New NIH program trains tomorrow's healthcare researchers

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Brian O'Connell

The National Institutes of Health has been in the headlines of late, looking to rally healthcare entrepreneurs with various research programs and funding initiatives designed to boost life sciences companies – especially new ones.

The latest example of that is a new program currently being tested in Bethesda, Md. The program, dubbed the Medical Research Scholars Program, is aimed at training the next generation of clinicians and researchers in the medical and dental fields.

The MRSP is also the latest in a trend by the NIH to merge public and private enterprises in the healthcare field to keep research and training momentum going in the teeth of a toxic, sour economy. The Medical Research Scholars Program is actually a partnership between NIH, Pfizer, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The idea is to train young medical professionals and show them, by example, how breakthrough medical discoveries are made, from beginning to end.

Most importantly, the new initiative wants to ensure the availability of good, quality medical researchers – the types of researchers who trigger interest from life sciences companies and who go on themselves to launch new healthcare companies. 

“Medical discoveries of tomorrow depend on the students we train today,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. in a statement. “This program will help ensure that there is a steady pipeline of scientists conducting the full range of biomedical research. The program will offer a broad range of exceptional research opportunities, exposure to cutting edge technology, and critical policy issues for promising students.”

By exposing young medical students to seasoned medical researchers and clinician-scientists who have gone on to run their own medical research programs and start their own life sciences companies, program researchers think they can groom young medical professionals for leadership roles in the healthcare field. The NIH has launched similar programs (notably the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)-NIH Research Scholars Program and the NIH Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP).

But those programs primarily focused on the types of clinical and translational research that fuels solid medical research skills among young professionals – the new program does much the same, but adds the leadership element that can turn a young researcher into a seasoned one – and a potential laboratory director or medical industry startup owner.

The NIH anticipates that about 40 students will be admitted during year one of the program, but the NIH says that the program should be able to accommodate 70 students within a few years.

Participating students get a stipend and paid expenses to out-of-town seminars and meetings tied to the program’s curriculum. Interested students can apply for the NIH initiative from October 1, 2011 to January 15, 2012.

For more information about applying to the NIH, visit the agency’s web site.

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