Physician-Scientist Training Program

Physician-scientists are dual-trained professionals who serve as conduits between the research laboratory and the clinic and are ideally suited to materialize the dream of translational medicine. In the realm of clinical surgery in particular, the need for a surgeon-scientist is more acute now than ever. Recently, concern over the declining number of physician-scientists has spurred new initiatives to support their development. This concern has fueled our department’s interest in establishing a physician-scientist training (PST) program.

The goal of the physician-scientist (PST) program is to provide formal training to physicians to undertake cutting edge scientific research. It is fully expected that this program will graduate academic physicians who will be leaders in their chosen field of expertise and be highly competitive during faculty recruitment and when applying for extra-mural research funds.

The structure of the physician-scientist training program

Program Chair: Vaughn A. Starnes, MD
Program Director: Ram Kumar Subramanyan, MD, PhD
Executive Committee: David Warburton, MD, DSc, Maura Sullivan, PhD
Participating Faculty: Faculty members in the Department of Surgery of the Keck School of Medicine and other University faculty with research programs in basic sciences relevant to translational research.

  1. Admission Requirement:

    • All candidates entering the PST program will have to be enrolled in an ACGME-accredited residency program. The candidates should have successfully completed a minimum of 24 months of residency prior to commencing the PhD program.
    • The candidate must demonstrate a commitment to scientific research and an academic career.
    • The candidate must be in good standing in the residency program. The director of the residency program will need to authorize the candidate’s leave of absence for the duration of the program and commit to allowing the candidate to resume clinical training once research work is completed.
    • Each candidate will be evaluated by the PST Program Chair, Director and Executive committee with input from the PI of the lab where the proposed graduate work will be undertaken.
    • Screened candidate will then be presented by the PST program director to the PIBBS admissions committee, which includes Faculty from the individual PhD program that the candidate wishes to pursue. The candidate will be considered as a direct-admit to the individual PhD program.
  2. Enrolling in a specific PhD program:

    • Each candidate is allowed to choose one of the four PhD tracks offered in the health sciences campus of USC. This decision is influenced by the candidate’s research interest, ultimate career choice and the nature of research being undertaken in the laboratory of the mentor.
    • The candidate is admitted to the PST program and considered a direct-admit into the appropriate PhD program.
    • The candidate is expected to provide appropriate credentials for verification to be eligible for PhD course credits (similar to the process being followed by the MD/PhD students).
    • The candidate then has to fulfill all the course and research-related requirements of the specific PhD program for graduation.
    • As part of the PST program, each candidate is expected to also enroll in the following courses considered required for this track –

      Applied Biostatistics (INTD ) – 4 units
      Scientific Writing (INTD 577) –  units
      Responsible Conduct of Research (INTD 500) – 1 unit

  3. Clinical responsibilities during research years:

    The research years of the candidate are fully protected from clinical responsibilities. The candidates are not expected to provide coverage for any clinical activity during this time period. The candidates may be required to take the annual in-training examination at the behest of their residency program.

  4. Annual research appraisal and review of activities:

    The individual PhD program that each candidate is enrolled in has its own mechanism to review the progress of the candidate and advancement towards degree completion.

    In addition, the PST program requires a separate annual appraisal of the candidate’s research activities and performance. This appraisal includes input from the candidate’s primary research mentor and is reviewed by the director of both the PST program and the clinical residency program. Such a review ensures that the candidate stays abreast with his/her clinical needs, and meets the goals of the PST program. At the same time, this allows the residency program to accommodate the candidate’s re-entry into the clinical training pool at the appropriate time.

  5. Normative time to degree

    The normative time to degree completion is governed largely by the PhD program in which the candidate is enrolled. It is expected that the candidate will receive credits for certain required courses. The candidates directly enter the research lab where they are expected to complete their graduate work (and not be required to enroll in laboratory rotations). During their first year in the lab, they are expected to be able to complete the qualifying examination and advance to candidacy. They are expected to be able to complete the requirements for graduation within a period of three years in the program.

    • Normative Time to Advancement to Candidacy: 2 semesters
    • Normative Time in Candidacy: 4-5 semesters
    • Normative Time to Degree: 6-7 semesters (3-3.5 years)

    These times serve as estimates only. It is explicitly accepted that it is the prerogative of each individual PhD awarding program to determine successful completion of work leading to a degree. The PST program supports all appropriate research activities that results in maximal benefit to each candidate.

  6. Funding mechanism

    All candidates are funded by the laboratory where they undertake the graduate work or by funds from the Department of Surgery. Where available, funds are secured from training grants such as NIH T32, CIRM fellowship training grant and individual training grants from American Heart Association (AHA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), American College of Surgeons (ACS), Society of University Surgeons (SUS) and surgical foundations (AVA, TSFRE, etc.). It is the responsibility of the primary mentor to ensure adequate funding for the candidate for the duration of the thesis. It is expected that as research assistants (graduate student pay-scale) or post-doctoral trainees (Post-doctoral pay-scale), all candidates will be afforded standard tuition credits for the duration of their PhD program.