YOUR M.D. nurtures future physician-scientists

Physician-Scientist Experience offers immersive research experience

Tameka SmithJuly 13, 2017

Tameka Smith was undecided. Should she pursue a Ph.D. or an M.D.?

As a University of Puget Sound undergraduate, Smith had majored in biology. Her thesis was on predatory bacteria, where she discovered an interest in immunology. After graduating, she decided to explore a research career. She moved to Portland and worked as a research assistant in the lab of Ann Hill, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, OHSU School of Medicine.

It was a good experience, Smith says, improving her understanding of bench science. Ultimately, though, she realized she wanted to make a more direct impact on human health.

So M.D., it was.

Luckily, Smith – now a fourth-year M.D. student – is in OHSU's YOUR M.D. program, where the curriculum flexes to fit students' interests. For research-focused students like Smith, the curriculum offers the Physician-Scientist Experience, which provides introductory research training for medical students interested in clinical and translational science.

The experience – with a five-month or one-year option – carves out dedicated, immersive time for students to independently design and complete a research project under the mentorship of a faculty member. Students also participate in a twice-monthly seminar featuring journal clubs and physician-scientist presentations.

Smith says she was excited to do research for YOUR M.D.'s capstone scholarly project, but she wanted more time to immerse herself in a question. With the five-month research option, she says, "I had more focused, consecutive time for the project."

From February to July last year, Smith worked with the Multnomah County Health Department, investigating commonalities among Portland women infected with syphilis. She is conducting a statistical analysis on the case data, she says, and hopes to publish her results in a scholarly journal later this year.

That deeper research dive is the hallmark of the Physician-Scientist Experience, explains Peter Mayinger, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and director of YOUR M.D.'s Physician-Scientist Experience.

Chace MoletaThe experience is important because "physician-scientists play the critical role of bringing knowledge from the patient bedside back to the lab bench," said Dr. Mayinger. "Ultimately, we need to be creating more physician-scientists in the United States."

Smith says the experience gave her valuable experience in public health-oriented clinical research, providing a competitive edge as she begins applying to residency programs. Wherever she ends up, Smith says she wants research to be part of her career.

Third-year M.D. student Mara Rosenberg is beginning the one-year research option this month. She recently obtained a prestigious American Society of Hematology Career Development Award to help support her work. One project, she explains, will be assessing minimal residual disease in acute myeloid leukemia by comparing the genomic mutation profile pre- and post- induction therapy.

"And, if the data supports it, we will correlate these changes with clinical features and outcome," she said. "Additionally, we will compare the estimated minimal residual disease identified through next generation sequencing technology with that which is found via flow cytometry."

Students in the one-year research option are enrolled in the school's Human Investigations Program, providing opportunity to obtain a master's degree in clinical research.

Fourth-year M.D. student Chace Moleta spent five months last year in the lab of Michael Chiang, M.D., professor ophthalmology, OHSU School of Medicine, working on retinopathy of prematurity in preterm infants. Moleta went on to co-author three studies, including lead authorship of the study "Plus Disease in Retinopathy of Prematurity: Improving Diagnosis by Ranking Disease Severity and Using Quantitative Image Analysis," which appeared in the journal Ophthalmology last fall.

Moleta says he's grateful for the immersion experience. "I knew I wanted a career that had some research component, but this experience solidified it for me," he said.


Pictured top: Tameka Smith; bottom: Chace Moleta