MD/PhD Students Attend Premiere Meeting for Physician Scientists

UConn MD/PhD students attend the annual APSA Welcome Reception. From left: Jared Woods, Alex Adami, Maria Xu, Grace Kwon on April 21, 2017. (Photo taken by APSA Executive Council).
APSA members, including APSA President and UConn MD/PhD student Alex Adami (far left) with Nobel laureate and APSA keynote speaker Eric Kandel (middle).  (Photo by APSA Executive Council).

Sponsored by the Office of Physician-Scientist Career Development, four UConn MD/PhD students recently attended the nation’s premiere meeting for physician-scientists in Chicago.  The Joint Meeting brings together the two major honorific societies for mid-career and senior physician-scientists leaders – the Association of American Physicians (AAP) and the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), plus in-training early career members of the American Physician Scientists Association (APSA).

Especially exciting this year for UConn, Alexander Adami, current MSIII and seventh-year MD/PhD student, served as national APSA President.  As representative of over 1,500 physician-scientist trainees, Alex helped coordinate three days of speeches, poster sessions, oral presentations, mentoring events, and networking opportunities that included three Nobel laureates and dozens of leaders in academic medicine.

This year, the meeting centered on three themes: Visualizing Medicine; Healthy Brain, Healthy Living; and Areas Requiring Urgent Responses.  Invited speakers were scientific and clinical giants in their respective fields and addressed topics of cognitive resilience, genetic pathogen discovery, and community involvement. Grace Kwon, GSI and third-year UConn MD/PhD student said, “The talks spanned multiple fields, but still had an underlying focus of disease-based and translational medicine.”

UConn MD/PhD student Maria Xu presenting her ongoing research with the immunology laboratory of Anthony Vella.

ASCI President and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Vivian Cheung spoke about “Vitalizing Physician-Scientists: It’s Time to Overcome Our Imagination Fatigue.” She encouraged those in training to vigorously pursue the frontier of clinical research and entreated those already established to support the unique priorities of translational investigation.

Jared Woods, a newly graduated UConn MD/PhD who has been to five Joint Meetings over the course of his training, commented, “I am always impressed with the quality of speakers at this meeting.  Hearing multiple Nobel laureates in one weekend is very motivating and it makes me want to work hard to develop as a physician-scientist.”

The three mentoring breakfasts and lunches further gave APSA students an opportunity to meet and glean advice from residency directors and established investigators. Grace said that she was able to obtain “great career advice from multiple physician-scientists in a setting that was non-intimidating and encouraged.”

UConn MD/PhD students attend the annual ASCI dinner with Dr. Andrew Arnold. From left, Grace Kwon, Maria Xu, Dr. Arnold, and Jared Woods on April 21, 2017.

In addition to APSA-sponsored events, the four of us attended the annual ASCI dinner and new member induction ceremony with Dr. Andrew Arnold (director of the UConn Office of Physician-Scientist Career Development and ASCI/AAP member). This dinner recognized the milestone contributions of 64 new ASCI inductees and celebrated the Nobel-prize winning journey of Dr. Michael Brown.  Dr. Arnold noted that “exposing our aspiring physician-scientists to the Joint Meeting’s incredible array of role models and exciting clinically-relevant science has long been a major priority for our office and the School of Medicine, and I’m delighted we were again able to support our students’ attendance this year.”

The unifying celebration of translational research was invigorating to experience as MD/PhD students. Thus far, every step along our paths has come with new skills, new faces, and differing priorities. Alex Adami states, “one of the great joys of being a physician-scientist is joining a community of like-minded explorers,” and this meeting allowed the four of us to engage in the camaraderie of this community. Whatever the stage of our MD/PhD training, we all derived inspiration and excitement from our interactions at the Joint Meeting and look forward to returning!