Program Tracks

Basic and Translational Science

Track DirectorUtpal Pajvani, MD, PHD 

Over four hundred federally (NIH and NSF) funded basic sciences laboratories at Columbia University are probing fundamental questions in biology, chemistry, and physics. Advances in basic science have inspired advances in medicine for centuries. Sometimes the medical benefit of discoveries is unanticipated. Few thought, for instance, that the 1857 discovery of the microbial basis of fermentation would lead to the germ theory of disease. The potential application of mRNA as vaccines was under-appreciated for decades until their rapid deployment for the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes benefits are more immediately evident. Particle physicists in the 1950’s quickly appreciated the potential of particle beams and pioneered new cancer therapies. Physicians have been an integral part of the distinguished history of basic science discovery.  Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Joseph Goldstein, Nobel laureates, physicians and discoverers of the LDL receptor, recently observed: “Ambitious young physicians juxtaposed to cutting-edge basic scientists can themselves make fundamental discoveries.”   Prior contact with a laboratory will help you make the best use of your Scholarly Project time to develop interesting hypotheses, experimental approaches, and results. We encourage you to attend research seminars on campus - early and often.  We also offer formal seminar opportunities (e.g., Seminars in Research at P&S Series and the Medical Scholars Seminar Series) to expose you to exciting research and to hone your scholarly questions and communication skills.  

Clnical Research

Track Directors: Henry Spotnitz, MD; Marcella Walker, MD

Clinical research aims to translate basic science findings in order to improve the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disease in humans. Columbia has a long and distinguished history of ground-breaking clinical research including the development of the Apgar Score to assess newborns, development of the antibiotic bacitracin, identification of cystic fibrosis, and isolation of the first known odor receptors in the nose, among many others. Our medical center remains an international leader in clinical research today and is brimming with clinical research opportunities in every specialty of medicine. As clinicians, we routinely impact the health of individual patients one-on-one, but as clinical researchers our discoveries have the potential to affect patients’ health and well-being more widely through discoveries that affect screening and treatment guidelines. As potential collaborators, you are a research director’s dream - creative, capable, dedicated, brilliant, productive, and optimistic. The key to a scholarly project in clinical research is matching your interests and talents with those of a stimulating mentor. A fully formulated, original research plan is optional but not required. Most student research concepts will ultimately be modified to match the resources and funding of the mentor’s research group. Your scholarly work in the clinical track will enhance your ability to evaluate medical literature, develop a testable hypothesis, analyze data and pursue your findings to a publishable result. 

Global and Population Health

Track Director: Michael T Yin, MD, MS

The Global and Population Health Track engages students with interests that go beyond the boundaries of clinical medicine and individual patient care. Students in this track explore the range of forces—medical, social, cultural, political, economic, and legal—that have an impact of the health of populations in the United States and around the world.   Global health is “an area for study, research, and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving health equity for all people worldwide.” In our conception, global health refers to the interplay of factors that affect health of populations without respect for national borders. The global in global health refers to the scope of problems, not their location. Population health brings significant health concerns into focus and addresses ways that resources can be allocated to overcome problems that drive poor health conditions. Population health is an interdisciplinary approach that utilizes non-traditional partnerships among different sectors of the community—public health, industry, academia, health care, local government agencies—to achieve positive health outcomes.  Thus, any project that seeks to define factors associated with poor health outcomes within a population and address ways in which resources on the individual and organizational level can be utilized to overcome poor health outcomes can be considered part of the Global and Population Health tract. Global health projects aim to understand and reduce health challenges in international or domestic settings and to cultivate deep cross-cultural understanding. These projects provide students with opportunities to learn about and experience global health directly and consider health beyond the clinical perspective.   Scholarly projects may be done in an international or domestic setting and use clinical or population-based research, professional or patient education, policy work or advocacy, humanistic or bioethical analyses, or other scholarly approaches to address a range of health issues including infectious diseases; chronic diseases; children’s or women’s health; mental health; population health, demography, and aging; global health delivery and health systems; technology innovation; crisis and conflict; ethical issues; or another topic of interest. Projects could build upon or add to ongoing projects (i.e., research, health interventions, educational activities) that aim to strengthen existing capacity and infrastructure on a long-term basis. 

Medical Education

Track Director: Marina Catallozzi, MD

Physicians are teachers.  We teach patients and their families about health and disease.  We teach students and colleagues about the practice of medicine.   The skills involved in teaching and learning are integral to the practice of medicine. Medical curricula are always in flux.  The body of medical knowledge and set of skills is everchanging; the technology available to deliver education and assessment is ever-advancing.  Fabulous opportunities exist to create exciting and efficacious curricular content, perform necessary assessments of existing education, and expand our understanding of the medical education process.   P&S has outstanding faculty interested in medical education and interested in working with students on medical education projects. There are many types of scholarship in medical education and many types of projects that may be conducted as part of this track: • The implementation and/or evaluation of new curricula or new technology. • The evaluation of existing teaching activities towards improving their quality. • Medical education literature review in an area of interest. Experiences in the medical education track will according to the individual project, but may include a combination of: • Mentorship with the medical education faculty • Participation in P&S medical education committees • Teaching in existing courses and programs • Developing, implementing and evaluating new courses • Exploring innovative uses of education technology • Submitting scholarly work to MedEd Portal Students will have access to a wide range of resources, including faculty throughout Columbia University, the Center for Education, Evaluation and Research (CERE), and the Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

Narrative and Social Medicine

Track Director: Rita Charon, MD

The Narrative and Social Medicine Track welcomes students who want to investigate the personal, cultural, and meaning-making dimensions of health and health care. How do individual patients experience pain and suffering? What do clinicians face as they deliver care? What does it mean to be well? Students in this track grapple with questions that arise beyond the biotechnical explanations of disease, from fundamental questions about embodiment and mortality to justice questions about poverty and health. Think of this track as a place to wonder about the nature of our work: why we do what we do as physicians, what values guide our profession, how our training shapes us, and how to shape our futures in medicine. Think of it also as a chance to learn about patients’ needs and desires as they face illness and its sequelae. Narrative Medicine includes studies in the medical humanities—literary studies, history, philosophy, ethics, and religious studies as they pertain to aspects of health and health care. At Columbia, we include the visual and performative arts as well. Social Medicine refers to studies of health policy, economics, political aspects of health, quality improvement, and medical anthropology and sociology. We will sponsor projects of humanities and ethics scholarship, studies of patients’ or clinician’s personal experiences of illness or health care, projects in social justice in health/health care, creative representations that pertain to health, and policy/politics surrounding health care. Projects in this track adopt creative means of expression, intellectual and research methods from humanities disciplines, and social science qualitative research approaches. Mentors and supervisors are drawn from many units of the university including the health sciences, the school of the arts, arts and sciences, the school of journalism, and the law school.