Texas A&M University has been selected as one of 10 degree-granting institutions to receive a $2.5 million Burroughs Wellcome Fund Physician-Scientist Institutional Award. The five-year grant will help establish an Academy of Physician Scientists, which will provide advanced, intensely mentored training for medical students and residents who are interested in pursuing a career in academic research focused on engineering.
“It’s designed to help catalyze innovative approaches to establishing effective pipelines for training and preparing physicians to enter productive academic research careers,” said David P. Huston, M.D., professor, associate dean and director of the Clinical Science and Translational Research Institute of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. Huston will be the principle investigator for the grant and director of the Academy of Physician Scientists.
The academy will complement Texas A&M’s recently launched EnMed program, which combines engineering and medicine into a discipline with the opportunity to simultaneously earn both an M.D. and an M.S. in engineering, as well as their MD Plus and MD/PhD graduate programs. But what sets it apart is that it is primarily for medical students and physician residents who didn’t necessarily set out aiming for a career in research.
“The real impetus behind this grant is the national recognition that most physicians, if they enter into an academic research career, they may not enter medical school thinking that’s what they want to do, but they get turned on to it in the course of their medical school training, or later on during their residency training,” Huston said. “Currently, there is no well-designed mechanism for those individuals to really get the mentored training and guidance and expertise to enable them to have the best chance at success. This is an effort to recognize that need, and it is designed to catalyze innovative strategies to increase the bandwidth of this pipeline of physician scientists.”
Huston said that the program is unique in that it is themed around engineering medicine.
“That is a broad scope,” Huston explained. “You can engineer medicine by engineering genes or cells or tissues or by developing diagnostic and therapeutic modalities, machines, imaging strategies—it really does cover the breadth of medicine.”
The grant begins September 1, 2019, and the university already is working to identify competitive candidates from diverse backgrounds to apply for the first class. Huston said the academy will take five medical students annually for a one-year opportunity of in-depth mentored research and training, which will take place between their third and fourth years of medical school. Five additional individuals will be selected each year for a two-year training and mentorship program during their clinical residencies.
“For medical students, it extends their training by one year, but they commit to immersing themselves to really explore the excitement of being a physician involved in creating new knowledge and improving health care,” Huston said.
Huston added that the program is designed to grow and expand with an ultimate goal of sustaining the academy and a pipeline of new academic researchers. He said the 10 institutions selected for these grants will be interacting as a network as they grow their curricula and learn how to best support their future researchers.
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which awarded the grant, is a private foundation that works to advance biomedical sciences by providing funding that supports research and education.
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