Commentary by
David B. Roth, M.D., Ph.D., Chair, Department of Pathology, 2004-2011

Bridging the Gap between Clinical and Research Training: A Pathology Research Residency
October 29, 2010

Now that the residency application season is upon us, I thought it would be useful to explore the following question: What can pathology residency applicants do to fast-track their residencies toward a career as independent investigators?

We are constantly reminded that the future of medicine needs specialists who are able to move beyond the boundaries between scientific research and clinical practice. Indeed, as Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who, as head of research at the biotechnology company Genentech, recently put it: "basic biological discovery, disease research, and translational medicine have converged. Some of the most exciting problems in basic biology right now are problems that arise from tackling disease."

It is hard to imagine a department better suited than pathology for bringing together researchers and clinicians by integrating their approaches to advance our understanding of disease in a way that will benefit patients. Many of us chose to become pathologists, in fact, because we thought that this direction would offer the best opportunity for unraveling basic mechanisms of human disease. Those of us with MD/PhD combined degrees often had particularly strong ambitions to see the fruits of basic science in improved patient care. And yet these lofty goals have proven extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

Why? One major obstacle is the profound cultural divide that still exists between those who inhabit the clinical and research realms. This gulf between lab and clinic needs to be addressed at every level, but one specific area where this is possible right now is in our approach to residency education.

That is why one of my goals as Chair has been to restructure the Department of Pathology at the post-graduate training level by developing an integrative approach that will help future pathologists—our graduate students, fellows, and residents—move easily between three sometimes very different arenas: basic research, translational science, and clinical medicine.

One component of this strategy was to create an outstanding Research-Oriented Residency Track in the NYU Department of Pathology. The goal of this program, and of similar programs offered at several research-oriented pathology departments around the country, is to provide excellent clinical training in Pathology combined with an in-depth postdoctoral fellowship research experience (generally of at least two years). Our expectation is that at the end of this experience, the resident/fellow should emerge with a significant body of scientific work, including some high-profile publications, and be ready to compete successfully for a research-oriented faculty position at a leading academic medical center.

How do we help you accomplish this? Our Pathology Residency Research Track is designed for carefully selected candidates who pursue 3 years of clinical training, generally in Anatomic Pathology. During this time you are expected to immerse yourself in pathology training, but there is sufficient time to meet with various investigators around the institution and develop plans for potential research projects. The Chair and other senior faculty are available to discuss the choice of mentor and research project.

At the end of the three years of clinical training, and after consultation with the Chair, you enter a research laboratory. A wide variety of research experiences are available. With more than 100 faculty, divided roughly equally between clinicians and scientists, and more than $25M of extramural research funding, the Department of Pathology offers a rich training environment for our pathology residents. The research portfolio of the Department is extensive and varied, with particular concentration in the areas of immunology, molecular oncology, and lymphoid malignancies.

If you can't find what you are looking for within the Department, laboratories located throughout the NYU Langone Medical Center are available, irrespective of Departmental affiliation. The Department commits to funding your stipend for one research year, subject to satisfactory progress. We will help you develop a research mentoring committee composed of faculty members with appropriate expertise. We expect you to apply for external funding during the first research year. Intramural fellowship funds are also available on a competitive basis. It is likely that several years will be required to develop a sufficient body of results to allow you to be competitive for faculty positions nationwide.

Whether our Department is a suitable environment for you is, of course, a decision you will have to make with careful deliberation. But, should you choose to apply to our Research Residency Program, you have my word: this is an exciting time to be part of the NYU Department of Pathology and a great place to launch your career as an independent investigator!

Apply to the NYU Department of Pathology Research Residency Track

Additional materials:

For more information about Research Residency Tracks, read Science Careers, "Making Room for Research During Residency"

The full interview with Marc Tessier-Lavigne can be found in Nature News online 17 September 2010

Photo: © 2010 David B. Roth