Chelsey Reed, medical school liaison (left); Nadav Weinstock, treasurer; and Lauren Burkard-Mandel, president; are among the student leaders of UB’s local APSA chapter.

Physician Scientists Association Grants Local Chapter to UB

Published March 11, 2016

The University at Buffalo’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD) has been named a local chapter of the American Physician Scientists Association (APSA).

MD/PhD students will use funding from APSA to promote career development by hosting panel discussions and video conferences with leading physician-scientists.

APSA is a national organization dedicated to addressing the needs of future physician-scientists with respect to their training and career development.

Promoting Career Development, Camaraderie

Lauren Burkard-Mandel, an MD/PhD candidate, says students met at the beginning of the year to discuss ways to improve the program and decided to focus on career development and creating more camaraderie.

“We realized that the older students didn’t really know the younger students and vice-versa. That is hard to do without funding for programming, so that is where APSA came in. It was a good way for us to get funding for programming we wanted to put on,” says Burkard-Mandel, the chapter president.

“That really was the driving force behind the chapter — for all of us to be more involved.”

Funding Backs Discussion Panels, Video Conferences

Since the local chapter was formed in November 2015, the APSA has sponsored events including:

Burkard-Mandel says fellow MD/PhD candidate Chelsey Reed has been instrumental in reaching out to the alumni network to get alumni to speak to students about their journeys since they left UB.

Future events that are planned include:

  • dinner and discussion panel with graduating students to hear about the programs they have chosen and how they chose them
  • a summer picnic to give new students a chance to meet current students in the program

Opportunity to Expand Chapter in Future

Burkard-Mandel says that because it’s a charter chapter, the students decided to see how things went with the MD/PhD program first, but there is definitely room for expansion if there is interest.

“We tried hard to keep it small and simple at first. We’re only 28 people,” she says.  

Some schools integrate beyond their MD/PhD program, so they offer local chapter memberships to undergraduate students and other students in the biomedical sciences, Burkard-Mandel says.

“The Honors College often invites us to give a presentation on our program, but with this local chapter, it is possible we could host something for science, technology, engineering and math majors to educate them a bit about what an MD/PhD program is,” says Suzanne G. Laychock, PhD, senior associate dean for faculty affairs and facilities.

Laychock, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, acts as faculty adviser for the chapter.  

Unique Challenges for MD/PhD Students

Due to the unique structure of the MD/PhD program, it is important for its students to rely on each other for support, and having a local APSA chapter helps facilitate that, Burkard-Mandel says.

“One of the things about being an MD/PhD student is you’re constantly transitioning through these different phases of education, so you begin with one group of people but you’ve turned over maybe three groups of people by the time you get to the end.”

“That’s tough because you don’t go through as part of a cohesive class, so we only really have each other along that time,” Burkard-Mandel says.

A typical MD/PhD track is to enroll in the first two years of medical school and take the first part of the board exams before transitioning into the doctoral program, taking coursework, completing research and writing a thesis. The final phase is transitioning back to medical school to complete the last two years, made up of clinical rotations.

“It is a weird transition through all of those phases, and the only people who have gone through that are MD/PhD classmates,” Burkard-Mandel says.

Working on Doctorate at Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Laychock says she is impressed by Burkard-Mandel and the other students who have been very “organized and efficient” throughout the process of starting a local APSA chapter.

“It was a well-done proposal, and I am not surprised they funded it because it looked like it was done by people who were mature and could handle it,” she says.

“Lauren is very good at this. She’s gotten a National Research Service Award, which is a F30 fellowship from the National Institutes of Health,” Laychock says. “She got that on the first time through, which is almost unheard of.”

Burkard-Mandel is currently working on her doctoral degree in the immunology department at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.