The goal of the clinical program, an important and unique aspect of our curriculum, is to encourage students to develop perspective on how laboratory work can be applied in the clinic. This includes understanding:
- how clinical trials work
- what constitutes a significant clinical result
- the difficulties of proving that a treatment is effective
- how human physiology and the unique aspects of diseases can dictate the method of intervention
- existing mechanisms and technologies for developing innovative treatments
- challenges faced by clinicians
It is important for students to develop an understanding for and appreciation of the human side of disease and to think about clinical challenges from a basic science perspective. In addition to the many clinically oriented lectures in the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Core Course, first-year students spend two half days — one in the fall and one in the spring — observing various Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center clinics.
Students have an opportunity to discuss observations with their clinical sponsors and to talk about how basic science can provide tools to improve diagnosis and treatment. Our students have said:
- “This is easily the most inspired and original component of the first-year curriculum. It really gets at the mission statement of fostering the interaction between scientists and clinicians. This was the kind of element that made me choose to come to Gerstner Sloan Kettering and it completely delivered.”
- “In clinical cancer biology and other sections in the coursework we were taught the drug development cycle and preclinical studies for new drugs. The clinical visits helped us to understand how these studies are done and their effect. After having talked to the clinicians it was clear as to how these studies are conducted. This helped us to integrate the basic biology studies like cell cycle and DNA synthesis and their implications in cancer.”
- “I believe it is important to remember that the overall goal of our work is to improve the quality of life of patients and prevent/treat cancer. Interacting with patients and doctors provided an important reminder of this goal.”
Our clinicians also believe in the importance of laying the foundation of clinical understanding for basic scientists and strongly support this aspect of our program. Our clinical sponsors have commented:
- “The experience from my standpoint was excellent. This is a great opportunity to see how complementary the lab and bedside are, and may help the students shape their future research projects. It is also a good opportunity for the students and faculty to build ties for collaborative work.”
- “I welcome Gerster Sloan Kettering students to my outpatient office to meet patients and see firsthand the clinical issues that can help focus basic research.”
The goals of the clinical apprenticeship – a continuation of the clinical exposure students receive during their first year – are to inspire students to think about solutions to clinical challenges using their basic science knowledge and to stimulate current and future scientific exchanges with clinicians.
Students engage with a clinical mentor who serves as a conduit for hospital-based academic activities such as grand rounds and disease management team (DMT) conferences. The clinical mentor helps the student focus on a specific clinical challenge and understand what is known and what needs to be addressed through basic science investigation. The student’s mentor is also involved in student presentations and thesis committee meetings.
The student’s research project guides the selection of the clinical mentor. For example, a student studying meiosis might have a clinical mentor who studies and treats patients with germ cell tumors.
The clinical apprenticeship may include the following:
- informal meetings with the clinical mentor and readings to help identify issues and pressing challenges
- academic activities such as grand rounds, residents’ reports, Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) and program project meetings, and DMT conferences
- discussions of these activities and their relevance to the student’s research with the goal of translating the basic science findings to the clinic
- meetings with fellows to provide a diverse spectrum of opinion and insight
- research collaborations
Our students have commented about their interactions with clinical mentors:
- “The paper discussion often gives [the clinical mentor] the opportunity to tell me about some of the highlights from his clinical work. We also have a lot of overlap in our basic science interests, which helps.”
- “[The clinical mentor] and I have had several useful discussions on my findings in the mouse model and how this relates to patients and directions to take in my research… . To work towards better understanding of these tumors, we are creating a registry of patients and samples from which we have gotten samples and will be able to work with in the future… . Visiting the clinic has been very beneficial to see how patients with neuroendocrine tumors are treated and also to sit in on enrolling patients in the registry, and to speak to them about how we hope to use their information and samples to better understand their disease.”
Our clinical mentors have said:
- “I think that the Gerstner Sloan Kettering clinical apprenticeship provides a unique opportunity for young scientists to come face-to-face with the challenges that clinicians experience in the treatment of patients with cancer. This program allows students at GSK to interact with clinicians who share their interest in forwarding a particular area of cancer research often through patient-oriented research studies or clinical trials.”
- “I believe this program is a key distinguishing feature of our graduate training experience and is necessary to train insightful translational scientists.”