WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A record 53 medical students – nearly half the class of 2009 – are conducting summer research projects under a Medical Student Research Training Program at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Last year, a then-record 46 students participated, according to Richard St. Clair, Ph.D., chairman of the intramural research support committee, which reviews the student applications. “Last year and this year, we felt the applications were so strong that all the students should be funded.”
St. Clair said the Office of Research was able to find the money to support all the students, who work with a faculty mentor for either eight or 12 weeks. The students are paid $1,731 a month – or up to $5,193 for the summer.
Why have more students taken an interest in research? “We may have recruited students in the past two years who are considering careers in academic medicine – at least we hope that’s the case,” St. Clair said.
The training program was originally sponsored largely by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH program for Short Term Research Training of Medical Students remains the largest single sponsor today, with 19 students, up from 17 last year.
“The NIH objective is to attract more physicians into research and academic medicine,” St. Clair said.
The Laura Scales Memorial Fund – in memory of the daughter of the late Wake Forest president James Ralph Scales – is supporting 17 students, up from nine last year. The other 17 students got support from 11 other sources, including some small research funds started by grateful patients.
While there is no way of predicting how many of this year’s students will actually go into research careers or become academic scientists, St. Clair noted that the school had surveyed classes 10 years after graduation, and found that in each of three classes surveyed, a higher percentage of those who had participated in the summer program were in academic medicine or had received research grants. “For some students at least, it is the factor that makes them decide to pursue academic careers,” St. Clair said.
A key element is the relationship with a faculty mentor – there are 47 of them this summer. “The mentor is often the faculty member they will know the best throughout medical school.”
While the summer between the first and second years of medical school is the largest single block of time available for research, many students find time to do research during the rest of medical school, and some will get their names on scientific publications, a key element in building an academic record.
At the end of the summer, each student prepares and presents a research poster summarizing their research results at the annual Medical Student Research Day. Research posters are a key element in just about all scientific meetings.
The students also attend seminars on topics such as ethics in research, the use of animals in research and considerations in conducting research on people. Some of the research involves animals, some is clinical, and some projects are population-related studies.
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.