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A New Chapter in Student Research

August 26, 2020
by Adrian Bonenberger

When John N. Forrest Jr., MD, professor of medicine, helped establish the Office of Student Research (OSR) in 1986, he hoped that it would transform how medical students approached their research at Yale School of Medicine. Nearly 40 years later, with the appointment of two associate deans to take over and expand on Forrest’s work, his hopes have been exceeded.

Erica Herzog, MD, PhD ’05, FW ’05, and Sarwat Chaudhry, MD, assumed their leadership roles with OSR on January 1, 2020. Both physicians have proven records as researchers and as active participants in the lives of Yale graduate students as well as the broader New Haven community, and are looking forward to building on Forrest’s impressive legacy.

“As long as I’ve been at Yale, my greatest professional pleasure has been mentoring students,” said Chaudhry by phone. “I look back on my career, and the mentors that I’ve had, with gratitude. When this opening came up to do what I love but at a much bigger scale, I jumped at the chance.”

Chaudhry is associate professor of medicine (general medicine) and co-director of the National Clinician Scholars Program. She completed her medical degree and residency at the University of Chicago, joining the Yale faculty after completing a fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program. She is an accomplished outcomes researcher and principal investigator for NIH-funded large-scale studies focused on augmenting the care and outcomes of hospitalized patients through improved risk prediction and care transitions. She serves as director of the Academic Hospitalist Program and founded YSM’s/YNHH’s Center for Healthcare Innovation, Redesign, and Learning. As a continuous recipient of NIH funding since 2005, she has published in Annals of Internal Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, and Journal of the American College of Cardiology. She has mentored numerous medical students, residents, fellows, and junior faculty, many of whom have led original investigations and garnered external funding.

Herzog, too, derives professional and personal satisfaction from giving back to YSM. “I’ve been involved with student and medical education at Yale for over a decade, mentoring students and trainees,” said Herzog. “This is how we ensure the next generation is afforded the same degree of authorship and autonomy over their careers as us. Science and medicine can be intimidating spaces, starting out, but everyone starts out with ideals and dreams. Protecting that space in a positive way guarantees that Yale’s distinct culture of scientific and intellectual collaboration will continue.”

Herzog is associate professor of medicine (pulmonary) in the Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, where she serves as the director of the Yale Interstitial Lung Disease Center of Excellence. She has overseen medical student research for the Department of Internal Medicine since 2012. She received her MD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center, she pursued a combined pulmonary fellowship and Investigative Medicine PhD at Yale School of Medicine. Her studies of innate immune mechanisms of pulmonary fibrosis have facilitated fundamental discoveries that are in various stages of clinical development. She has been a continuous recipient of NIH funding since 2005, has published in Science, Science Translational Medicine, Journal of Clinical Investigation, and Cell, and has mentored numerous individuals at all stages of training.

Student Research at YSM goes back to the school’s beginnings, and, indeed, the widespread adoption of the scientific method as a fundamental component of scientific discovery. For nearly 180 years, students graduating from YSM have had the unusual requirement to write and publish a thesis or dissertation. With time, OSR has expanded to include many other elements beyond the MD thesis, including first year summer research, the “fifth year,” and Student Research Day. OSR coordinates these opportunities, which, along with the Yale System and the prestige associated with the institution, make YSM such an attractive place to study medicine.

Forrest worked hard to bring OSR to its current level. “We have five NIH training grants. That’s the most of any medical school in the U.S.,” he said. But no accomplishment stood out to him more than the school’s investment in student research between their first and second year. “Before I started, Betsy Winters, then the associate dean of students, compiled a list, and medical students were supported with $1,000 between their first and second year. I thought that medical students deserved a stipend each time they did two to three months of biomedical research, and the value of the stipend has been adjusted upward over the years.”

Student Research Day has also grown under Forrest. Begun in 1991, the annual event has given students a chance to experience preparing a public presentation of their advances and inquiries to peers—part of what makes YSM students into physician leaders. Herzog and Chaudhry are looking forward to continuing and improving the event, and using their complementary knowledge sets to expand its scope.

“Two people coming in to do my job is very significant,” Forrest said with a laugh, alluding to the ambitious workload he’d set out for himself. “Dr. Herzog and Dr. Chaudhry are impressive physicians and mentors. I’m confident that they’ll continue the proud tradition of empowering medical students in ways I can’t even imagine.”

Forrest will be honored at Student Research Day in May 2021. In addition, his family, friends, and colleagues are creating a fund in his name to recognize and reward exceptional mentoring by faculty in the areas of student research and completion of the thesis. Anyone interested in supporting the John Nevins Forrest MD Endowed Fund for Mentorship in Student Research may contact Michael Fitzsousa in the YSM Office of Development at michael.fitzsousa@yale.edu.

Submitted by Abigail Roth on August 26, 2020