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MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program directors give spring 2019 report

Penn State College of Medicine MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program co-directors Robert G. Levenson, PhD, and Leslie J. Parent, MD, recently shared program highlights.

Residency matches

The directors shared that each of the program’s 2019 MD/PhD graduates matched into highly competitive and excellent residency programs and wished graduates their congratulations as they enter the next stage of their careers.

MD/PhD students and their matches are as follows:


The directors reported that recruitment season is over and that the program has welcomed a new cohort of seven M1 students, six of whom are already at the College of Medicine doing their prematriculation rotations. Recruitment this year was particularly trying due to changes in the AAMC traffic rules and the large increase in the size of the applicant pool.

This year, the program had 304 completed applications and interviewed 77 candidates over five recruitment days. The directors extend their thanks to all faculty who gave of their time to interview the candidates, as well as to the student recruitment committee of Kyra Newmaster, Jasmine Geathers, Mike Sha, Eric Yau, Sarah Kazzaz and Ganesh Shenoy for the job they did coordinating dinners and tours and making the applicants feel welcome.

Members of the Class of 2019 are:

  • Farrah Alkhaleel (University of Pennsylvania), rotating in the lab of Dr. Aron Lukacher
  • Timothy Helmuth (University of Colorado), rotating in the lab of Dr. Dan Morgan
  • Stephen Hopes (University of California Santa Barbara), rotating in the lab of Dr. Raymond Hohl
  • Havell Markus (Arizona State University), rotating in the lab of Dr. Dajiang Liu
  • Laura Perez (Florida International University), the program’s first Anthropology MD/PhD student, rotating in the lab of Dr. Mark Shriver at University Park
  • Afton Widdershins (The College of Wooster), rotating in the lab or Dr. Laura Carrel
  • Matthew Molinaro (University of Florida), an Engineering, Science and Mechanics MD/PhD student, who will come to the College of Medicine in July

Steering committee members

The program has added two physician-scientists to the MD/PhD Steering Committee.

Joslyn Kirby, MD, is Associate Professor and Vice Chair for Education, Department of Dermatology. John Elfar, MD, is Michael and Myrtle Baker Professor and Vice Chair for Research, Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation. The directors acknowledged Chris Siedlecki, MS, PhD, Jane A. Fetter Professor of Surgery, who stepped down from the steering committee after many years of service to the program.

New courses

Beginning this fall, there will be two new courses specifically designed for MD/PhD students:

  • BMS 597 (Introduction to Advanced Translational Medicine) will replace CEP (Clinical Exposure Program), and is a program requirement for students in the G2-G4 years (G1 optional). This is a for-credit course (pass/fail) that is required for graduation, and is a prerequisite for the required Advanced Translational Medicine Longitudinal Selective for MD/PhD students during M3.
  • ATM-LS 700 (Advanced Translational Medicine-Longitudinal Selective 700) is a Phase II longitudinal selective designed to provide a continuity experience for the M3 student with patients and with select clinical preceptors in a specialty of the student’s choice. Students will spend two full days in clinic per month over the course of the 45-week clerkship. The focus of this selective will be for MD/PhD students to utilize their experience and knowledge in biomedical research and translate that knowledge to help diagnose and treat patients presenting with a particular disease entity. This is a five-credit course (honors/high pass/pass) that will count as a required fourth-year elective.

Summer students

This year, the College of Medicine is hosting two students from Penn State Schreyer Honors College participating in the Schreyer Honors College MD/PhD Summer Exposure Program.

  • Joey Shibata returned for his second summer in Hershey and is working again in Dr. Laura Carrel’s lab and attending clinic with Matthew Coates, MD, PhD. Shibata is a rising senior, and works in Dr. Song Tan’s lab at University Park during the academic year.
  • Peter Forstmeier is spending his first summer in Hershey with Dr. Jim Broach, and attending clinic with Dr. Sheldon Holder, MD, PhD. Forstmeier is a rising sophomore, and works in Dr. Phil Bevilacqua’s lab at University Park during the academic year.

Professional development

This past year, Penn State College of Medicine was awarded a supplement to its T32 MSTP award to support the development and implementation of curricular and training activities aimed at fostering essential professional skills to help build resiliency in trainees and to provide trainees with an enhanced skill set to become successful physician-scientists.

The College has already developed several mechanisms to provide professional development training for its students, and has utilized the supplemental funds to augment those key elements with new training sessions to promote resilience, grit, wellness, leadership, teamwork and a stronger sense of community. To this end, using funds from this supplement, the program held three major retreats that included all students, training program faculty and invited speakers with unique expertise.

The program also expanded its annual spring retreat to include additional interactive sessions, and the new fall and winter retreats focused on grit, resiliency, team building, wellness and building a stronger sense of community.

The availability of supplemental funds offered an opportunity for the MSTP program to support development of training activities in skills that are important for long-term success and career satisfaction. The program is now in position to extend and enhance the menu of professional development activities that are aimed at providing trainees with the professional skills required to be successful physician-scientists. Program leaders will be presenting their experiences at the Great Group MD/PhD Directors meeting in Bethesda from July 17 to 19, immediately following the NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair on July 17.

Two men stand on either side of a woman. The men are holding certificates.

Penn State College of Medicine MD/PhD students Oliver Mrowczynski, left, and Brian Kinsman right, recipients of the 2019 Bond Award, are seen with Dr. Judy Bond, who presented the award.

Student achievements, meetings and awards, January to May 2019

The program congratulated Ernie Wang (Dr. Xuemei Huang, mentor), whose F30 application was funded by the NIEHS; Yunsung Kim (Dr. Jim Connor, mentor), who won Best Poster at the APSA conference in Chicago; and Carson Wills (Dr. H.G. Wang, mentor) and Patricia Yee (Dr. Wei Li, mentor), who were Pediatric Research Day awardees.

The following MD/PhD students were the recipients of the Dean’s Graduation Awards:

  • Howard E. Morgan Award for outstanding Achievement in Basic Science Research: Kimberly Breglio
  • Robert B. Spieth Scholarship Award in Oncology: Saumya Maru
  • Judith Bond, MD, PhD, Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research and Clinical Training: Brian Kinsman and Oliver Mrowczynski
  • Daniel A. Notterman Physician-Scientist Award for Outstanding Clinical Research Conference Presentation: Kristen Clements, Sa Do “John” Kang and Yunsung Kim
  • Biomedical Sciences Graduate Award: Oliver Mrowczynski
  • Department of Microbiology and Immunology John F. Enders Commencement Award: Saumya Maru
A woman is seen in a conference lobby holding a certificate.

MD/PhD student Yunsung Kim holds her certificate for receiving one of six best poster awards during the April 2019 American Physician Scientist Association annual conference in Chicago.

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