New MD/PhD in aging-related research

Feb 18, 2016, 10:18 AM by Stephen Hadley
MD/PHD program
From left: Kyriakos Markides, PhD, Amanda Randolph, a second-year medical student and the first MD/PhD student in social and behavorial sciences, and M. Kristen Peek, PhD.

The Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health was recently awarded a grant from the National Institute on Aging to fund a new MD/PhD program in social and behavioral sciences focused on health disparities in aging.

While UTMB has had an MD/PhD combined degree program since1983 and has educated more than100 clinician scientists, the new grant will create a similar focus for medical students who want to also become researchers to study public health and social and behavioral sciences.

“There’s a growing need for physicians who can do research related to aging,” said Kyriakos Markides, PhD, the Annie and John Gnitzinger Distinguished Professor of Aging. “Most MDs are trained to care for patients but not to conduct research.This program, like the general MD/PhD program we’ve had for decades here at UTMB, gives medical students the research experience and skills they need to pursue their career as academic physicians with an emphasis on social medicine.”

Markides said the five-year grant from NIA would fund tuition for one second-year medical student to begin pursuing their doctorate for each of the next five years. The first medical student, Amanda Randolph, is already enrolled in the program. Randolph was a student in UTMB’s general MD/PhD program but then transitioned to the new PMCH program.

“Our goal is to enroll five students in the program over the next five years,” Markides said. “Since we’re at the start of the program, we’re looking for second-year medical students who are already attending UTMB and are interested in pursuing a PhD as well, specifically to study aging-related issues.”

Markides directs the new MD/PhD program with the help of M. Kristen Peek, PhD, professor and vice chair of Education, graduate program director for Population Health Sciences and assistant dean for Recruitment and Special Programs in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Peek said an added benefit of the new MD/PhD program is that it will cover the cost of years three and four of medical school once the MD/PhD students return to that program.

The new MD/PhD program complements the growing body of research resulting from the department’s strong emphasis on aging. In fact, it was the presence of a long-term study of older Mexican-Americans—funded continuously by the NIA since 1992—and another NIA-funded study of the health of older people living in Mexico that helped the department win the grant for the new MD/PhD program, Markides said.

The grant award represents an opportunity for future physicians to make an even more indelible mark, he added.

“With the MD/PhD degree, a doctor can still see patients but then also can be an academic physician-scientist who contributes to research,” Markides said. “No doubt it’s admirable to see and care for patients but it’s also incredibly rewarding to be a scientist and contribute to knowledge that might make a difference for people in the future around the world.”

For more information about the new MD/PhD program in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, please visit http://pmch.utmb.edu.