Robin Lorenz, M.D., Ph.D., has been appointed to a new position, assistant dean for Physician-Scientist Education, propelling the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine closer to the forefront of training clinicians with the scientific experience to move discoveries out of the lab and into patient care while addressing several initiatives in the UAB Medicine strategic plan for research, faculty and student development.
For decades, the number of physicians who conducted scientific research has been in decline; research is increasingly performed by basic scientists without clinical experience. The result, some suggest, is a “valley of death” in which laboratory discoveries linger without becoming actual treatments for patients.
“Physician-scientists can bridge that gap,” said Lorenz, director of the Medical Scientist Training Program, part of a network of programs supported through competitive grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Students complete all of the requirements for medical school and graduate biomedical education. They graduate with M.D./Ph.D. degrees, prepared to become funded investigators and physicians at academic medical centers.
UAB has 64 MSTP students; most of them completed their undergraduate education outside of Alabama, from the University of California, Berkeley, to Colby College in Maine, and many universities in between.
“Dr. Lorenz is a very dynamic leader. She has recruited very strong classes to UAB and she’s brought a lot of diversity to campus. Her students have been very successful in getting external grants,” said Hughes Evans, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for Medical Education and chair of the Department of Education in the School of Medicine. “By creating this new assistant dean position it sends a strong statement, makes us more competitive for training grants.
Another new position, clinical associate director of the MSTP, has also been created and candidates among the faculty are being accepted. The new associate director position combined with her new role will enable Lorenz to stretch the reach of the program, she said.
“We really want to expand the training of physician scientists,” Lorenz said, beginning with undergraduate students and including resident physicians and junior faculty.
The MSTP currently runs the Summer in Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate Research Program, in which 10 sophomore or junior undergraduates interested in becoming physician scientists spend eight weeks working with faculty mentors on a research project -- and get paid for it. Lorenz has applied for a grant that would recruit another 10 students, from underrepresented minorities, to work on projects related to cardiovascular or pulmonary diseases or sleep medicine.
The MSTP program also works with a small group of residents in UAB’s American Board of Internal Medicine Research Pathway. “We want to expand this to other residency programs,” Lorenz said. “We first need to identify which residents are interested in careers as physician-scientists and find out what we can do to help them.”
Another area ripe for progress is in entrepreneurship. “We would like to be able to expose students to business development,” Lorenz said, further increasing the opportunities for discoveries to move from the laboratory into commercial development so they can be delivered in patient care.
“UAB wants to be at the forefront in physician-scientist education, to train them to go out and be leaders at medical centers across the U.S.,” Lorenz said. “The establishment of the new position shows we’re serious about this.”
Written by Clinton Colmenares