Notes from the NIH: Get to Know the Medical Research Scholars Program

Julie (Yajie) An completed her third year in the NEOMED College of Medicine in 2015-16. She was selected to spend the 2016-17 year in the prestigious Medical Research Scholars Program at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland to pursue her interest in medical research. Julie is one of approximately 50 students nationally who were chosen for the program.  

Julie will be sharing periodic updates. Here’s her first.

nih“It’s like Disneyland for geeks,” I remember them saying at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) interview dinner months ago.  Now that I have been at the NIH’s national headquarters in Bethesda for two weeks, I can absolutely concur. Since moving to the Cloisters with 50 some other students, I have made new friends, found a phenomenal lab group and mentor… and only occasionally need a GPS to get around. The place where I work is so big! The hospital, called the NIH Clinical Center, has its own navigation app to help patients and employees to get around. The Cloisters, just steps away from the Clinical Center, is where I live. It’s a former convent that was on this land before the NIH was built. It’s now a living-learning community for students in the MRSP program.

In terms of research, I will be investigating the efficacy of ablative therapy for hereditary renal cell carcinoma. The NIH has one of the largest cohort of patients afflicted with this subset of cancers, as well as the longest follow-up period for these diseases. My research mentor, Bradford Wood, M.D., was one of the first to perform the procedure. In addition to being a longstanding mentor, he is also the director of the NIH Center for Interventional Oncology and chief of the Clinical Center’s Interventional Radiology Section. He’s a pioneering leader in the field.

Dr. Wood and Elliot Levy, M.D. (staff clinician in Dr. Wood’s lab) serve as my co-mentors for this research year. Despite their intimidating titles and countless (and I mean countless) academic accolades, they are some of the most down-to-earth, dedicated clinicians I have ever encountered. The culture of this lab is one of hard work, innovation and interdisciplinary efforts. I have already been able to work with and learn from Ph.D.s researching novel drug delivery technology; with staff clinicians performing image-guided procedures; and with nurses assisting in the clinical care and recruitment of patients. I even got to share my knowledge with one of Dr. Wood’s biomedical engineering students, whom he also mentors.

What truly makes the NIH Clinical Center unique is the culture of exceptional patient care through scientific discovery. The place really doesn’t seem so big once you realize how interconnected different individuals are, and how much has resulted from their collaborations. I have gotten to partake in my lab group’s social outings after work as well as meetings/presentations. Next week I’ll be attending a conference with the lab, and am looking forward to the cutting-edge research being conducted at the NIH as well as around the world. There’s so much passion in those who work at the here. A quick coffee break can easily turn into an hours-long discussion on medicine, and colleagues you pass in the hallway can be the next great innovator.

So far, I’ve been exposed to protocol (detailed research plans for NIH review) writing, and will soon be will be learning about study design, database management, statistical code writing, and the (often arduous) publication process. Sure, it may not sound all that exciting to everyone…but for a kid elated to be in the “Disneyland for geeks,” it’s perfect!

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