The life of an academic physician is demanding. Clinical, research and teaching responsibilities rule the day and family activities often fill the night.
Between all these activities, some physicians—including obstetrician- gynecologist Emily DeFranco, DO—manage to squeeze in time for master’s level classes in clinical and translational research.
It’s a lot, but she says it’s doable in a supportive academic department and with a solid dose of organization. DeFranco says having a better understanding of evidence-based medical research was a must for her to feel that she had fully extended her potential as a clinician and a scientist.
So when she began interviewing for her first faculty appointment, it wasn’t hard to choose UC.
“I practiced with Dr. Art Evans at the University of Kentucky. When I realized there was an opportunity for me to join his team while also pursuing a master’s in clinical and translational research, it cinched the deal,” she recalls.
DeFranco, who joined UC in July 2008, specializes in caring for women with high-risk pregnancies at University Hospital. She is fellowship-trained in maternal fetal medicine and has a strong interest in research related to the causes and complications of pre-term labor.
That interest in clinical research blossomed during her fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Many of my mentors were trained in epidemiology and biostatistics. I was in awe of the tools they had at their disposal because it allowed them to be truly independent researchers,” DeFranco says.
“That was something I quickly sought to emulate, but I also recognized my deficiencies. My base knowledge is sound, but I have a lot to learn when it comes to advanced analytic methods and complex study designs.”
Formally developed in 2004, the master’s in clinical and translational research builds on existing courses offered through the division of epidemiology and biostatistics and includes four specialty areas or tracks led by experts in the College of Pharmacy, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the College of Medicine’s departments of environmental health, internal medicine and pediatrics.
It was approved by the UC Board of Trustees in September 2008 and is currently under review by the Ohio Board of Regents.
The 48 credit hour master’s program can be completed on a parttime basis in two years and currently has 41 students enrolled: 39 physicians and two pharmacists.
It is offered through UC’s environmental health department and is one of only three master’s level courses of this kind in Ohio.
The American Association of Medical Colleges says there is an urgent need for medical schools and teaching hospitals to create new models for clinical research training and provide a nurturing environment in which the next generation of physician-scientists can conduct high-quality research.
“For the past 20 years, the medical community has become increasingly concerned about the reluctance for young physicians to seek additional training and pursue clinical research,” says Erin Haynes, DrPH, an epidemiologist with UC’s environmental health department and the program’s director.
“We have fewer physicians pursuing careers in clinical research and an unacceptably high attrition rate for accomplished clinical investigators currently practicing.”
Haynes says the UC master’s program was designed to give students in-depth training in epidemiology, study design, biostatistics, ethical issues and many other areas related to helping physicianscientists master the challenges of clinical research in the next decade.
“Our master’s program fills a void in training that physicians are asking for—and need—to be effective clinical investigators who make smart decisions when conducting clinical research,” adds Joel Tsevat, MD, professor of medicine and director of outcomes research for the internal medicine department.
“Emily is unique in being able to do the program while being a fulltime clinician,” he adds. “More typically, our students have most of their time carved out for classes and research.”
Under Tsevat’s leadership, UC applied for a K30 clinical research curriculum award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In August 2005, UC received a $1.5 million NIH grant that enabled it to add the necessary coursework to complete the master’s level curriculum. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals interested in pursuing evidencebased clinical research are eligible to apply to the master’s program.
The ultimate goal, Haynes and Tsevat say, is to enable clinicians to become independent investigators. That means being fully versed in clinical epidemiology, clinical effectiveness, biostatistics, molecular epidemiology and clinical trials.
Graduates of the program should be able to develop research hypotheses, specific criteria and methodology for conducting patient-oriented research and understand how to apply contemporary research tools to these clinically relevant areas of investigation.
The UC curriculum includes a combination of instructional coursework, seminars and individual mentoring sessions designed to foster both analytic and the quantitative skills necessary for conducting research. Graduate students must also complete a thesis based upon their own independent clinical, laboratory or field research.
“What I love about this program is that it is designed to respect the time constraints of full-time clinicians,” says DeFranco. “I’m able to pursue my scientific endeavors and education without compromising my clinical or family obligations.”