First Annual Inter-School Research Festival Fosters Multidisciplinary Collaboration

Brian Alldredge, associate dean for Academic Affairs and a clinical professor who has joint appointments in the School of Pharmacy and School of Medicine, talks with students and residents at the inter-school research festival.

By Kate Darby Rauch

“Break Down the Silos!” might be the best name for a first-of-its-kind UCSF research festival held last week at the Parnassus campus.

The First Annual Inter-School Research Festival, sponsored by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), aims to showcase – together – research from fellows, residents and students from all four UCSF schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

“It’s exciting. It’s historical,” said Peter Chin-Hong, MD, associate professor in the School of Medicine, and co-director of the CTSI’s Pathways to Careers in Clinical & Translational Research (PACCTR) fellowship program.

“This is the first time we’ve tried really hard to bring people together, to cross-pollinate, if you will, and synergize. And this is really what science is all about.”

Traditionally, academic medical research is presented for colleagues within specialties, such as cancer research for oncologists or pharmacological work for pharmacists. Recently, however, there’s a growing move to get experts from different disciplines working with each other, as a way of enhancing the learning experience, and ultimately patient care. UCSF is a driving force in this movement, Chin-Hong said.

“There’s been an explosion of interest in creating research activities outside the four colleges. There’s no reason people should have siloed research experiences or siloed curriculum.”

Sharing Ideas

The idea for the Inter-School Research Festival, which was held from May 18 to 21, is credited largely to Joel Palefsky, MD, director of the CTSI’s PACCTR fellowship program, which offers intensive research training opportunities for students and residents.

The mandate of PACCTR is to include students from all four UCSF schools, Palefsky said. The spirit of PACCTR is to encourage these students to collaborate and share their work and ideas.

“We’re recognizing that the future of science will be conducted by multidisciplinary teams,” he said. “UCSF is a great place for this since we have the four schools in close proximity to each other, already working together in so many ways.”

In addition to PACCTR students, participants in the festival include trainees from the CTSI Resident Research Program, the Pediatric Fellowship Program and Pathways to Discovery, a universitywide program designed to encourage “discovery, innovation and leadership,” beyond the care of individual patients. Faculty and trainees from all four schools also participated.

Encouraging Multidisciplinary Conversation

The week of events included “Posterpalooza,” a lively poster session featuring diverse student works – and another UCSF first. Students presented their research to peers and faculty in small rotating groups, clustered by general interest, such as cancer, end-of-life care, or pregnancy and birth. Each cluster had a mix of work from different schools. Dental posters were next to pharmacy. Nursing next to medicine.

“Spending so much time in your research, you forget how narrow of a field you’re working in,” said second-year dental student Rebecca Schnitt, who presented research on the molecular workings of how oral cancer cells detach and spread throughout the body.

“This really presents an opportunity to step back and see a plethora of research with the commonality of improving health care.”

This “commonality” was felt by Schnitt’s next-door poster presenter, fourth-year medical student Laura Petrillo. Her research was on the molecular characteristics of human breast tumors when transplanted into immune-deficient mice. “We exchanged email addresses, and hope to stay in touch.”

Deborah Africa, a graduate student in the School of Nursing, said the poster session encouraged multidisciplinary conversation, which is an important start to improvements in health care delivery.

“It allows us to share what we’re doing with each other in a more personal way than reading in journals.” Africa’s research was on the effects of medical providers’ attitudes on Latino fathers of deceased children.

Advocating for Collaboration

Other festival events included a meeting of the Inter-School Journal Club, a book club of sorts, taking on journal articles, and a regular campus program sponsored by PACCTR. This week’s looked at pregnancy and oral health. 

Other programs included the CTSI’s Resident Research Symposium, the Pediatric Subspecialty Fellowship Research Day, oral presentations from PACCTR fellows, and a keynote address by Warren Browner, MD, CEO of California Medical Center and an adjunct professor of epidemiology and biostatistics.

To Brian Alldredge, PharmD, associate dean for Academic Affairs and a clinical professor who has joint appointments in the School of Pharmacy and School of Medicine, the festival brings relief and hope. Alldredge, a Posterpalooza small group leader, said he’s been advocating for years for more inter-school collaboration in research and teaching. “It’s truly challenging. This is a great first step,” he said. 

Alldredge was among the associate deans who first collaborated on organizing an interprofessional education day with students and deans from all four schools in September 2006. A year later, the UCSF Strategic Plan called on the University to “ensure that students and trainees are immersed in a culture that embraces interdisciplinary, interprofessional and transdisciplinary educational programs.”

But change comes slowly.

Alldredge noted that most research presented at the festival was from individual schools. “Hopefully, in five years you’ll see more collaboration in research teams.”

Photos by David Hand

Related Links:

UCSF Works to Expand Interprofessional Education
UCSF Today, April 26, 2007

Students Learn About Teamwork During Interprofessional Education Day
UCSF Today, September 27, 2996