Grant affirms UMMS MD/PhD program ‘among the best’

NIH Medical Scientist Training Program rewards outstanding programs for training physician-scientists

By Bryan Goodchild and Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

August 01, 2013

Click on the photo to see video of Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, and MD/PhD students Asia and Ashley Matthew talking about the MD/PhD program at UMMS, which has just received a prestigious National Institutes of Health grant.

The MD/PhD program at UMass Medical School has just joined a short list of the best physician–scientist training programs in the country, receiving a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Medical Scientist Training Program. The award represents recognition by the NIH of the excellence and rigor of the UMMS program, which joins 43 other programs in the country to receive MSTP funding and becomes only the second such program in Massachusetts.

The MSTP grant supports MD/PhD students who are simultaneously pursuing medical and doctoral degrees, which takes between seven and 10 years to complete. The grant provides financial support to the UMMS MD/PhD program to offset the cost of student stipends and tuition allowances. Additional financial support is also provided by UMMS.

“Receiving this grant is a milestone for the MD/PhD program, for translational research and for the campus as a whole,” said Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor in Medicine, executive deputy chancellor, provost, dean of the School of Medicine and professor of pediatrics and microbiology & physiological systems. “A true mark of distinction, this grant will also serve as a funding source to sustain support for physician-scientists on our campus into the future.”

“This grant places UMass Medical School among the best institutions that provide MD/PhD training,” said Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, associate dean for clinical and translational sciences and professor and vice chair of medicine. “It has been one of the goals of the institution and the program to reach this milestone.”

Like other comprehensive NIH grant applications that seek support for complex programs, the MSTP application was the result of many years of work by the UMMS community. “The MD/PhD leadership team, including associate co-directors William Schwartz, MD, professor of neurology, and Silvia Corvera, MD, professor of molecular medicine and cell & developmental biology, and program administrator Anne Michelson, were all instrumental in developing the current integrated MD/PhD Program,” said Dr. Szabo.

“I have the privilege of being the principal investigator on this grant as the director of the MD/PhD program,” said Szabo. “The application required a team effort and many years of preparation, during which time we evaluated the strengths of our program and also evaluated the weaknesses. We had a strategic planning process where we brought together the key stakeholders from the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and from the entire UMass Medical School community. We also took advantage of external advisors who evaluated our plan and endorsed most of our initiatives.”

“We are very proud that the initiative was funded on the first try, which is not necessarily a usual occurrence these days because of the highly competitive nature of the process,” added Szabo.

“Being in the MSTP provides extra pride for students in the MD/PhD program and also for the faculty. The criteria for MSTP are very complex,” explained Szabo. “It measures the richness and strength of the applicant pool and closely evaluates the strength of the current students. It also evaluates outcomes in terms of career prospects for graduates of the program. And it measures the strength of the medical school curriculum and the complexity and rigor of the PhD training. By awarding the grant, the NIH is saying that the UMMS program has reached this national milestone level, that we are among the most effective and competitive programs.”

Szabo anticipates that national recognition for the program will grow as a result of the MSTP award and that the number of applications will grow to even higher levels than the 140 percent increase over the last five years.