New Physician-Scientist Pathway Initiative

December 21, 2022

Dear Colleagues:

In my final message this year, I want to discuss a subject that will be a central focus for VP&S in 2023 and beyond: our global leadership in advancing biomedical research and maximizing its impact on human health. I am very pleased to be able to announce today the first major initiative in this long-term effort, a new physician-scientist pathway program supported by another transformative gift from Roy and Diana Vagelos, our indispensable benefactors.

The Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons already attracts exceptionally talented graduate students, physicians in training, and early-career physician-scientists seeking the best environment for launching careers that will change medicine through scientific discovery. Extraordinary work in recent years on the medical school curriculum and in clinical departments reflects our faculty’s commitment to these students, trainees, and early career faculty. Examples of this existing institutional commitment are the Moynihan Clinical Research Fellowship for psychiatry residents exploring clinical applications of neuroscience research; the Irving Institute's TRANSFORM program, offering career awards, resources, and peer programs for physician-scientists; the Allan Gordon Scholars Fund, providing critical support for early-stage investigators in the Department of Neurology; the Young Faculty Mentoring Program offering mentorship and career guidance for young investigators in the Department of Medicine; and many other initiatives of this type across the medical school.

Building on this foundation, we need to expand the resources available to nurture new generations of physician-scientists, a mission fully embraced by the Vageloses. This is a time of extraordinary opportunity in biomedical research, where scientific and technological advances enable us to face important health challenges with more creativity and determination than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated again and again the power of science to lead us forward and the critical role that medical schools play in supporting and strengthening that paradigm. Physician-scientists with expertise in both fundamental biology and clinical medicine are uniquely positioned to advance this work, and society needs more of them.

Too often, however, MDs in training, residents, fellows, and early-career physician-scientists are diverted from pursuing a research career in basic, translational or clinical research. Grounded in a deep belief in the power of science to transform clinical care, the journey of an aspiring physician-scientist is demanding and can require a mix of extraordinary patience, tolerance of risk, and acceptance of delayed gratification. Young physician-scientists frequently contend with substantial financial pressures at the same time they take on new family responsibilities—a set of challenges that runs counter to our commitment to maximize diversity, inclusion, and wellbeing across our community.

The physician-scientist pathway program will address these barriers by supporting individuals at multiple points along their medical training trajectory, including medical school, residency and fellowship training, and at the challenging transition to an independent faculty position. We will further establish VP&S as a model for academic medical centers seeking to incubate and retain exceptional physician-scientists, making us an even more attractive destination for young research-minded MDs and top biomedical scientists alike. Program oversight will be provided by a scientific advisory board including VP&S faculty and outside members who have had distinguished careers as physician-scientists.

In the new year, I will have more to share with you about additional resources and complementary programs supporting the outstanding PhD graduate students who are central to our biomedical research enterprise. For now, I want to conclude by recognizing and thanking Roy and Diana Vagelos. The financial resources they have made available to the medical school are simply remarkable. Yet in my estimation their contributions have come in equal measure from the foresight, wisdom, and values embodied in their philanthropy. The debt-free reality they have created for our medical students allows our graduates to choose careers meeting the needs of their hearts, not their wallets. This latest gift dedicated to supporting physician-scientists is a perfect extension of the many contributions previously made by the Vageloses. By spreading opportunity, embracing diversity, celebrating excellence, and guiding the talents of new generations to their highest use, they are once again helping this institution fulfill its ideals and maximize its potential.

As I’m sure you have heard me say at some point over these past several months, there is no work more important than the work we do here every day. And there is nothing more important for our work than caring for the people here at VP&S. I am looking forward to continuing this shared endeavor in the year ahead and want to extend warm best wishes to you and your families in this holiday season.

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD
Dean of the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences, Columbia University