Thoughts on APSA from a Neurology Resident
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By Kim Gannon, MD/PhD, University of Pennsylvania

I was thrilled to be asked to write an article for the APSA newsletter and a bit nostalgic. A bit about me: I graduated from medical school in 2011 from the University of Mississippi Medical Center with a PhD in Physiology. Our medical school did not offer a formal MSTP program, as the thought of a physician-scientist is very young in the South, and only slowly becoming more accepted. I am currently a PGY-3 Resident in Neurology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

I became involved in APSA as a way to connect with other physician-scientists from across the country - to learn from their experiences and gain insight into what the career of a physician-scientist would look like. I also took on leadership positions within APSA. I initially served on the public relations team, participating in conference calls and learning the ins and outs of Constant Contact e-mails. Following a year of this, I became the co-chair of the Public Relations Committee, and was a co-editor of the Newsletter (hence the nostalgia, which is only elevated by the fact that the current Editor is from my alma mater). I was able to attend several of the APSA Annual Meetings in Chicago, make excellent connections with people from across the country, and present research to leaders in my field.

Being a part of APSA was helpful for me in multiple ways, but the most important aspect was getting to know fantastic people from across the country. To this day, I keep in contact with several of the other APSA members I met, visiting a few when traveling, and seeing others who serve as residents at my current training hospital. APSA also helped me to hone my leadership skills and allowed me opportunities to consult with faculty and business leaders from across the country. Being from a small medical school, with an even smaller group of MD/PhD students (I was one of two in my graduating class), APSA offered me a sense of community and place; it showed me that other people were also ambitious enough to try to bridge the gap from bench to bedside.

Research during residency has been slow to get started for me for several reasons. When I started my clinical training, I discovered that I really liked working directly with people and wanted to turn my focus away from bench research and become more involved in clinical research. Beginning residency at a different institution from where I did my graduate and medical school training, I did not establish connections within the Neurology department until my first year of Neurology and did not really decide on the focus of my likely research until the end of my PGY-2 year. At this juncture, I’m doing a bit of catch-up work and applying for the R25 grant from the NIH this fall, which will afford me six months of research time during my final year of residency followed by one supported year of a research fellowship. I would encourage trainees, even before you know where your focus may be, to make an appointment with several of the experts in your field to get an idea of what type of research may be available, and build a repertoire of mentors as you start to explore your interests in the specific field.

In my post-graduation experience, the MD/PhD places us at a unique juncture to bridge the gap between the lab and patients; this is a powerful and intimidating position. There will always be the naysayers, and the NIH grant cycles will have ups and downs, but if a life of combined research and clinical practice is what you strive for, don’t let anyone dissuade you. Keep working, keep reading, keep researching, and keep caring for people!