Veterinary students wanted for NIH program

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Dr. Guy H. Palmer said a National Institutes of Health student research program is helping the veterinary profession remain connected with other biomedical sciences.

The NIH Clinical Center (Courtesy of the NIH)

“It’s an opportunity for the profession to stay very engaged and very much at the center of biomedical research,” he said. “And without that kind of engagement, there’s a siloing that occurs to the point where, the concern is, the biomedical community no longer looks to veterinarians as an essential part of that biomedical workforce.”

Dr. Palmer, director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health at Washington State University, hopes that students and faculty members at U.S. veterinary schools will see the benefits of the yearlong NIH Medical Research Scholars Program and that students interested in research careers will apply to participate in the program’s 2014-2015 term.

“I’m optimistic students will respond to this,” Dr. Palmer said. He said it is imperative that faculty and mentors encourage students in this and explain how it will allow them to integrate into the broader biomedical community.

The program is intended to attract “the most creative, research-oriented medical, dental, and veterinary students,” NIH information states. Each participant works on a mentored basic, clinical, or translational research project at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., or a nearby NIH facility.

The NIH further states, “Collectively, MRSP student scholars will experience the full continuum of biomedical research—the bench, the bedside, between both and beyond—from crystallography to molecular biology, from computational biology to clinical trials and epidemiology, i.e., all areas of contemporary biomedical science.”

Bruce J. Baum, DMD, PhD, MRSP director, said the program evolved from two yearlong intramural NIH training programs that ran in parallel: the Clinical Research Training Program, which existed for 15 years, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-NIH Research Scholars Program, which lasted 25 years. When they ended in 2012, the MSRP emerged.

The program is accepting applications for the 2014-2015 term starting Oct. 1. Application information is available here.

In an April 8 letter signed by Dr. Palmer; Dr. Lonnie J. King, dean of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Michael D. Lairmore, dean of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; and Dr. Baum, the administrators asked veterinary school deans, as well as the research and academic affairs committees of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, to encourage outstanding veterinary students to apply. The letter noted that no veterinary students will participate in the 2013-2014 class. Only two applied to participate, and the one who was accepted deferred participation until the 2014-2015 year.

“At a critical time when the veterinary profession needs to reinvigorate its biomedical and public health missions and develop future leaders in these missions, this is a missed opportunity,” the letter states.

The program is designed for students who have completed their core clinical rotations, but others with research interests can apply before completing their rotations. The 2012-2013 class had 45 participants, including a third-year veterinary student at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

That student, Jacob R. Cawley, worked with the National Cancer Institute to investigate molecular mechanisms of castration-resistant prostate cancer in mice. His term in the program ended July 31.

Cawley wants to work as an oncologist after graduation, and he said he entered the program to learn more about cancer and will put that knowledge to work in comparative medicine. He described the work at the NIH as the “pinnacle” of medicine, and he was inspired by the passion and hope NIH scientists showed through their work.

“To carry the torch and to further our aspect of medicine, I think it’s important that we get exposed to what the best type of medicine is—how it’s done, how it’s advanced,” he told JAVMA.

Dr. Palmer said the program not only helps veterinarians enter biomedical research but also ensures that biomedical sciences use veterinarians’ comparative medicine skills.

“It’s a great benefit to the nation in terms of human health and biomedical research, and it’s also simultaneously exactly what the profession needs to do in order to make sure their future employment opportunities are as diverse as possible,” he said.