New I-Ph.D. program provides doctoral students a clinical research component

Medical researchers and data analysts who can develop the technology and processes to shape our future health care system are in growing demand. The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics (DBHI), in collaboration with the University’s School of Graduate Studies, will help individuals meet that need by offering a new I-Ph.D. co-discipline in Biomedical and Health Informatics beginning next August.

The program offers interdisciplinary Ph.D. students in one of eight primary disciplines, such as cell biology and biophysics or molecular biology and biochemistry, the option to integrate clinical research competencies into their doctoral program of study.

The clinical research component will prepare individuals to participate in translational clinical research, or research that bridges the gap from “bench” to bedside application and health policy, said Karen Williams, Ph.D., professor and chair of the DBHI.

“Translational research has been identified as one of the up and coming professions in health care,” Williams said. “Educating doctoral-level students with interdisciplinary skills is critical in contemporary education. With rapid changes in technology, we are preparing students for a world that might not exist yet but may by the time they graduate. The beauty of the I-Ph.D. is that it’s creating students who are adaptable to more diverse job opportunities that span different disciplines.”

Williams said the program will prepare individuals to meet the health care needs of future generations and make them more marketable within the science and health professions.

Individuals will tailor the clinical research component of the I-Ph.D. to meet their personal need by selecting a minimum of 12 credit hours from a cluster of courses in the clinical research emphasis of the DBHI’s program, and combining them with the courses for their doctorate training in one of the following primary disciplines: Mathematics and Statistics, Cell Biology and Biophysics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Oral Biology, Pharmaceutical Science, Pharmacology and Toxicology, Biomedical Science, or Computer Science. To complete the I-Ph.D. program, the individual’s final dissertation must incorporate aspects of their co- and primary disciplines.

Within the School of Medicine’s bioinformatics department, the greatest demand from students for a master’s degree has been the clinical research emphasis, said Mary Gerkovich, Ph.D., associate professor and Coordinator for the I-Ph.D. co-discipline.

“I think it also represents the best synergy with the existing University I-Ph.D. programs in terms of providing a natural adjunct to what they’re already doing,” Gerkovich said.

The master’s program in bioinformatics through the School of Medicine has grown from three to 40 students in less than three years. That growth is expected to continue, Williams said.

“This is the obvious next step, taking it to the highest level in academics. That’s the Ph.D.,” Williams said.

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