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Three decades at the helm, and a legacy

Venerable director of Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. program makes a $1 million gift

Photo by Harold Shapiro
Frequent voyages on Long Island Sound and beyond on his beloved Cape Dory sailboat CYLAN II provide a frequent respite for James Jamieson, who has overseen the medical school’s M.D./Ph.D. program for nearly thirty years. A recent donation from Jamieson will provide the program with a much-needed fund to provide scholarships to Yale’s future physician–scientists.

Launched in 1969 and continuously supported by competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1973, the School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)—known informally on campus as the M.D./Ph.D. Program—is one of the oldest and most successful of its kind. And for 29 years of the last four decades, Professor of Cell Biology James D. Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D., has been the program’s director.

“I believe I have the distinction of being the oldest living M.D./Ph.D. program director in the world,” says Jamieson, who recently added to this legacy of leadership a $1 million gift to fund scholarships for Yale M.D./Ph.D. students and to help support programmatic activities.

Unlike many of its counterparts at the School of Medicine’s peer institutions, until recently Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. program hasn’t enjoyed the benefits of a substantial privately funded endowment. That situation began to change in 2006, when an anonymous donor bequeathed $2 million of his estate to sustain and expand the program. Jamieson has enhanced this foundation with his new donation, which establishes the James D. Jamieson and Family M.D./Ph.D. Scholarship Fund. Jamieson’s gift comes at a time when Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., hopes to increase the program’s yearly enrollment from about 12 students to 20, a number that is comparable to that seen at other major medical schools.

The aim of Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. Program, one of 40 nationwide funded by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), is to prepare students for careers as physician–scientists and academic leaders, and Jamieson points out that in a recent survey of the 235 people it has graduated since 1973, Yale’s reputation as one of the nation’s premier M.D./Ph.D. programs is borne out by the numbers.

“In preparing for our eighth five-year competitive renewal with the NIGMS, we contacted 222 of the 235 graduates. Twenty-seven percent are professors and 15 percent are chairs in an academic setting. About 83 percent of those in clinical departments hold research grants, as do 96 percent of those with appointments in basic science departments,” recounts Jamieson, adding that graduates of the program have published over 8,000 research papers.

“The bottom line,” says Jamieson, “is that this says success.”

Students who enter the program come from esteemed undergraduate institutions, and “have their pick” of residencies when they finish, says Jamieson, and while at Yale, they are able to flourish in a research environment that boasts 16 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators and the highest amount of NIH grant funding per faculty member in the nation.

But in addition to the direct advantages for students enrolled in the program, Jamieson argues that the presence of a high-quality M.D./Ph.D. program “raises the bar” for Yale medical students as a whole, providing them with a richer educational experience. As examples, he cites an upper-level course on the cellular and molecular basis of disease taught by eminent scientists. Originally created for M.D./Ph.D. students, this course now draws an equal number of M.D. students with an interest in basic research.

As a young bench scientist working with the legendary cell biologist and Nobel laureate George E. Palade, M.D., at the Rockefeller University and at Yale, Jamieson conducted influential research of his own on secretory cells of the pancreas that laid the foundation for understanding the function of the Golgi complex, the central processing and sorting organelle for the secretory pathway in all cells.

When not teaching or helping to shepherd Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. students through the demands of classes, research, and clinical rotations, Jamieson, a native of British Columbia, can be found aboard his 25-foot sailboat, CYLAN II—the name is an acronym coined by his then 5-year-old daughter Anne in honor of Cynthia (Jamieson’s wife), Laura (Anne’s younger sister), and Anne herself.

Alpern says that the Jamieson and Family M.D./Ph.D. Scholarship Fund is just the latest in a very long line of contributions that Jamieson has made to the School of Medicine. “Jim is a treasure of Yale who has been an invaluable part of the life of the medical school over the years as a researcher, course director, departmental chair, M.D./Ph.D. program director—and now, philanthropist.”