When Robert E. Fellows, MD, PhD, professor emeritus, started the Iowa Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) in 1977, no one anticipated it would become one of the oldest and strongest dual MD/PhD programs in the nation. The Iowa MSTP has produced 245 alumni who are physician-scientists with careers ranging from basic science research to clinical medicine. With the recent renewal of a $4.6M National Institutes of Health T32 grant, the Iowa MSTP can continue to ensure each trainee is given the support and individualized training needed to concurrently complete the MD and PhD degrees.
Under the leadership of director Steven Lentz, MD, PhD, professor of Internal Medicine and Henry Hamilton Chair in Hematology, and co-director Pamela Geyer, PhD, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the program prioritizes integrative training that centers on individual trainees. The Iowa MSTP admits 8 to 10 students each year. Currently, there are 70 students enrolled in the program.
The MSTP’s training plan is divided into progressive phases including preclinical courses, clinical clerkships, PhD thesis research, and graduate coursework. In addition to these major training phases, Iowa MSTP students participate in an enrichment curriculum and have access to leadership opportunities. The MSTP curriculum includes biweekly “MSTP Monday” sessions that integrate discussions of research, clinical topics, communication in science and medicine, and career development. Most MSTP students graduate with both the MD and PhD degrees after 7 to 8 years of total training.
The Iowa MSTP is one of 51 MSTP programs nationwide supported by the National Institutes of Health. “One thing that distinguishes our program from other MSTPs,” Lentz said, “is the strong emphasis we place on connections between science and medicine. We consider all our students to be both MD and PhD trainees during their entire time in the program, and we pay a lot of attention to the transitions back and forth between med school and grad school.”
Iowa MSTP alumni are shaping the face of academic medicine in leadership roles throughout the country. Many have become division chiefs, departmental chairs, or center directors at academic institutions nationwide. Four Iowa MSTP alumni have become MSTP directors themselves. Among the 245 alumni of the Iowa MSTP, 22 are currently employed as faculty members and 14 as residents or fellows at University of Iowa Health Care.