The BCM Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Training Program emphasizes the importance of achieving significant research expertise and productivity during fellowship training. A strong foundation in research is critically important to the development of a successful academic career. The fellow’s education in research actually begins during the initial orientation month. The Fundamentals of Clinical Investigation course introduces the fellow to the concepts of research design and data analysis. Beginning with the initial orientation period and continuing throughout the fellowship, trainees learn about clinical research through their exposure and involvement in numerous ongoing clinical trials and study protocols. These trials include the Center’s clinical trials, the Children’s Oncology Group’s, and others related to other collaborative research efforts, which include: the NCI-sponsored Brain Tumor Consortium, the NIH-supported Pediatric Pharmacology Research Unit, and the Glaser Pediatric Research Network. During weekly teaching conferences, fellows are exposed to the presentation and interpretation of research data by clinical researchers and laboratory investigators. At the weekly Research Seminars, faculty and visiting speakers present and discuss their research. Visiting speakers often meet with the fellows in lunchtime discussion sessions.
Beginning in late fall of their first year, trainees attend a series of special presentations given by laboratory and clinical research-oriented investigators. These sessions are designed to familiarize the fellows with specific research conducted throughout the Program’s many laboratories. Physician-scientists in the 37 laboratories within TXCH perform research in molecular oncology, cancer genetics, cancer genomics, cell and gene therapy, pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, neuro-oncology, tumor immunology, transplantation and stem cell biology, and hematology.
A senior member of the Education Committee organizes this series of presentations. During the subsequent two to three months, fellows make individual appointments with selected faculty members of their choice to discuss future research opportunities. Fellows may also explore research opportunities within other research groups and laboratories throughout BCM and the Texas Medical Center. By the end of May of their first year, with guidance from their mentor, the Program Director, and their Scholarship Oversight Committee, each fellow selects a research mentor and laboratory or clinical research project.
Subsequently, during the second and third years of the training program, the fellows have protected time with limited clinical responsibilities in order to pursue their independent research project under the supervision of their research mentor. Fellows commit approximately 80% of their time to their research projects. The goal of training during this period is for the fellow to develop the research skills and training necessary to ultimately become a successful independent clinical or laboratory investigator. Because this process often requires more than three years, fellows are encouraged to remain an additional year on their research.
Excellent mentorship is a hallmark of this Fellowship Training Program. Fellows receive in-depth training in their selected clinical or basic research interest, under the mentorship of a committed senior faculty research mentor. Senior faculty mentors are dedicated to ensuring that each fellow receives the guidance and direction necessary to develop a successful career in academic pediatric hematology-oncology. Fellows are responsible for carrying out an independent research project. They receive support from a faculty advisory committee (the Scholarship Oversight Committee). This committee, which includes the research mentor and additional faculty members with expertise in the fellow’s area of research, meets with the fellow twice each year to ensure that the fellow has a productive and successful research experience.
Continuing Clinical Training in Second and Third Years
In order to maintain and enhance fellows’ clinical skills during this extended research period, all fellows are given basic clinical responsibilities that total 20% of their time. Fellows spend a half-day per week in the clinic seeing primarily their own continuity patients, as well as other patients if time allows. They also rotate on the weekend coverage schedule and spend one month each year in the BMT unit. Upon completion of this 36-month training period, the trainees will have spent approximately 50% of their time in various clinical settings and the other 50% engaged in research activities. In addition, fellows continue to participate in the ongoing schedule of educational conferences, tumor boards, and research seminars — all of which serve to enhance the fellowship’s educational experience.