This year, 116 medical, dental, and veterinary students from 47 schools across the country will take a break from memorizing molecular metabolism and studying drug interactions to spend a year in a lab doing hands-on research. The break from regular coursework, funded through a $4 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) initiative, is intended to give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in science and consider whether they want to pursue a career as a physician-scientist.
Nearly 500 medical students applied for the research year through the HHMI-National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars and HHMI Medical Research Fellows programs. Both efforts seek to strengthen and expand the pool of medically-trained researchers. The funding HHMI provides is a great resource.
“We want medical, dental, and veterinary students to become immersed in the life of academic science for at least a year. And we hope they get so engaged in the process and life of scientific research that they will decide to continue it for the rest of their lives,” says Peter Bruns, HHMI’s vice president for grants and special programs. “We need more doctors who do basic research to improve human health.”
As part of its commitment to fostering the translation of basic research discoveries into improved diagnoses and treatments, HHMI has developed a range of programs to nurture the careers of researchers who bridge the gap between clinical medicine and basic science. In addition to the programs for medical students, the Institute supports medical training for Ph.D. students in the basic sciences and has made specific efforts to fund top physician-scientists as HHMI investigators.
The medical research scholars and fellows programs are open to medical, dental, and veterinary students enrolled in U.S. schools. Most have completed the second or third year of their professional program when they spend a year working in a lab either at the NIH or at an academic medical center or research university they select. During the last 25 years, more than 2,100 students have participated.
The HHMI Medical Research Fellowships program allows medical, dental, and veterinary students to pursue biomedical research at a laboratory anywhere in the United States except the NIH campus in Bethesda. Each student submits a research plan to work in a specific lab with a mentor they have identified. Since 1989, about 1,200 students have participated.
This year, 74 students from 26 medical schools and two veterinary schools were chosen as fellows from a pool of 274. While most students elect to stay at their home institution to do their research, this year 17 fellows will work in labs at a different school. Their research topics include schizophrenia, wound healing, organ development, and many other important biological questions.
The HHMI-NIH Research Scholars program was established in 1985 to encourage medical students to pursue research by allowing them to take a year off from their medical studies. The program has since been expanded to include dental and veterinary students. It has enabled about 1,000 students to work in NIH labs.
Students selected as research scholars often enter the program with only a general idea of what type of research they would like to do. As soon as they are accepted, they begin researching the more than 1,100 laboratories at NIH. They meet with a number potential mentors before finalizing which project to pursue under the guidance of their NIH advisor and HHMI’s staff. The students are sometimes called “cloister scholars” because they live in apartments or dorm-style rooms in a refurbished cloister on the NIH campus in Bethesda.
This year, 42 students from 28 medical schools and one veterinary school were chosen as research scholars. More than 200 students from 93 schools applied.
Related: Directory of Science and Engineering Scholarships and Fellowships – $600 Million for Basic Biomedical Research – HHMI Expands Support of Postdoctoral Scientists – Genomics Course For College Freshman Supported by HHMI at 12 Universities