Just ask Long Beach Polytechnic (Poly) senior Janice Dang. "I was planning to become a dermatologist. After this mentorship, I want to specialize in obstetrics/gynecology and I also would love to discover innovative treatments through research," Dang explained. Adding, "I want to be a physician-scientist," much like her mentoring duo—Jessica Chan, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Erica Wang, MD, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Shepherding science-minded students is the shared commitment underlying a now two-decades-old partnership between PACE and three area institutions—Cedars-Sinai, the Lundquist Institute for Biomedical Innovation and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Open to academically accomplished seniors, PACE offers three learning tracks, one of which focuses on biomedical research. Coursework includes biostatistics, ethics, institutional review board issues, human physiology and human subject safety.
Mentorship also is a PACE cornerstone. From November through February, students meet weekly with experienced investigators and physician-scientists at one of the participating institutions. As dictated by pandemic protocols, recent sessions were virtual, as was the culminating event featuring Poly students presenting the research projects they completed under their mentors' guidance.
"It's great to see so many people logging on," said Brennan Spiegel, MD, professor of Medicine and director of Cedars-Sinai Health Services, who emceed the event. "This program is in its 20th year, and over 300 students have completed the biomedical-research track. Every year we see students doing outstanding research, and the goal is to encourage a greater number of students—particularly women and underrepresented minorities—to consider careers in biomedical research."
Malleeka Suy may be just such a career convert. "Before this experience, I was on the fence about pursuing medicine or research, but after hearing how passionate our mentors are about their jobs, I'm now interested in women's health and a future that could include medical school and research."
Suy, along with Dang and fellow Poly senior Athena Tea, formed a trio under the mentorship of Chan and Wang. Together, they made a high-level presentation titled, "BRCA Germline Mutations May Be Associated With Decreased Ovarian Reserve."
"Our three mentees were super engaged, very bright and they're doing a lot more advanced work than I did in high school," observed Wang. "We all looked froward to our Tuesday sessions and they were excited about their project."
Chan was excited "to have an opportunity to reach younger students with budding interest in medicine and research. Our mentees asked some amazing and thoughtful questions that gave me a fresh perspective on the topics I'm teaching."
Another trio of students—Jacob Kraus, Victoria Quach and Adam Raviv—were matched with a trio of Cedars-Sinai mentors: Stephen J. Freedland, MD, director of the Center for Integrated Research in Cancer and Lifestyle and the Warschaw, Robertson, Law Families Chair in Prostate Cancer at Cedars-Sinai Cancer and professor of surgery; Alexandra Mack, MPH, Center for Integrated Research in Cancer and Lifestyle; and Adriana Vidal, PhD, associate professor of Surgery. Their mentees presented, "Efficacy and Side Effects of Three Treatments of Non-Metastatic Prostate Cancer: A Case Discussion With a 65-Year-Old White Male."
Eleven students mentored by faculty from the two other participating institutions also presented impressive research projects, including: "Hemodialysis Vascular Access Decision-Making;" "Macrophage Gene Expression Responses to SARS-CoV-2;" "Mechanisms of Arterial Oxygen Saturation Differences Between Treadmill and Cycle Exercise in COPD Patients;" "Three-Dimensional Mapping of Mitochondria Structure and Function in Lung Cancer;" and "Vascular Disease—Neurovascular, Cardiovascular and Peripheral Vascular Disease."
In concluding the event, Spiegel thanked the participants for enabling "this 20-year tradition to continue despite a pandemic. The future of biomedical science looks secure and, perhaps, you will look back on this day as a turning point that set you on your career path."
Faculty members interested in mentoring the next cohort of PACE students are encouraged to contact Odelia Cooper, MD, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Debby Peterson at email@example.com.