The goal of the research component of the Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program at the University of Virginia is to provide a rich interdisciplinary experience in infectious diseases research. The fellowship is designed to recruit outstanding physicians who are motivated to pursue an academic career, with the aim of preparing them to be independent investigators on the faculty of medical schools. The need for such training has recently been articulated by Thomas Cech et al. ("The Biomedical Research Bottleneck", Science 2001; 293:573) who cite the 40% decline in physician-investigators in the last 15 years despite the tremendous promise of translational research in the 21st century. The preceptors are carefully chosen to maximize the opportunities for interactions between clinicians and basic scientists.
Twenty-six faculty members from seven departments and two research centers comprise the backbone of this training program and continually foster collegiality and collaboration by trainees. Forty-six percent of faculty have co-published papers in the last 5 years. The ability to obtain independent financial support is encouraged for all trainees, and 100% of the preceptors are extramurally supported, while 92% are NIH-supported. Extramural support has almost doubled to $13.5 million in annual direct costs in the last 5 years. Major research themes within the faculty encompass immunology, epidemiology and pathogenesis of infectious diseases.
The first year of the fellowship program is devoted to the development of research skills and the initiation of independent projects that will lead ultimately to success in all areas of research, including independent research design and conduct, publication, and procurement of independent funding. Devotion of the entire first year to research, with no inpatient or outpatient clinical responsibilities for trainees, allows for more rapid development of research skills and independent research programs leading to more productive conduct of research during the clinical years of training, and a higher level of emphasis on successful research scholarship during and following the training period
Each fellow will develop a research program in connection with one or more faculty members from the Infectious Disease Group or from another department (e.g. Microbiology, Public Health Sciences, etc.). The fellow will participate in all aspects of research, including project definition, experimental design, and interpretation of data. Furthermore, near the end of training as fellows prepare to leave to establish careers as independent investigators, they will be expected to write grant applications such as the Mentored Clinical Scientist or patient-oriented Development Awards. With this rigorous research training background, fellows are offered the best chance to succeed as academic Infectious Disease Physicians.
The Fellowship Training Program provides several forums for trainees to consider their careers beyond the completion of the fellowship. Once yearly meetings with the Program Director, Dr. Richard Pearson, and the Division Chief, Dr. William A. Petri, Jr., allow for open discussion regarding career goals and plans for achieving them. Furthermore, there is an annual “Research Planning for Fellows” meeting led by Dr. Eric Houpt, where issues related to rational planning of experiments, grant-writing, manuscript publication, and expectations of progress within the fellowship are discussed to facilitate successful completion of these tasks as a bridge to procurement of independent funding and research resources.
Resources Available to Trainees for Research Training
The University of Virginia has a long tradition of cooperative interaction among its faculty, students and fellows. There are no barriers to seeking out and receiving whatever help is needed for a research project, and co-mentoring of students and fellows is common. The strong spirit of collegiality creates an ideal environment for the training of students and fellows, as well as young and established faculty.
The study of infectious diseases has traditionally been an area of strength at the University of Virginia. Currently infectious diseases research represent 20% of all School of Medicine extramural research funding. This year Infectious Diseases and International Health was named by the Dean as one of the 10 "Research Themes" of the School of Medicine targeted for expansion and support for the 10 year Strategic Plan. It is also one of 4 central themes of the Department of Medicine strategic plan and a recognized area of expansion within the Department of Microbiology.
Research laboratories of the Infectious Diseases mentors are currently located in the new Carter-Harrison Research Building (MR6), Jordan Hall, the MR4 Building and the renovated Old Hospital. A significant expansion of the research space has occurred with 50,000 sq. feet in MR6 dedicated to immunology and infectious diseases. All of these research buildings are connected by weatherproof walkways and are no more than a 5 minute walk apart.
Although the research needs of trainees are largely met within their mentors laboratories, additional support of their research activities is provided through an extensive series of Centers and Facilities.