Richard Steinman, MD, PhD
This is a time of explosive growth in our knowledge of the science of health and disease. Students who pursue MD-PhD training have the rare opportunity to be buoyed by this tide of discovery and to engage in transformative research that is not only captivating on its own but can be linked to disease treatment or prevention. The goal of the MSTP program in Pittsburgh is to train the highest quality biomedical investigators. We seek to link students to the extraordinary breadth and depth of research and biomedical investigators at Carnegie Mellon and at the University of Pittsburgh and to identify the mentor match that can ignite their imaginations and fuel their progress. Our program is deliberately structured so that it is efficient, with a curriculum that is honed to build the skills necessary to become a successful physician-scientist. Because physician-scientists move between the clinical world and the laboratory, our program integrates clinical experiences and research during the training period.
The MSTP program in Pittsburgh includes a series of professional development courses to teach career skills. The 3 summer professional development courses begin prior to medical school and build skills in research presentation, scientific design, and grant writing. A majority of graduating students have been successful in competing for individual grants from NIH or other national agencies, a credential that bolsters their applications for positions after medical school.
MSTP students come together in an enrichment curriculum that includes a literature review and ethics classes, and in monthly workshops in which students of all years participate. Students also participate in multiple committees that help keep the MSTP functioning and shape its direction. These facets of the training program foster a rich social learning environment that allows students from different years to learn from each other. The MSTP is a multi-year commitment, and an important ingredient (along with hard work and active learning) is fun. At the same time, we recognize that these years of active learning and transitions between roles can engender stress or lapses in attention to one's needs. In the MSTP, we are deeply committed to student health and wellness and to ensuring an environment of open communication and resources to bolstering student well-being. One reason that we are proud of our students, in addition to their many research accomplishments, is that their active input has helped the MSTP in Pittsburgh to evolve into the coherent, supportive and comprehensive program that it is now.
We encourage students to immerse themselves in clinical medicine early and to sustain clinical skills during their PhD research. Before beginning formal graduate program training, MSTP students immerse themselves in an intense medical clerkship for 8 weeks. During graduate school, each student also participates for roughly ten months in a customized one-on-one medical clinical clerkship with a physician preceptor for one-half-day per week. This experience models the experience of physician-scientists and allows the student to better assess specialties that match their passion and their research proclivities. These early exposures to clinical medicine can help students’ career goals mature.
The structure of the program accelerates students’ progress toward graduation. By beginning research rotations prior to the start of medical school, MSTP students begin their graduate training at a more advanced level and with a clear thesis laboratory commitment. By undertaking clinical clerkships during graduate school, MSTP students earn medical school credits that enable additional elective choices upon returning to medical school or that facilitate early graduation. For students who choose to graduate from medical school a semester early, the MSTP helps to underwrite a unique research postdoctoral option for the months prior to residency training.
Pittsburgh is an ideal environment for MD-PhD training. The world-class biomedical resources of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, the pillars of the MSTP, are highly complementary, with a phenomenal collection of programs and investigators. Graduate programs welcome MSTP students both because of the long involvement of program leaders with the MSTP and because of the positive track record of our students. In Pittsburgh, there is a culture of collaboration between the clinical and research worlds, with many active efforts to bring discoveries and devices to the clinic. At the School of Medicine itself, research is valued as an integral part of the curriculum. The student body as a whole in Pittsburgh is research friendly given the participation of all MD students in scholarly research projects or other research training programs.
During their clinical years and future training, as students encounter patients who desperately need treatments that do not yet exist, the importance of biomedical research is searingly clear. By training thoroughly in a solid MSTP program, MD-PhD trainees acquire the tools to make innovative and significant contributions to health.
Richard A. Steinman, MD, PhD
Associate Dean and Director
Medical Scientist Training Program