Training tomorrow's physician-scientists

May 27, 2015

Barbara Kazmierczak and James Jamieson

After leading the School of Medicine’s MD/PhD program for more than 30 years, James Jamieson (right) has passed the torch to Barbara Kazmierczak. Jamieson will stay on as a special advisor to the program. Credit: Terry Dagradi.

Dean Robert Alpern: 333 Cedar Street

333 Cedar Street is a letter from Dean Robert J. Alpern, MD, Ensign Professor of Medicine, on topics of interest to the Yale School of Medicine community. Write to Dean Alpern at

A continuing NIH grant and newly expanded class size are just two reasons to celebrate Yale’s MD/PhD program.

One of the jewels of Yale School of Medicine is its MD/PhD program. Since its inception in 1969, the MD/PhD program has graduated more than 300 students. As of now, a little over half, or 160 program alumni, hold academic appointments in clinical or basic science departments at universities and academic health centers. Of these, nearly 50 are full professors and 12 are department chairs. Between 1992 and 2013, 178 graduates published 2,290 papers, many in such prestigious journals as PNAS, Nature, and Cell.

The program owes its success in large part to the energy and enthusiasm of James D. Jamieson, MD, PhD, professor of cell biology and program director for more than 30 years. In July 2014, “Dr. J.,” as he is affectionately known by the students, took on the role of special advisor, and Barbara I. Kazmierczak, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and microbial pathogenesis, became the program’s new director. Barbara received her MD/PhD in the Cornell-Rockefeller program, and, following in Jim’s footsteps, will continue to guide students through research projects that promote the understanding and treatment of human disease. One of the great strengths of our MD/PhD program lies in the excellence of our faculty, their research and their commitment to training graduate students in their laboratories. Because our MD/PhD students are so outstanding, faculty value the opportunity to have them join their laboratories.

Based on the success of the MD/PhD program, we have gradually increased its size from 10 to 12 students per year to a class of 20 students in the past year. In addition to accepting students directly into the program, a number of our medical students apply each year to transfer into the MD/PhD program. We also recently learned that the National Institutes of Health will renew our Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) grant, a major source of support for Yale’s MD/PhD program. Given the tight NIH budget, we were very pleased to learn that the NIH would increase the number of funded student slots by three.

The MD/PhD program is committed to increasing diversity in the biomedical research workforce. This summer, the program is initiating a research-intensive summer training program for undergraduate minority students who plan to pursue a PhD in the biomedical sciences. During this nine-week residency, students will be matched with the laboratory of a research mentor, who will provide supervision and instruction on a research project. In addition, we have established a collaboration with the medical school at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus (UPR-MSC) whereby students will do their medical training at UPR-MSC and their research training at Yale.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of congratulating each of the 15 MD/PhD students who received their degrees at Commencement. I know they will go on, as have many graduates before them, to teach science and scientific reasoning to the next generation of physicians. Here at Yale we are extremely proud of our MD/PhD program, of its traditions and past accomplishments, its reputation, and, most importantly, of its students, the next generation of physician-scientists.