UConn MD/PhD Class of 2013 alumnus Eric Gaier and Ophthalmologist at Harvard Medical School returned to give Alumni rounds at UConn’s weekly MD/PhD Research club. (Or “Nerd Club”, as he says it used to be called).
Following his graduation from UConn’s dual degree program, Dr. Gaier began his Ophthalmology residency at the preeminent Mass Eye and Ear through Harvard Medical School. With his training, he was able to secure highly competitive fellowships in both Neuro-Ophthalmology and Pediatric Ophthalmology/Adult Strabismus through Boston Children’s Hospital. Currently, Dr. Gaier complements his clinical work with NIH K08 funded basic and translational research investigating how principles of synaptic plasticity can be used to elucidate therapeutic strategies in the treatment of amblyopia. His research has led him to patent a novel approach and medical device for treating pediatric amblyopia and he currently serves as a scientific advisor with the company Luminopia. Beyond this, he engages in several teaching roles at Harvard Medical School spanning from resident education to undergraduate and graduate student research mentorship.
During his visit Dr. Gaier had lunch with current MD/PhD trainees, explored additions made to the program since his graduation, and gave a seminar reflecting on his own time in medical school. In discussion, he noted how his continuity clinic experience, now called “CLiC”, provided him with exposure, motivation, and training that set him on a successful career in Neuro-Ophthalmology. Furthermore, he highlighted the myriad of opportunities UConn’s physician scientist training program provided him, and urged every student to explore all that the institution has to offer.
Make your choice the right choice. This was the message from Dr. Robert Colbert, the keynote speaker at the annual Office of Physician Scientist Career Development Colloquium, held on April 15 this year. Dr. Robert Colbert is the current Acting Clinical Director and Chief of the Pediatric Translational Research Branch of the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Dr. Colbert presented his keynote address to a full audience of MD students, MD/PhD students, and faculty. During Dr. Colbert’s keynote, he discussed the paths and choices he took toward becoming a physician-scientist, the differences between his time in traditional academia versus his current position at NIAMS, and the importance of finding both formal and informal mentors along the physician-scientist training path.
Dr. Colbert is a nationally recognized physician-scientist who has successfully built a career in translational research, balancing both clinical research and duties while simultaneously running a productive research laboratory. Prior to joining NIAMS, Dr. Colbert started his faculty career at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where he eventually become Director of the Division of Rheumatology. While at Cincinnati Children’s, Dr. Colbert was also heavily involved with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program, for which he served as Associate Director. His training as a pediatric rheumatologist has shaped the goals of his research laboratory, which focuses on understanding the pathological basis of chronic inflammation and structural bone remodeling in spondyloarthropathies.
“Dr. Colbert is an excellent example of an accomplished physician-scientist who has utilized both his medical and research training to investigate the basic mechanisms of a debilitating group of diseases while also significantly contributing to the advancement of their clinical guidelines and treatments. His past and current contributions to training the next generation of physician-scientists are abundant.” Said Dr. Andrew Arnold, Director of the Office of Physician-Scientist Career Development. “I am thrilled our current students were able to meet with Dr. Colbert and learn more about his own training path plus his insightful perspectives on upcoming decision points for them.”
Dr. Colbert also discussed specific training opportunities at NIAMS, on the NIH Bethesda campus, for trainees at all levels, including undergraduate students, medical students, and clinical fellows. These opportunities include a year-long research scholars program, postbaccalaureate fellowships, summer internships, clinical electives, and fellowship training.
Grace Kwon, a student member of the OPSCD Colloquium planning committee, took advantage of these opportunities as a postbaccalaureate fellow in Dr. Colbert’s research laboratory from 2012-2014 prior to starting the MD/PhD program at UConn Health. “My time at the NIAMS was especially informative in helping me to decide on choosing to enroll in a dual-degree MD/PhD program. As a first-generation college student with few, if any, examples of successful physician-scientists, Dr. Colbert was a tremendous illustration of someone with a fulfilling career in this path, and provided critical career advice and mentorship while I applied to MD/PhD programs – he continues to do so and I’m grateful he had the chance to visit UConn Health and meet with MD/PhD students here.”
Along with discussing his career trajectory and current training opportunities, Dr. Colbert also spoke about the importance of finding mentors at all stages of a career. These mentors should push you to grow, and do not all have train you in the same style. Some of the mentors Dr. Colbert touched upon in his career were his PhD thesis advisor while at the University of Rochester, his pediatric rheumatology fellowship director, and the past NIAMS Director, Dr. Stephen Katz.
“I appreciate that Dr. Colbert emphasized the importance of mentorship – the road to becoming a physician-scientist isn’t one you can do alone, and Dr. Colbert helped me realize that mentors don’t always have to be formal; older students in the program, for instance, have been incredibly supportive and important in helping me along the way when it comes to medical school coursework, exams, and now choosing a thesis laboratory in graduate school,” said Katie Discipio, a current GS3 and 5th year MD/PhD student.
“The physician scientist career is a rewarding one where you will grow and be challenged.” This was the message from Dr. Stephanie Eisenbarth, the keynote speaker at the annual Office of Physician Scientist Career Development Colloquium, held on April 9 this year. Dr. Eisenbarth is Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine, and Immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Eisenbarth presented her keynote address to a full audience of MD/PhD students, as well as DMD/PhD students, MD students, and faculty. During her keynote address, she spoke about her own personal experience toward becoming a physician-scientist, emphasizing the importance of mentorship, work-life balance, and enjoying the journey of self-discovery during physician-scientist training.
Dr. Eisenbarth is a nationally recognized physician scientist who has successfully met the challenge of balancing both clinical work and running her own research laboratory. At Yale School of Medicine, she is Medical Director of the Immune Monitoring Core and Assistant Director of the Clinical Immunology Laboratory at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In addition to her duties as a clinical pathologist, Dr. Eisenbarth runs an NIH-funded laboratory that focuses on understanding how the innate branch of the immune system regulates adaptive immunity in several disease models, as well as a more recent focus on the function of dendritic cells and their migration. In addition, Dr. Eisenbarth is an active participant in Yale School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program, where she serves on its committee and also acts as a mentor to current MD/PhD students.
“Dr. Eisenbarth is a great example of an accomplished physician scientist balancing both clinical and research duties. I am thrilled our Office was able to sponsor Dr. Eisenbarth’s visit. She is a true testament to the success of how obtaining both medical and graduate training can inform and complement each other.” said Dr. Andrew Arnold, Director of the Office of Physician Scientist Career Development. “I am pleased our students were able to meet with her and gain insightful career advice on everything from choosing clinical specialties to managing a laboratory with trainees at all levels.”
Dr. Eisenbarth also discussed the navigating she went through during her training as a female physician-scientist. Citing a study published in Science revealing how early gender stereotypes and intellectual ability emerge even by grade school, Dr. Eisenbarth urged the next generation of physician scientists to acknowledge implicit biases and find ways to combat this early on in their training. For instance, Dr. Eisenbarth discussed how she practiced asking questions during seminars in graduate school and throughout the rest of her training.
“I appreciated her honest perspective about the challenges still facing female physician scientists today, and that she also gave tangible examples of how she dealt with this throughout her training. Meeting a woman who’s been able to successfully lead a physician scientist career is encouraging and motivates me to keep pushing my own education forward.”, said Jennifer Chung, a current GS1 and third-year MD/PhD student.
Along with her already established career, Dr. Eisenbarth spoke about work-life balance, sharing photographs of snowboarding with her family, the close friends she’s gained throughout her career, and the supportive mentors along the way. Dr. Eisenbarth urged the audience to find mentors early and at all levels. For instance, Dr. Eisenbarth recalled one of her first mentors, a high school chemistry teacher who assigned her the special assignment to wash the dishes. What might seem trivial and not very glamorous, Dr. Eisenbarth now recognizes was actually a profound gesture of confidence and encouragement to push ahead and recognize her own value.
In addition to her keynote address, Dr. Eisenbarth met with faculty throughout the day, and had the opportunity to meet with students from the MD/PhD program over lunch and dinner.
“It was really inspirational to listen to Dr. Eisenbarth’s story,” said Katie DiScipio, a GS2 and fourth-year MD/PhD student, as well as one of the student organizers of the colloquium, “She is an excellent example of someone who was able to balance clinical medicine, science, and a personal life, something that I aspire to do in my future career.”
UConn Health’s annual Office of Physician Scientist Career Development Colloquium brings in accomplished MD/PhD physician scientists to speak to the MD/PhD, DMD/PhD, as well as interested MD and DMD students about their career path. While these talks often contain exciting translational research, the emphasis is on advising students how to make the most of their training and how to succeed in this uniquely challenging and rewarding career path.