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Director's Message and Program Overview

 Catarina Kiefe, MD. PhD

Catarina Kiefe, MD, PhD
MD/PhD Program

 Jonathan Kay, MD

Jonathan Kay, MD
Executive Co-Director
MD/PhD Program

 Mark D. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., FAANS

Mark D. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., FAANS
Co-Director for Career Development and Mentoring
MD/PhD Program

Welcome to the UMass Chan MD-PhD Program. We would like to introduce you briefly to our program, but first, let us say a few words about ourselves.

Dr. Kiefe, the Director, Cutler Chair in Biomedical Sciences, is (as you are becoming) an MD (internist) and PhD (mathematician). She had the privilege to found our UMass Chan Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences in 2009 and to have led it for 10 years, until she stepped aside in 2019 to become its Chief Scientific Officer.  She very much enjoys being a professor and not a department chair, because it gives her the freedom to devote all her professional time to the two things that she loves most in academic medicine: nurturing the next generation of scientists and physicians and generating new knowledge.  She continues to be PI on several NIH grants: three institutional training grants and another large Center grant. Over her career, she has had the privilege to found and develop several scientific centers funded by NIH and other agencies and, most importantly, she has served as primary mentor to over 100 young professionals, ranging from undergraduates through junior faculty and including medical and MD-PhD students.  She has also served on and chaired many national scientific committees and is Editor-in-Chief (together with Jeroan Allison) of one of the leading journals in her field.

As Director of the MD-PhD Program, Dr. Kiefe is responsible for the Program overall, oversees its activities and programmatic changes, and chairs the Program’s Executive, Steering, and Admissions Committees. 

Dr. Kay, Timothy S. and Elaine L. Peterson Chair in Rheumatology , is the Program’s Executive Co-Director. He is an MD with training both in basic science and clinical research who actively practices rheumatology, in addition to his academic roles as a professor of medicine at UMass Chan with a joint appointment in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences. Following postdoctoral laboratory training in immunology, he has spent the past three decades conducting clinical research studying the epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and treatment of a variety of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. He is committed to the training of medical and graduate students, residents, and fellows and has mentored many trainees over the course of his career.

As Co-Director, Dr. Kay works closely with Drs. Kiefe and Johnson overseeing all aspects of the MSTP.  Dr. Kay initiated the highly successful Physician Scientist Forum (PSF) and continues to direct it. He is responsible for overseeing the structured training of MD-PhD students, including course selections, clinical experiences during graduate school, their transition back to medical school after defending their PhD dissertations, and advising them about residency training. Because of his deep knowledge of the bench research landscape at UMass Chan, he is also instrumental in matching students with appropriate research rotations and thesis advisors, a process shared with the other Directors and MD-PhD mentors. Dr. Kay serves on the Executive Committee and the School of Medicine Admissions Committee, and he co-chairs the Steering Committee and the MD-PhD Admissions Committee.

Dr. Johnson, Maroun Semaan Professor, the Co-Director for career development and mentoring  is one of very few Black neurosurgeons nationwide, the founding Chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery, and founding Director of the Residency Program in Neurological Surgery at UMass Chan. He is also the UMass Chan Senior Vice Provost for mentorship, leadership, and transformation. He earned MD and PhD degrees at Harvard Medical School and, completed a residency in neurological surgery at the University of Washington. He then returned to Harvard where he served on the faculty for 13 years before being recruited to UMass Chan to found his department in 2016. With continuous NIH funding since 2013, his lab focuses on the genomics and molecular biology of human brain tumors and the genetics of adult-onset hydrocephalus. Shortly after coming to UMass Chan, he established a residency training program in neurological surgery. He has recruited 7 neurosurgeons (nearly doubling the size of the Department, previously a division) and increased racial and gender diversity in the Department. He has mentored over 40 students, postdoctoral fellows, residents, and faculty, with numerous awards for mentorship and his efforts to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment. In 2022, the MD-PhD students voted to award him the “Physician Scientist Role Model” Award.

As Co-Director. Dr. Johnson  oversees all mentoring and career development activities and selects and nominates the eight MD-PhD mentors and serves on the Executive and Steering Committees.  He also serves as a direct liaison between the student body and its leadership and the MD-PhD Executive Committee and generally functions as an ombudsman for student well-being – this is in direct response to student requests for such a position

The MD-PhD program at UMass Chan Medical School and the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences was established in 1988. It is one of about 46 MD-PhD programs in the US that are funded in part by a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) grant from the NIH. Our MD-PhD program spans the entire spectrum of health-related research, from the laboratory sciences through clinical research and the population health sciences, which provides it with a unique character. Currently, about 80 MD-PhD students are enrolled.

The UMass Chan Medical School is the only public medical school in Massachusetts. It is constantly expanding, with new buildings under construction, an ever-increasing research portfolio, and the addition of new clinical training sites.  The curriculum of both the medical and the graduate schools is constantly being evaluated, examined, and improved to accommodate the rapidly changing healthcare delivery and research environments. Ours is one of the few medical schools in the US that is recognized for excellence both in research and in the training of primary care physicians. Its current strategic plan places a major emphasis on health equity, both in terms of research and service to the surrounding community. 

Our faculty includes nationally and internationally recognized thought leaders whose expertise ranges from molecular research to the population health sciences and who lead multi-center grants and NIH-funded centers. We count a Nobel laureate (Craig Mello, discoverer of RNA interference) and multiple Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and National Academy of Science (formerly Institute of Medicine) members among our faculty. Most importantly, the collegial and collaborative spirit of our faculty promotes synergy and fosters transdisciplinary research.

Our MD-PhD student body and faculty form a vibrant, future-oriented community that values both scientific innovation and excellence and social responsibility. Through the Medical Student Council (MSC), student leaders play an active role in helping to innovate educational and community service aspects of the program. If you have recently been admitted into our program, it is because you convinced us that you are likely to succeed by combining excellence in discovery with a deep desire to improve the world around you as a physician.

Throughout the entire duration of the MD-PhD program, our students engage in both clinical and research activities.  During the first two years, students are exposed to the entire spectrum of research, in addition to the regular medical school curriculum. While working on their PhD dissertation, students maintain their clinical skills through ongoing clinical activities. Each individual student belongs to one of several structured learning communities, in which they are advised over the course of their studies at UMass Chan by both a learning community mentor and a physician-scientist mentor. Throughout their graduate school training, students work with both a thesis advisor and a Thesis Research Advisory Committee (TRAC) that guide their progress.

Worcester is a multicultural city with a diverse range of recreational, social, and cultural activities. Its highly affordable housing together with very high quality public schools in its suburbs, make it both family-friendly and supportive of a diversity of lifestyles. Worcester has a big-city variety of restaurants and many high-quality entertainment venues

More details about our programs and resources can be found on this website. Please explore it. We are so pleased that you are joining us!


Catarina, Jon, & Mark

Catarina Kiefe, MD, PhD
Inaugural Melvin S. and Sandra L. Cutler Chair in Biomedical Research
Chief Scientific Officer
Professor of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences; and Medicine
Founding Chair Emerita, Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences

Jonathan Kay, MD
Timothy S. and Elaine L. Peterson Chair in Rheumatology
Professor of Medicine and Population and Quantitative Health Sciences 

Mark D. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., FAANS
Maroun Semaan Professor of Neurological Surgery
Chair, Department of Neurological Surgery
Senior Consulting Vice Provost for Mentorship, Leadership and Transformation
Director, Neurological Surgery Residency Program
Director, Brain Tumor Program
UMass Memorial Health
University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School