Physician Scientist Research Retreat showcases MD/PhD program at UMMS

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

March 06, 2019

Physician Scientist Research Retreat planning committee members are (from left) MD/Phd students Nicholas Peterson, Jordan Smith, Peter Cruz-Gordillo, Alysia Bryll and Claire Tocheny.

The 14th annual Physician Scientist Research Retreat on Friday, March 1, brought together prospective and current students, faculty and distinguished guest speakers showcasing the depth and breadth of the Medical Scientist Training Program at UMass Medical School.

MD/PhD students pursue medical and biomedical sciences doctoral degrees, through the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which take seven to 10 years to complete.     

MD/PhD Program co-director Silvia Corvera, MD, (left) and director Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, are pictured at the 14th annual Physician Scientist Research Retreat.

“We form a cohesive group during the first two years of medical school, but as the years pass we go our separate ways into our biomedical sciences labs,” said sixth-year MD/PhD candidate Peter Cruz-Gordillo, who is completing his thesis in the lab of Michael Lee, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine. After he completes it, he will return to the School of Medicine for two years. “The retreat is a good way to reconvene and maintain our sense of community in this long pathway we have chosen.”

At the retreat, Bradley Bernstein, MD, PhD, professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Broad Institute, spoke about his lab’s investigations into epigenetics. The lab’s goal is to better understand cancer development and progression at the genetic level. Zirui Song, MD, PhD, assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School and practicing internist, discussed health care spending and quality to inform payment policies and reform health care delivery.

The retreat included two rounds of five-minute scientific “flash talks” from UMMS faculty and students; 25 student research posters; and a career roundtable with UMMS MD/PhD alumni on career development and options for individuals who have trained deeply in two disciplines.

“The research retreat is a program highlight which engages students, faculty, alumni and prospective new candidates in a day of outstanding science,” said Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Endowed Chair, professor of medicine, vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine, associate dean for clinical and translational science and director of the MD/PhD Program. “Our MD/PhD students enjoy a vibrant and supportive community of scholars.”

Silvia Corvera, MD, who directs the MD/PhD program with Dr. Szabo, spoke directly to prospective students about the values of the UMMS community. “We are amongst the most privileged, fortunate members of the human race, with the resources and intellect to bring value,” said Dr. Corvera, the Endowed Chair in Diabetes Researchand professor of molecular medicine. “Our community shares these values and we are all together in this fantastic enterprise. Dr. Szabo and I are so proud and lucky to have you here.”

UMass Medical School was recently notified that its National Institute of General Medical Sciences Medical Scientist Training Program grant was renewed for a second five-year period. The award, which provides financial support for MD/PhD students, recognizes the program’s excellence and rigor. Graduates can proceed to career opportunities from medical residencies to laboratory research to public health and health policy, in academia, the public sector, industry and business.

Applications have doubled in the past 10 years with 76 students now enrolled. The National Institutes of Health has awarded grants to 14 students, and students were authors on 32 publications in the past year, including first authors of nine. Seven will graduate with their MD and PhD degrees at the 46th Commencement Exercises at UMass Medical School on Sunday, June 2.