July 9, 1999

Clinical research training boosted by new NIH award

Clinical research training boosted by new NIH award

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is among the first group of institutions to receive a Clinical Research Curriculum Award (CRCA).

This new award, part of NIH efforts to improve funding for clinical research, will support the development and implementation of a curriculum for training clinical investigators.

"The hope is that a defined curriculum will improve the education and training of clinical investigators so that they will have successful careers in academic medicine, compete favorably for research funding, and make important contributions to the advancement of medical science," said Dr. Robert S. Dittus, Joe and Morris Werthan Professor of Investigative Medicine and program director for the CRCA.

Dr. Eric G. Neilson, Hugh Jackson Morgan Professor and Chair of Medicine, echoed these sentiments.

"Only great training produces useful clinical research – not training only as a physician, but also in the methodology of science. The skill sets for bedside research can be codified and are important to master if we are to realize useful data to strengthen clinical practice," Neilson said. "The NIH has funded these awards to help train the next generation of bedside research investigators. This is an important investment in the future of medicine."

The new program builds on courses that are part of the existing Master's in Public Health program and on courses in clinical investigation offered by the division of Clinical Pharmacology. The two areas of instruction will be consolidated in a program that includes a core curriculum with two specialty tracks, one leading to a Master's in Public Health (MPH) and the other to a new degree at Vanderbilt – a Master's in Clinical Investigation (MCI).

Wayne A. Ray, Ph.D., professor of Preventive Medicine, will continue to oversee the MPH program that he has directed since its inception. The program admitted ten students to its first class in 1996 and eight to its second class in 1998. The CRCA funding expands the MPH program to admit students each year. Ray is associate director for Clinical Epidemiology and Health Services Research Training for the program.

Dr. Nancy J. Brown, assistant professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, will serve as associate director for Patient-Oriented Research Training and will co-direct the MCI program with Dr. Thomas A. Hazinski, professor of Pediatrics.

The creation of a common core of courses for the two programs is a key feature of the proposal.

"We intend for there to be more common than different courses for the two tracks. The core courses will ensure that graduates earning both degrees have a shared understanding of important issues in study design and molecular medicine," Dittus said.

The core curriculum will include courses such as Study Designs in Clinical Research, Biostatistics, Clinical Epidemiology, Introduction to Molecular Medicine, Grant Writing and Communication Skills, and Research Ethics. In addition, lectures will be offered on topics related to academic success. But coursework only accounts for a portion of the program.

"The curriculum combines didactic and experiential learning. Participants will devote the majority of their time to research projects," Dittus said.

The two-year program is expected to attract typical fellows – physicians who have completed residency programs. Other eligible individuals include medical students, doctorally prepared nurses, and Ph.D.s interested in clinical research.

"I think the program will be appealing and beneficial for attracting fellows," Dittus said. "The potential annual number of Vanderbilt trainees is substantial – perhaps as high as 60."

The NIH review of Vanderbilt's proposal summarized it as an outstanding program – a model for the country. The application was strengthened by the existing clinical research environment and the faculty's track record in training clinical investigators.

"That Vanderbilt was awarded one of these Clinical Research Curriculum Awards reflects on the great depth and talent of clinical investigators available in our hospital, and on the superb organizational skills of Bob Dittus for pulling all of this together," Neilson said. "This is an exciting time to be in clinical research."

Dittus came to Vanderbilt in 1997 from Indiana University where he directed fellowship training programs funded by the NIH, the Health Resources Services Administration, and the Veterans Administration. He is a former Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar and holds an MPH degree in addition to his medical degree.