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Students 'Go the Distance' in New MD/PhD Program
Published January 2009
A test of endurance—"like a marathon”—is how Jennifer O’Malley describes UC’s Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP).
The seventh-year MD/PhD student is wrapping up her fifth year of PhD training and will turn her attention in 2009 to the final two years of medical school.
O’Malley, a 2002 graduate of Case Western Reserve University, chose UC for MD/PhD training because of its supportive and collaborative faculty and student communities.
"I was looking for an institution that was not only both clinically and academically excellent, but also a place where people enjoyed working together in science and medicine,” she says.
But it was two early mentors who encouraged O’Malley to apply to a dual-degree program like the one at UC, and it’s that type of encouragement that Patrick Tso, PhD, hopes to offer to prospective and current students in his new role as PSTP director.
Tso, a graduate of the University of Western Australia, is a professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine. He leads UC’s National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported Mouse Metabolic Phenotype Center—one of only three centers of its kind in the country—and serves as director of the lipid research group within UC’s Obesity Research Center.
He has been a member of four NIH Study Sections, is currently serving on the Advisory Council for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and has authored more than 160 peer-reviewed articles and more than 30 reviews.
Tso’s undergraduate years were guided by a well-respected scientist and mentor, Wilfred Simmonds, PhD. He credits much of his success to Simmonds’ guidance and has used the lessons his mentor taught him to become a strong adviser to young scientists in his lab at UC.
During his tenure as PSTP director, Tso plans to work closely with the program’s codirector, Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, to develop a database of faculty mentors so students have more resources at hand when choosing a research path.
He also hopes to improve upon ties with Cincinnati Children’s, as that is where many PSTP students find research opportunities.
"Big science can’t be done in an individual lab,” Tso says. "It can only be accomplished through collaboration.”
Tso also plans to engage students earlier in the grant-writing process and will work to generate more excitement about the training program among members of the community at large.
He’s impressed with PSTP students and the program’s overall success and gives much credit to its founder, former UC researcher Judy Harmony, and to Leslie Myatt, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who led the program for a number of years and secured Medical Scientist Training Program status from the NIH in 2002 and again in 2007.
Tso will begin to prepare the application for another five years of funding in 2010.
"If I can look back in a few years and see that the program is even better funded and that I’ve done the things I’ve set out to do, then the time and effort will certainly have been worth it,” he says.
The PSTP, which has graduated 54 students and is currently training 43, boasts some impressive results. Two PSTP graduates are on UC’s faculty, two are employed at Cincinnati Children’s, two are current medical residents—one, at University Hospital, one at Cincinnati Children’s—two are in private practice in Cincinnati and two are local neurosurgeons.
In addition, a number of PSTP graduates have obtained faculty positions at other prestigious institutions across the country.
About the UC Physician Scientist Training Program The Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP) was formed in 1985 and began receiving National Institutes of Health (NIH) support in 2002. Students can select from a number of career paths, with many choosing a track that begins with two years of medical school, followed by three to five years of PhD training.
The final two years of medical school are typically completed at the end of the program. Students are supported by self-obtained grants and fellowships, the research faculty with whom they work and by programmatic funding from the NIH.