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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 7, 2005

Summer Fellowships Foster Medical Student Research Interests

More than 100 research projects from University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine students participating in the college's Student Research Fellowship Program will be presented Sept. 9.

UI medical students who have completed their first year of coursework, as well as students who are enrolled to begin medical school in the fall, are eligible to participate in the 12-week summer program, which aims to interest students in research and careers in academic medicine. The program, now in its 26th year, gives students the opportunity to develop and participate directly in a research study under the supervision of a faculty mentor and become more familiar with the process of identifying scientific problems, designing experiments and interpreting results.

The students will present their work during the Medical Student Research Day event Sept. 9 in the Medical Education and Biomedical Research Facility (MERF). Activities include oral presentations and poster displays of the students' research projects. Paul Rothman, M.D., professor and head of the UI Department of Internal Medicine, will deliver a keynote address at 10:30 a.m. in the MERF Auditorium, and an awards banquet that evening will honor the best student presentations. A program of Medical Student Research Day is available online at www.medicine.uiowa.edu/imsrp/components/researchconf.html.

Each student identifies an area of research interest and prepares a project proposal, based on faculty mentors' descriptions of their own scientific work. Each proposal is committee-reviewed and, once approved, students become part of the faculty mentor's research team for 12 weeks. Many of the students conduct their studies in research laboratories on campus or at UI Hospitals and Clinics, while other students do their research at research centers outside Iowa, including several international sites.

As summer research fellows, the students work full-time hours and receive a stipend. A grant from the National Institutes of Health helps fund a number of the stipends.

At the UI, about 12 percent of graduating medical students pursue careers in research, which is close to the national average. The demand for physician-scientists is growing, however, and so has UI medical students' interest in Student Research Fellowship Program. This summer, 107 students participated in the program, according to Kathi Huebner, assistant director of admissions in the UI Carver College of Medicine Office of Student Affairs and Curriculum and coordinator of the program.

The faculty mentors play a key role in the program, Huebner noted.

"Doctors who also conduct research are excellent role models for students in terms of keeping up with rapid changes in medicine and understanding the latest scientific discoveries," Huebner said. "The summer fellowship program is a good starting point for the students, and we're encouraged by the growing interest in this program. We'd like to see as many as 25 percent of our graduating students choose careers in research."

First-year medical students Kristin Orr and Nikki Ehn spent the summer studying genetic factors related to prematurity with Jeff Murray, M.D., UI professor of pediatrics. Orr said that the summer fellowships allow students to fully explore their research interests.

"With this program, we get to have more freedom in choosing our project and where we want to go with it instead of just having someone tell you exactly what steps to follow and what to do," Orr said.

Ehn emphasized the importance of working within a research unit. "I hope to gain a better understanding of how you go about attacking a complex problem like prematurity by looking at it from all different angles. Putting all of the results together can help make a difference in understanding the problem," she said.

Although they have different areas of focus - Ehn is interested in genetics and obstetrics and gynecology, while Orr prefers neonatology and pediatrics - both women plan to continue doing medical research in the future. Ehn added that students aren't the sole benefactors of the program.

"The students get the chance to do research, but the faculty member gets research done in their area of interest, as well," Ehn said.

"The work Kristin and Niki did advanced our investigations in the field of genetics and prematurity as they did work we would not have been able to do otherwise," Murray said. "They were able to do quite a few new lab experiments and they did them with high quality. They also did a lot of research on the project and figured out both new and better ways to do the work."

"Medicine must continually improve, and this depends on partnerships of clinical and basic science work," Murray added. "These summer projects let students see how this kind of work goes on both in the lab and the clinic and gives them a chance to see if this combination is right for them."

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at http://www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, (319) 335-8032, david-pedersen@uiowa.edu; Writer: Whitney Tripp