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With $1 Million Grant, Medical School Launches Program To Train Clinical Investigators

With a $1 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Wake Forest University School of Medicine is launching a program to teach physicians and other health professionals how to do patient-oriented research.

The program is designed to give practicing physicians the training they need to conduct the research projects that are key to improving medical treatment, according to Charles E. McCall, M.D., program director. These courses, such as research methods, statistics, epidemiology, research grant preparation, ordinarily are not part of a doctor''s training.

Wake Forest is one of 35 medical schools nationally that have been selected to receive a new Clinical Research Curriculum Award from NIH designed to enhance future clinical research.

The award comes at a time of increasing concern about the future of clinical research. "Fewer M.D.s are doing clinical research, " said McCall. Part of the problem comes from managed care, which requires doctors to increase clinic productivity, often at the expense of continued research.

But, said McCall, many doctors simply don''t know how to do the research. "One of the problems is not lack of interest, but the level of training," says McCall, also professor and vice chairman for research of the Department of Internal Medicine. The new program is designed to plug those holes.

The Program for Education in Patient Oriented Research, as the new program is called, will be an umbrella linking three existing graduate programs — in epidemiology, health services research and molecular medicine — by establishing a common core curriculum. The program also will tie in with the busy General Clinical Research Center, with its multiple ongoing patient-oriented research projects, and with the newly established Office of Clinical Trials Research, providing ways to get research funded.

The program will also make extensive use of mentors and "buddies" to help new clinical researchers with the unexpected problems they may encounter as they proceed with a research project. Mentors are senior scientists experienced in research, grant writing and training young researchers; buddies are other young researchers who already have been successful.

McCall said most of the initial "students" in the program will be medical school faculty and fellows (physicians in advanced training who already have completed their residencies), though outside students also will be welcome. He said the students would still take specialized courses after the core curriculum and get a master''s degree in one of the three areas.

He said the planning committee became so convinced that training in patient-oriented research was urgently needed that they were planning to go forward even if they had not gotten the federal grant.

The grant itself will go toward the administration, teaching, and other components of the program. It will not subsidize the students'' loss of income for the time they spend in the program.

The program is expected to have about 15 students in each class.

McCall said the directors of the existing programs, Lynne Wagenknecht, Dr. P.H., in epidemiology, Michelle Naughton, Ph.D., in health services research and Floyd H. Chilton, Ph.D., in molecular medicine, would be associate directors of the new program, and David A. Bass, M.D., D. Phil., chair of the mentorship advisory committee, will be assistant director.

Part of the impetus for the new program arises from the concern expressed by James N. Thompson, M.D., vice president and dean, and Jay Moscowitz, Ph.D., senior associate dean, who called for and helped lead a clinical research summit that will produce a report in the fall. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the two saw a clinical research crisis of such magnitude that it "has the potential to stall the pace of advances in biomedical research." The new program should lead to more clinical researchers.

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