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Tarek Metwally - June 2016

This month, the AADR Strides in Science features Tarek Metwally, a third-year dental student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Metwally was the only dental student accepted into the 2015-2016 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP). In its fourth year, the 2015-2016 class was comprised of 55 scholars, which is the largest class to date. 

The NIH MRSP is a yearlong residential program that introduces dental, medical and veterinary students to cutting-edge research, as part of NIH's goal of training the next generation of clinician-scientists and biomedical researchers. The program places creative, research-oriented students in NIH laboratories and clinics, including within the NIH Clinical Center, to conduct basic, clinical or translational research in areas that match their career interests and research goals. 

A mentored research training experience forms the core of this program and allows these future clinician-scientists and biomedical researchers to carry out research across the full spectrum of science in the interest of improving public health. In addition to a rigorous research agenda, MRSP scholars participate in courses, journal club seminars, a structured lecture series and clinical teaching rounds. They also present their research to the NIH community and at domestic professional conferences. Each scholar is assigned a tutor/advisor, who provides guidance in defining a well-articulated career development plan and in selecting a dedicated NIH research mentor. 

Dr. Bruce Baum was Metwally’s assigned tutor. He was mentored by Dr. Michael T. Collins and worked in his lab on a project titled “Molecular and Cellular Characteristics of FGF23-Secreting Phosphaturic Mesenchymal Tumors.” When Collins was asked to describe Metwally, he exclaimed “Tarek is a very smart, hardworking pleasant person, and it was great working with him. He was dedicated to finding ways to take the project forward to finish the project. I’ve worked with nearly 10 MRSP students over the years and I see it as an opportunity it inoculate young clinicians with the research bug to get them interested in translational and basic research. As with Tarek, it was a very fulfilling experience.”

Students interested in applying for the 2017-2018 class should visit www.cc.nih.gov/training/mrsp/index.html. The next application cycle will open on October 1, 2016.

The NIH MRSP is a public-private partnership supported jointly by the NIH and generous contributions to the Foundation for the NIH from AADR, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Colgate-Palmolive Company, as well as alumni of student research programs and other individual supporters.

Did you have any concerns about applying to be in the NIH MRSP?
I was concerned about leaving my dental school for a year because it’s not something that’s traditionally done. During your last two years of dental school, you’re the one treating patients and dictating treatment plans, and coordinating with specialists. Taking a year off really requires a lot of conversations with the school’s faculty and administrators to ensure that you’re leaving at the right time and that patient care needs are dispersed to the right providers as well. The University of Michigan was very supportive of my enrollment in the NIH MRSP. In the past, other University of Michigan students have participated in the program and the university really encourages students to pursue this opportunity.  

What are some of the benefits of participating in the NIH MRSP?
Having the opportunity to network with other professional students and the mentorship are by far two of the best benefits of being in this program. As a dental student, a lot of the things I’ve seen working in Dr. Collins’ lab are things I wasn’t exposed to in traditional dental curriculum. Through my mentor Dr. Collins I’ve been able to learn how there are other routes than the traditional private dental practice and see how a successful academic career looks—one that blends research with service and mentorship. I’ve seen glimpses of this with my mentors at Michigan, in particular Dr. Nisha D’Silva, but seeing the combination of clinical care and research at the NIH is an entirely different experience. 

How do you want your career to look?
I want to be in academic setting and have balance that includes clinical care, research and teaching. I really want to do more teaching in the future. 

Why should more dental students apply to be in the NIH MRSP?
The experience of taking a year away from school to participate in the program seems daunting at first but the work you will do here is incredible. You will meet some of the kindest, smartest people and being able to be part of that for a year is rewarding. You’ll return to dental school refreshed, with a new perspective and see that there’s more to healthcare than just what you were exposed to in school. You don’t have to come from the strongest research background—what they really look for here is someone who is interested in learning and wants to give it a shot. It’s about your attitude, determination and willingness to learn. I'm thankful for the opportunity to participate in the NIH MRSP and I hope that other dental students will read this piece and be encouraged to apply for the 2017-2018 program. 

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