Yale University School of Medicine
Interview performed by Comfort Elumogo
Publication Committee Co-Chair
How did you become involved with SNMA?
I became involved with SNMA at the chapter level during my first year of medical school. I knew about SNMA from Minority Association of Pre-medical Students (MAPS) when I was in undergrad college, but because of my biracial identity with a very Caucasian appearance, I was nervous about how people would perceive me, so I unfortunately did not get actively involved in MAPS. After becoming friends with many of my undergrad college’s MAPS members, I now realize how silly my thinking had been, as everybody would have accepted me with open arms. Once I got to med school, I decided that I would not let any self-doubt stop me from becoming involved with SNMA. And, as expected, I was welcomed wholeheartedly as was everybody who wanted to get involved, no matter what their background.
How has SNMA influenced your medical experience?
SNMA has influenced my medical experience in so many different ways, but I think the most striking is in keeping me connected to the community that I came from and that supported me so much while I was growing up. Although I grew up in a racially diverse neighborhood, many of my family’s friends were African American and they were always there to push me when I needed motivation or to comfort me when I failed.
What made you interested in research?
Since my undergrad years, I have been very interested in research. I love the creative process; I really view it as a combination of art and science. Now, as I am performing child psychiatry research, I really love the potential to contribute to a field that I am so passionate about.
Why did you decide to take a year off for research endeavors?
I have always been interested in becoming a physician scientist but did not think that the MD/PhD route was the right pathway for me. Furthermore, I am interested in child psychiatry and this was a way to make myself a competitive applicant for residencies.
Tell me more about the Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP).
I first heard of the program from Mr. Kenny Williams at the AMEC national conference. The MRSP is a year-long research enrichment program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that is available to medical, veterinary, and dental students. Having students from different backgrounds gives you a very unique experience. The program is located in Bethesda, MD right on the NIH campus.
What are some advantages of applying to MRSP?
One great thing is that you do not have to have a specific project or research interest in mind when you apply. After being accepted, participants are provided with information that guides them on strategies and tools for mentor selection. Mentors can be selected before arrival in Bethesda or shortly thereafter. Participants also have the benefit of talking to various mentors within the first two weeks of starting the fellowship, in order to figure out the project that will work best.. The type of research available to the MRSP student is endless…you can do clinical, basic science or translational research. The MRSP is really supportive of its students. For example, each MRSP scholar has a personal educational fund that can be used to attend conferences and present your research, take courses at the NIH, and purchase books. Scholars also receive funds to assist with relocation expenses
Who are you working with and what type of research are you doing?
Dr. Kathleen Merikangas is an epidemiologist who works within the intramural research program in the National Institute of Mental Health. My particular research is focused on child psychiatry. I have several projects going on simultaneously, so that if there is a lull in one effort, I can switch to other active projects. I am expected to come up with the research question and the methods to determine the answer, although I am given guidance along the way. In essence you are given a lot of responsibility, which I enjoy. There is a lot of power and creativity involved in research.
My main project involves cortisol levels in adolescents with mood disorders. I am also looking at sleep as it relates to adolescents with mood disorders.
What makes working at the NIH unique or special?
The main goal of NIH is to do research that cannot be done elsewhere. The research done here requires anything from special equipment to rare patient populations that, particularly as students, are hard to experience elsewhere.
Besides research, what other educational opportunities does MRSP offer?
There are 2 to 3 required didactic sessions per week. The “Great Teachers Breakfast” invites distinguished scientists to discuss their personal journeys and how they came to be leaders in their respective fields. They give useful career and personal advice in an informal setting. The “Process of Discovery” lecture series are given by prominent medical scientists who present their career path in the context of specific research projects. These classes also give insight into balancing family and research life. Clinical Teaching Rounds are sessions where accomplished physicians, such as heads of divisions and departments, present patient cases that pertain to their clinical research trials.
Why do you think the NIH has this program? What is their goal?
The primary goal of the program is to train a diverse group of future clinician-scientists and biomedical researchers. The program helps students realize that they can be both clinicians and researchers and do both successfully. Overall, they want students to be leaders in their fields of interest.
What do you hope to gain out of this experience?
Learn how to see a research project progresses from beginning to end.
How has this experience defined your leadership skills thus far?
I was always interested in becoming a researcher but it was just a concept. I had no idea how to achieve and balance my interests in being a physician and a researcher. The lectures and the people I come in contact with have helped me realize that you can achieve the balance that I want.
How many people in your class?
There are 42 MRSP scholars in my class, including 38 medical, 3 dental, and one veterinary student, from 34 different schools. Everyone lives in the same residential facility on campus. Living together gives the program’s participants a social college vibe albeit in a more mature environment.
Is there free time? If yes what do you do?
Yes! There is definitely time to have a social life and explore other interests. We usually go to dinners, explore D.C. or have game nights. There are other people in the class who are training for marathons and participating in local dance groups.
When should students apply to the MRSP?
Applications are due in mid to late January each year. This year they are due on January 31, 2015. When applying, think about what makes you unique and focus on why you think a career path as a physician scientist or medical researcher fits your future goals. If you are interested in applying or for more information, please contact Mr. Kenny Williams or Mrs. Tonya Shackelford at MRSP@mail.nih.gov
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