Training the Next Generation of Clinical Researchers

Christian Leiva (top), coordinator of the UCSF Pre-Health Undergraduate Program (PUP), with San Francisco State University students. Clockwise: Miriam Valenzulela, Sarah Semaan, Ivet Lolham

“When we think about what it takes to build a pipeline of future physicians and researchers, teaching our students about medicine and research methodology is just one piece of the puzzle.  It is also essential to ensure that tomorrow’s health care providers possess the cultural humility to care for an increasingly diverse patient population,” said Peter Chin-Hong, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Pathways to Discovery Program in Clinical and Translational Research at UC San Francisco (UCSF).

It was, in part, this belief that motivated Chin-Hong and his colleagues at the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) to organize a historic collaboration between four clinical research training programs. CTSI’s Pre-Health Undergraduate (PUP) and Clinical and Translational Research Fellowship (CTRFP) programs came together this summer with NIH-funded programs developed in partnership with San Francisco State University (SFSU) and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), for a variety of coursework and events.  The programs provide training in clinical research to a range of students interested in careers in research.

Supporting Diversity in Medical Sciences

Students participating in the four training programs are at various stages in their education and include high school, undergraduate and medical students. They also came from an extremely diverse mix of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Daniel Mota, a junior at SFSU majoring in molecular and cell biology, is interested in a career in research and aspires to one day complete a MD-PhD program. He says that the chance to learn more about research will help him make smarter career decisions and brings him a step closer to realizing his dream of working in humanitarian aid. 

“I want to help those most in need,” says Mota. “I have a lot of family in Mexico and they don’t have great access to healthcare or the kinds of opportunities that I do. Seeing that motivates me to want to change it.”

Mota is one of eleven undergraduates participating in the SF BUILD (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity) program, developed at SFSU in partnership with UCSF that aims to increase diversity in the biomedical research workforce. SF BUILD is funded by a $17.04 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. 

The Summer Student Research Program offered by UCSF Benioff CHORI has a similar aim. The NIH program provides summer research opportunities for under-represented undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, graduate, high school, medical school, and other students studying to be health professionals.

Coming Together to Learn, Share

The program has really helped demystify what life is like as an academic clinical researcher. . .I feel strongly that this is the career path I will take.

Colette DeJong

The programs’ collaboration was celebrated at the inaugural Clinical and Translational Research Fellowship Works in Progress meeting, held on UCSF’s Parnassus Heights campus on August 5, 2015.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, MAS, professor of medicine and epidemiology and Biostatistics and director of the Clinical and Translational Science Training (CTST) program kicked off the event with a lecture examining whether a strong business case can be made for better control of uncontrolled hypertension. Bibbins-Domingo’s talk sparked many questions from engaged students in the audience.

Students were also interested in learning more about the presentations given by two Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellows at UCSF: third year UCSF medical student, Trevor Brooks, and fourth year Robert Wood Johnson medical student, Katherine Fu. Brooks presented about his upcoming research trip to Roatan, Honduras to study Dengue Fever, while Fu discussed the research that she will be conducting about Chagas Disease in Peru.

“The high school and undergrad students asked some of the best questions.  It is rare that this mix of students have the opportunity to interact in such a forum,” said Colette DeJong, a fourth year UCSF medical student who is participating in CTSI’s Clinical and Translational Research Fellowship. 

Bringing all four programs together allows UCSF to touch early learners in multiple and unique ways, says Chin-Hong. “All of these participants are smart and self-motivated.  Our job is to foster their learning and inspire them to do work that impacts the future of health,” he says.

“It has been a great experience serving as a mentor to a student in the Pre-Health Undergraduate Program.  We are really enjoying taking the Designing Clinical Research course together and are currently working to develop a research protocol that looks into how drug company payments to physicians influence the physicians’ prescribing behavior,” adds DeJong.

As part of her participation in the research fellowship program, DeJong is taking a year off of her medical studies to complete intensive training in clinical research. “The program has really helped demystify what life is like as an academic clinical researcher.  So far, I am loving clinical research, and feel strongly that this is the career path I will take,” she says.