Among the 68 students presenting posters at Student Research Day in May were three who spent the past year doing research under seemingly ideal conditions. They each received a $20,000 stipend and a travel budget, worked under the tutelage of expert mentors and pursued research that excited them.
“I am basically learning how to do research,” said Sharon K. Gill, who studied patients with coronary artery disease a year after their hospitalizations in a project designed to improve clinical decision making. “If I want to look into a question I am passionate about, I think I have the tools to do it.”
She was one of seven students at Yale during the last academic year supported by the Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship Program for Medical Students. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) started the national program in the fall of 2001, and Yale has been one of 10 participating universities since last year. The yearlong program starts in July with three classroom courses—“Principles of Clinical Reasoning,” “Introduction to Biostatistics” and “Practical and Ethical Issues in Clinical Investigation”—before students embark on their own research projects. According to John N. Forrest Jr., M.D. ’67, HS ’71, director of student research, there must be a clinical element to the project and involvement with a patient. “Someone in the research group touches the patient,” he said. “It can’t be a mouse model of diabetes.”
Students describe their research goals in presentations at the beginning of the program and discuss their results at the end. They also attend three dinners with faculty who describe both personal and professional aspects of life as a physician-scientist. Encouraging medical students to pursue careers as physician-scientists is the primary goal of the fellowship. Students from any medical school may apply to study at any of the 10 participating schools. During the past two years two students at Yale have gone elsewhere for research and three students have come to Yale.
Presenting at Student Research Day this year was Paul M. Weinberger, from the Medical College of Georgia, who worked with Amanda Psyrri, M.D., FW ’02, assistant professor of medicine (medical oncology).
“We are both interested in new molecular therapeutics for cancer and why some people with cancer die and others don’t,” Weinberger said. “You look at stage 4 patients, and there are some who 20 years later have no cancer and they are still alive. Some stage 1 patients are dead a year later. We have no idea why.”
Brian V. Nahed spent his year using a novel approach to identify the genetic basis of intracranial aneurysms. “This is a perfect opportunity to contribute to the field I wish to pursue—academic neurosurgery,” said Nahed.
Echoing the importance of training a new generation of physician-scientists was the keynote speaker at Student Research Day, Story C. Landis, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “We will only be able to take advantage of the opportunities that exist if there are physicians, physician-scientists and scientists who are able to move the field forward,” she said. “We don’t know what we need to know. Who would have guessed that much of our understanding of the biochemistry of cell death came out of studies of C. elegans? Who would have guessed that research funding for coronavirus for 15 years … turned out to be absolutely critical when the SARS epidemic started in China?”