July 25, 2003

Mentored scholars program promotes clinical research

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Mentored scholars program promotes clinical research

The Vanderbilt Mentored Clinical Research Scholars (VCRS) program, designed to lend intellectual and financial support to aspiring clinical investigators, has just selected its second group of scholars. The addition of the three clinical fellows brings the total number of trainees in the program — each specializing in a different area of medicine — to six.

The VCRS program is one of 11 such efforts in this country funded by the National Institutes of Health, and is under the direction of Dr. Nancy J. Brown, associate professor of Medicine and Pharmacology. Brown considers federal support of this type of program astute.

“Over the last several years the NIH has recognized that while we are making exciting discoveries in terms of molecular medicine, we had lost sight of training people in how to translate those discoveries into the clinic,” she said. “This program is specifically focused on training clinical investigators.”

The VCRS provides fellowship level trainees committed to a career in clinical investigation with a mentored research apprenticeship integrated with didactic training in either the Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) or Master of Public Health (MPH) program. The MSCI program is co-directed by Brown and Dr. Thomas A. Hazinski, professor of Pediatrics; Dr. Wayne A. Ray, professor of Preventive Medicine, directs the MPH program.

The third component of the VCRS emphasizes career development and mentoring activities, including formal evaluative guidance from a mentoring committee, monthly career development seminars, an annual Visiting Scholars Program, and an annual retreat where research is presented by both trainees and mentors.

Dr. Gordon Williams, director of the Scholars in Clinical Science Program at Harvard University School of Medicine, was the invited scholar and lecturer for this year’s 4th Annual Visiting Scholars Program, held last week. Williams met with trainees from the VCRS and VPSD programs, and other students enrolled in the MSCI and MPH degree programs, in small group discussions throughout the day. A dinner and keynote address by Williams capped off the daylong event.

Candidates must hold a clinical doctorate level degree (M.D., D.O, or DDS/DMD). The program provides two to three years of salary support for the trainee, 5 percent salary support for the trainee’s mentor, tuition for the MSCI or MPH program, plus additional funding for research supplies and travel.

The core of the VCRS program is the individualized mentored research experience. All Vanderbilt University Medical Center faculty members holding the rank of associate professor or above are eligible to mentor VCRS candidates.

There are no restrictions on the departmental affiliation of either the applicant or the mentor, and trans-departmental mentoring relationships are strongly encouraged.

The VCRS program complements the other medical center program established to support clinical investigators — the Vanderbilt Physician Scientist Development Program (VPSD) — but is distinct in a number of ways.“The VPSD supports people who are already on the faculty and provides bridge money while they are working to achieve independence,” said Brown.

“The VCRS captures people during their fellowships. They can become faculty members during the time they are in the program, but it captures them at an earlier stage and gives them the equivalent of a K23 NIH (individual career development) award.”

Another distinction is that the scholars program focuses specifically on clinical investigation, while the VPSD covers a broad range of research efforts, from basic to clinical.

The VCRS was a natural extension of the MSCI and MPH degree programs, said Brown.

“Curriculum development was funded by NIH through a K30 award under the direction of Dr. Robert S. Dittus, Joe and Morris Werthan Professor of Investigative Medicine. However, that award did not cover salary support or tuition,” she said.

“While we have enjoyed tremendous institutional support for those programs, the VCRS has enhanced our ability to train clinical investigators.”

Listed below are the first year awardees poised to enter the program this fall and those scholars entering their second year in the program, along with their mentor (or co-mentors) and department of research specialization.

1st Year : Edith Simmons, mentored by Matthew Breyer, M.D and Alp Ikizler, M.D., Department of Nephrology; Hedi Smith, mentored by Marshall Summar, M.D., Department of Pediatric Genetics; Kecia Carroll, mentored by Gerald Hickson, M.D. Department of General Pediatrics

2nd Year: Todd Hulgan, mentored by David Haas, M.D. and Wayne Ray, M.D., Department of Infectious Disease; Satish Raj, mentored by David Robertson, M.D., Department of Clinical Pharmacology; Natasha Halasa, mentored by Kathryn Edwards, M.D., Department of Pediatric Infectious Disease