Dianna M. Milewicz, MD, PhD
The mission of our multi-institutional Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), comprised of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and in conjunction with the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus School of Medicine, is to pursue novel training of a diverse group of students for careers as physician-scientists focused on disease-oriented research. Modern biomedical research is generating extensive information about the molecular basis of disease that will require individuals formally trained in both basic research and clinical medicine to advance this knowledge into discoveries that impact the human outcomes of disease. The MSTP's director, Dianna M. Milewicz, MD, PhD, is based at UTHealth, McGovern Medical School. UTHealth and MD Anderson, both components of The University of Texas System, are located in Houston’s Texas Medical Center, a 356-acre campus just a few miles south of downtown Houston.
A novel educational sequence for our MSTP exists to integrate the medical and graduate schools and achieve the goal of optimally training physician-scientists to pursue disease-oriented research, bridging the knowledge gap between medicine and basic science. From the initiation of the program in 1982, the protocol for training allows students to finish their medical school clinical/hospital specialty rotations (traditionally during the 3rd year of medical school) and complete USMLE Steps 1 and 2 before entering graduate school. Completion of the clinical rotations provides students insight into disease processes not provided by descriptions in lectures and books. Delaying immersion into graduate training until after students gain exposure to disease processes, diagnosis and treatments, allows them to identify their translational research interests and choose relevant dissertation research areas based upon substantive clinical experience. Thus, students can optimize the translational relevance of their research training, laying an early cohesive foundation for effective careers as physician-scientists focused on disease-oriented research.
The location of the MSTP in Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., assures a diverse pool of applicants to the program. To achieve further diversity in our student population, we have partnered with the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), leveraging a NIH-funded MD Anderson/University of Puerto Rico U54 Partnership for Excellence in Cancer Research award to integrate talented medical students from the UPR who want to pursue research careers into our MSTP. These students complete medical school at UPR and their PhD research at UTHealth or MD Anderson and are incorporated fully into our MSTP, adding cultural diversity that enriches all of our trainees. This enthusiastic and successful community of UPR students has also helped in the recruiting of a diverse student population from Texas and other states. These two distinctive features of our program - our unusual educational sequence and the integration of our UPR students - directly promote our mission.
The MSTP has been continuously funded as an MD/PhD Program since 1982 and has graduated 112 students. There are currently 52 students (42 students directly admitted to the program, 3 transfer students, and 7 UPR students.). We receive approximately 200 applications per year and matriculated 5 students annually until July 2018, when we became a MSTP, which allowed us to increase the headcount by 4 additional students. We typically admit 1 to 2 UPR students annually, and approximately 30 percent of our program is underrepresented minorities. Our current average GPA is 3.78 and over the past 10 years, attrition from the program has been 4 percent. The average time to completion of both degrees is currently 7.8 years. The majority of our post-training graduates are in academic positions or industry (76 percent; n = 38; 28 academic positions, 1 in industry), similar to MD/PhD graduates nationally.