Integrating clinical medicine into biomedical graduate education to promote translational research: strategies from two new PhD programs.
Many students in bioengineering and medical physics doctoral programs plan careers in translational research. However, while such students generally have strong quantitative abilities, they often lack experience with the culture, communication norms, and practice of bedside medicine. This may limit students’ ability to function as members of multidisciplinary translational research teams. To improve students’ preparation for careers in cancer translational research, we developed and implemented a mentoring program that is integrated with students’ doctoral studies and aims to promote competencies in communication, biomedical ethics, teamwork, altruism, multiculturalism, and accountability. Throughout the program, patient-centered approaches and professional competencies are presented as foundational to optimal clinical care and integral to translational research. Mentoring is conducted by senior biomedical faculty and administrators and includes didactic teaching, online learning, laboratory mini-courses, clinical practicums, and multidisciplinary patient planning conferences (year 1); student development and facilitation of problem-based patient cases (year 2); and individualized mentoring based on research problems and progress toward degree completion (years 3-5). Each phase includes formative and summative evaluations. Nineteen students entered the program from 2009 through 2011. On periodic anonymous surveys, the most recent in September 2013, students indicated that the program substantially improved their knowledge of cancer biology, cancer medicine, and academic medicine; that the mentors were knowledgeable, good teachers, and dedicated to students; and that the program motivated them to become well-rounded scientists and scholars. We believe this program can be modified and disseminated to other graduate research and professional health care programs.