January 30, 1998

Research opportunities expand for VUSM students

Research opportunities expand for VUSM students

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Third-year medical student John Stafford may soon have more company in the lab, thanks to a new VUSM program to boost research. Photo by Donna Jones Bailey.

Students at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who want to devote more time to research without having to spend three to four years obtaining a MD/Ph.D. degree, now have another option.

Beginning in July, the VUSM will offer a one-year Medical Scholars Program, available for Vanderbilt medical students who have completed the required first-year Introduction to Biomedical Research class and who want to pursue a particular area of research.

Vanderbilt is one of the few medical schools in the country to require first-year students to have a course in research. The course is under the direction of Dr. Alan D. Cherrington, Charles H. Best Professor of Diabetic Research.

The course often sparks an interest in a career in research, a spark that is sometimes extinguished as students get more involved in the required clinical load after the second year.

³For some students, the IBR course is really a teaser. This program allows them to have a full plate,² said Dr. Jason D. Morrow, associate professor of Medicine and Pharmacology and director of the program.

The program also gives students the chance to dig a little deeper into a specific field of research, said Dr. Gerald S. Gotterer, associate dean of the School of Medicine.

³This new program allows the student who is not particularly interested in getting an advanced degree the opportunity to devote a significant amount of time to pursuing an interest in research. I think this is a logical extension of our first-year course, in which all medical students are expected to participate in a research project of some type.

³Many of these students are stimulated to have a more extensive experience in research,² he said. ³This program will provide them that opportunity.²

As many as five applicants will be selected for the upcoming year. A year will be added to the traditional four-year medical school curriculum, allowing them to concentrate on the program without competition from their normal studies. The students are expected to have completed either their second or third year of medical school, but may apply after their first year. They should be interested in biomedical research but not in the MD/Ph.D. program. The selected students will receive a stipend for living expenses for the year. The application deadline is March 1 and students will be chosen by April 1, Morrow said.

The students will work under the direction of a faculty mentor who has a well-defined research program. More than 200 faculty members have been identified as potential advisors.

The students should select an area of particular interest, identify a mentor, and develop the project. After completing the program, each student will prepare an oral and written summary of the work for the Medical Scholars Research Committee.

Allowing medical students to pursue research is not without precedent at VUSM. Until several years ago, up to two students each year had been part of an informal research program sponsored by the American Heart Association. And summer research opportunities have been available. Gotterer said the new program, funded by the medical school, is an extension of Vanderbilt¹s philosophy of nurturing medical students in all aspects of their studies.

³We want to encourage them to pursue their individual interests in depth and with rigor,² Gotterer said.

Dr. John A. Oates, Thomas F. Frist Professor of Medicine, chairs the advisory committee for the program. He said he hopes the program will encourage students to pursue a career not only in academic medicine, but in research as well.

³They¹ll be given a chance to explore this as a career opportunity so they will have exposure to a vast array of fields of medicine. This is only one of them, but only if they¹ve had an exposure during this phase of their education will they see this as an opportunity. Vanderbilt¹s overall goal is to train individuals who are leaders in whatever field of medicine they¹re in. This is a step to prepare those students.²

Gotterer said that the exposure to research is necessary in forming a good physician.

³We hope these students will be attracted to careers in academic medicine, particularly research careers,² he said. ³But there is an equally strong goal that all medical students, whether they¹re in research or not, should have a research experience in their background so they can critically look at new information they will be confronted with during their medical careers.²

Oates said the program will also serve VUSM well as a means of recruiting top-notch students to the school.

³This will be viewed as an integral part of the medical school,² he said. ³Students who are considering Vanderbilt will know about this defined opportunity.²

Vanderbilt residents are also offered a clinical investigator tract in their training. The normal three-year residency can be modified to two years of residency and two years of research for this tract.