original project.
  • Briefly describe your role on the research project.
  • How many weeks have been completed (summer)
  • Did you publish or present this work?

For the Honors project:

  • Explain the background and scientific significance of the Honors project.
  • State the new hypothesis and the new specific aims.
  • Discuss how the Honors project extends or enhances the original project.
  • Briefly describe the anticipated methods.
  • Briefly explain your role on the extended project.
  • Do you anticipate publishing or presenting as a result of the extended research?
  • Explain how/when the additional training time will be fulfilled (e.g. research elective, pathways time, on nights/weekends with specifics).

From the Faculty Preceptor:

The Honors application must be accompanied by a letter of support from the research preceptor confirming the number of weeks of actual research the student completed during the summer and an assessment of the potential success of the future research time. The proposed interactions between student and preceptor also should be described.

Both the initial summer project and the subsequent research elective need to be reviewed and approved before the actual research is performed. No research completed after the summer project period will count for the Honors program unless the Honors application has already been approved. The approval for the additional four-week Honors elective research block will be reviewed and approved by a member of the Honors committee with the submission of the Honors application. Completion of work not previously approved will not be considered in compliance with this policy.

The submission of a thesis encompassing the entire 16 weeks of research is required by November 1 of the M4 year. The actual writing of the thesis is not considered to be a part of the 16 weeks of research time. The thesis will be reviewed by the Honors Committee and must be approved by February 15 of the M4 year in order for the MD with Research Distinction to be awarded at graduation and noted on the diploma and transcript.

Students interested in pursuing the Honors in Research Program may apply as soon as the summer research period is completed using the Honors in Research Application.

Preceptors must provide a letter of support demonstrating their willingness to mentor and monitor their Honors applicant throughout the added training and thesis writing process. The letter should also clearly indicate the student’s and preceptor’s roles in the project, as well as how the student will be involved in the overall research environment.

Research Program Apply

Honors in Community Engagement


The purpose of this program is two-fold:

  1. Encourage, support and recognize medical students who work extensively with medically underserved, marginalized and vulnerable populations during their medical school careers.
    1. MCW is committed to improving health through community engagement. Many students participate in service learning and volunteer service through Scholarly Pathways and their student organizations. The purpose of this Honors distinction is to support and recognize sustained commitment, excellence and impact over and beyond usual expectations.
  2. Improve community health and reduce health disparities, with an emphasis on health priorities outlined in the Healthy People 2020 and Healthiest Wisconsin 2020 health plans, through the development, implementation and evaluation of evidence-based population oriented health interventions.
    1. Students distinguish themselves by assuming significant responsibility in the collaborative planning, implementation, evaluation and dissemination of a focused, sustainable community health initiative.

Program Eligibility

Students submit their Honors in Community Engagement proposal prior to starting work on their honors thesis project. Criteria for consideration include:

  1. Academic Standing: Student must be in good academic standing to participate in the Honors in Community Engagement (HCE) program
  2. Prior to Application: Student must demonstrate a sustained commitment to community engagement, service and leadership during the first 3 semesters of medical school, exceeding minimum expectations, and including both:
    • Preparation/ Formal Coursework (e.g. outstanding performance in Urban and Community Health (UCH) or Global Health (GH) pathway, or approved alternative)
    • Community-engagement through service learning activities (e.g. through pathways and/or summer experiences) beyond the minimum course requirement, and that results in a measureable product (e.g. new partnership, pilot data, community impact). To be eligible for the HCE program, the student must provide evidence of progress toward a completion of a relevant scholarly project that will meet MCW graduation requirements, including (at minimum) a submitted and approved Scholarly Project Proposal.
  3. Application Requirements
    • Personal Statement: Outlining accomplishments to-date, personal goals and commitment to community-engaged scholarship. Accomplishments must include submission and approval of a scholarly project proposal that will meet graduation requirements, distinct from the Honors Proposal project. Progress toward completion of that project (e.g. pilot data, summer research) and anticipated or actual results must be included in the application.
    • Community-Engaged Honors Project Proposal: Consistent with the Scholarly Project Proposal format, including background and significance of work, clear goals, appropriate methods, anticipated results and planned presentation format(s). In addition, the project must include a plan for involving the community throughout the process. The project must be guided by principles of community-engaged scholarship (See Table). This Honors project may build upon the required scholarly project, but must extend the work beyond that of the required scholarly project.
    • Learning/ Mentorship Plan: In addition, the student must provide an Individual Learning Plan that includes a commitment to dedicate time during and/or beyond the third year to relevant educational activities, leadership and community service activities. The plan should include:
      • Formal Coursework/educational enrichment activities – may include:
        • Sustained commitment to the UCH or GH pathway (e.g. all 3 years); and/or
        • Enrollment in an M3 or M4 Honors elective
      • Service Learning: can include community-engaged research or community health initiative, but must be supervised by an MCW faculty mentor and community partner.
      • Community service: volunteer service (e.g. through student organizations.) is encouraged, but is insufficient without evidence of meaningful community engagement and scholarship.
    • Letters of support from Faculty Mentor and Community Partner: Outlining support for the project and willingness to support the student through the project completion, and attestation that 1) the student has made significant accomplishments to-date consistent with the HCE goals; 2) the student is taking a primary lead role on the project in collaboration with the community partner, and 3) the project adheres to community-engaged scholarship principles. See: Community Academic Partnership Model (PDF)


  4. Approval of the Honors in Community Engagement Application: Applications to the HCE program will be reviewed by the Honors Committee. Students whose applications are not approved may have the opportunity to revise and resubmit their application once for reconsideration based upon the committee’s recommendations.
  5. Successful Completion of the Honors in Community Engagement to be Awarded at Graduation
    • Evidence of commitment to the area of distinction as demonstrated by extended time involvement and effort in the area consistent with the plan outlined in the approved Application.
    • An Honor’s Thesis that is reviewed and approved by the Honors committee. The thesis must demonstrate:
      • Adherence to Principles of Community Engagement
      • Originality – All work must be original and have been produced since the start of medical school.
      • Evidence of leadership, innovation, creativity – the student must have a primary lead role
      • Quantity – The body of work should be substantive and represent a significant commitment of time and intellectual energy.
      • Evidence of sustained impact – The product developed must be sustainable or have meaningful impact beyond the presentation.
      • Quality - High quality/scientific rigor as determined by a committee with expertise in the area of study.
      • Contribution to the pathway or institutional engagement activities – e.g. new partnership, service learning opportunities, educational product that will be sustained upon the students’ graduation
    • Community Partner evaluation and recommendation must provide testimony that student contributed to health of clients, responded to community-identified need, and demonstrated dedication and respect for community.


Download the Honors in Community Engagement Application