The TIPPING Point: How Stanford’s Translational Investigator Program Supports—and Propels—the Careers of Early Physician-Scientists
Chad Weldy, MD, PhD, found his calling deep in the toxicology laboratory at the University of Washington (UW), while he was working alongside physician-scientists to investigate the effects of air pollution on cardiovascular and pulmonary health. Weldy always knew that he loved scientific research, and it was this interest that propelled him through college at Western Washington University and a subsequent PhD program. But he had never considered a career in medicine. His work at UW—along with his exposure to a blend of cardiology and basic science—was “my first introduction to the possibility of doing both,” he recalls. “I decided that was my goal.”
After earning his doctorate, Weldy pursued that goal in earnest—completing a postdoctoral fellowship at UW in the lab of a prominent cardiologist, and receiving his MD from Duke University. He landed at Stanford in 2017 as one of nine residents in the Department of Medicine’s Translational Investigator Program (TIP).
It's becoming harder to retain physician-scientists in a RESEARCH CAREER
TIP is designed to provide unparalleled training and mentorship to individuals like Weldy, who are planning careers as physician-scientists. It’s an important goal, says Joy Wu, MD, PhD, one of three co-directors of the program. Physician-scientists bring a unique perspective to the practice of medicine—bridging the divide between the bench and the bedside. And recent reports from organizations like the National Institutes of Health suggest their numbers are dwindling.
“It’s becoming harder to retain physician-scientists in a research career,” Wu explains. “This program exists to reach them as early as possible—when they’re applying to residency—and to support a robust pool of physician-scientists that will become faculty here or at other leading academic medical centers.”
For current residents in the TIP program, this support takes many forms. Participants are guaranteed a salary at the full Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education level even during their American Board of Internal Medicine–mandated research years, along with additional supplements for housing and education. They’re also guaranteed a fellowship position at Stanford after successfully meeting residency requirements. Weldy, for example, will be joining the cardiovascular medicine fellowship after he completes two years in the internal medicine fast track program.
Additionally, TIP provides myriad mentorship opportunities—from quarterly dinners hosted by faculty to involvement in the Pathways of Distinction program, a mentorship initiative that allows residents to select one of several individual pathways that best aligns with their academic interests. These initiatives help build a sense of community, says Weldy.
“We’ve had several lunches where we have had amazing investigators present some of their research, as well as their path to how they ended up as faculty at Stanford. I love being able to get away from the wards for an hour to sit with other physician-scientists and talk science.”
Training is another key component. Wu elaborates: “We have sessions on everything related to career development, including grant writing, how to seek a mentor, how to apply for faculty positions, and more.”
Participants also benefit from Stanford’s collaborative and innovative spirit. “At many medical centers the university is separate from the medical school and the hospital,” Wu explains. “At Stanford everything is in close proximity. I think that leads to a rich array of opportunities for research and collaboration.”
Weldy agrees, adding: “The TIP program stood out to me because of the unique culture of innovation and discovery that is infused across campus. There’s not only a history of discovery—there’s a palpable sense that Stanford is on the tip of changing the practice of medicine.”