Undergraduates Get Hands-On Experience with Clinical Research

September 04, 2012

UCSF’s Pre-Health Undergraduate Program (PUP) offers undergraduate college students from the Bay Area and around the country a valuable combination of mentorship, classroom training and networking support with the goal of attracting them to careers in clinical and translational science.

“PUP gives undergraduates an opportunity to explore a career path that they may not have considered before,” said Peter Chin-Hong, MD, MAS, director of the program and an associate professor in the UCSF School of Medicine.

College students interested in the health sciences long have had “shadowing experiences” following providers who see patients, which offers a glimpse into clinical medicine, he said. “What has been missing is a corollary experience in clinical and translational research.”

Shellby Fabian

Shellby Fabian

Managed by the Clinical and Translational Science Training program of UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the PUP program recently completed its latest five-week training cycle that culminated with presentations by 21 graduates.

The program includes a one-week orientation followed by a Designing Clinical Research (DCR) course. As part of the program, PUP participants are matched with pre-doctoral trainees who are part of CTSI’s Clinical and Translational Research Fellowship Program. The trainees, who are already involved in research of their own, involve PUP undergraduates in their work.

“The most valuable aspect of the program for me was working with my mentor,” said PUP participant Shellby Fabian, a sociology major from Amherst College. She described the program as “extremely inspiring” and noted that she gained skills that are transferable to various areas, such as senior thesis research, working in teams and networking.

“I have always been curious about a career in health, but undecided about whether or not it was for me,” she said, adding that she emerged from the training with a newfound interest in becoming a physician.

PUP mentors benefit from the program as well, said Ayesha A. Appa, a fourth-year UCSF medical student who served as a Fabian’s mentor.

Ayesha A. Appa,

Ayesha A. Appa,

“Mentorship is a keystone element of the medical profession, and developing as a clinician, researcher or just a human in medical school can be largely attributable to mentor-mentee relationships of various kinds,” Appa said. “The PUP program was the first opportunity that not only allowed me to practice being a mentor, but also provided instruction in mentorship skills.”

“I loved the opportunity to provide a nuanced introduction to the medical field,” she said, recalling that the excitement of pursuing a novel investigation is what cemented her own commitment to medical research. “It is such an enriching experience to connect with someone at an earlier phase of the process, and learn how best to help them along.”

An Expanding Training Program

The training program continues to expand and this year has been its most diverse ever, said PUP coordinator Christian Leiva. The most recent PUP students represented a wide range of majors — from history to Spanish to biology — and seven different schools, including UC Berkeley, Loyola Marymount University, San Francisco State University, University of the Pacific, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Amherst College and Harvard University.

Working with mentors, the latest PUP students were involved in diverse research questions including:

  • Can an educational intervention about cervical cancer screening change the knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of women in western Kenya?
  • Is school connectedness associated with peer victimization (as bully, victim, or bully-victim) among middle- and high school-aged students in California public schools?
  • What are the factors predicting health care utilization by chronically ill individuals recently released from California state prisons returning to San Francisco?
  • What is the impact of local radiotherapy to the breast on ovarian reserve in premenopausal women undergoing treatment for early-stage breast cancer?

Joining Chin-Hong in leading the program are several other UCSF faculty, including Deborah Grady, MD; Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, PhD, MD, MAS; and George Sawaya, MD.

For more information about PUP, contact Christian Leiva, or follow PUP on Twitter and Facebook.

UCSF's CTSI is a member of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards network funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (Grant Number UL1 TR000004). Under the banner of Accelerating Research to Improve Health, CTSI provides a wide range of services for researchers, and promotes online collaboration and networking tools such as UCSF Profiles.