The Division on Substance Abuse of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Institute established a 2-year postdoctoral program that focuses on training physicians and psychologists for research careers in substance abuse. The main goal of this program, which is now in its 19th year of existence, is to provide both the research skills and clinical expertise necessary to design and carry out research on the etiology and treatment of substance use disorders. In this competing application we are requesting 5 additional years of funding for 5 fellows to be enrolled in the program each year. The program continues to include the following aspects of training: 1) Didactic introduction to clinical research in the addictions that incorporates a comprehensive overview of the substance abuse field, an introduction and advanced course in statistics, a weekly journal club and methodology seminar, and a formal course and ongoing instruction on the ethical and appropriate scientific conduct of clinical research;2) Research apprenticeship where each trainee works as a junior collaborator under the close supervision of a senior investigator who serves as a preceptor and mentor;3) Clinical experience in the major modalities used to treat substance abuse;and 4) Development of teaching capabilities where each fellow is provided opportunities to provide lectures/seminars to medical students, psychiatric and other medical house staff and/or present at journal clubs and scientific meetings. A new direction in the past 5 years has been to recruit and train MD/PhD candidates who concentrate on translational paradigms to better understand the physiologic and behavioral mechanisms associated with substance abuse. In the 19 years that the program has been running there has been a steady flow of high quality applicants. 47 trainees (31% females) have entered the program, including 34 physicians (30 psychiatrists, 1 neurologist, 2 internists, 1 family medicine), 1 nurse practitioner with a doctorate in public health, and 12 psychologists. In the past 5 years 3 of the physicians have been MD/PhDs. Of those who graduated in the past 10 years, 71% have gone on to academic-research positions, and 24% have entered academic clinical/teaching positions in which several have remained actively involved in research activities. Six fellows (one on a supplemental slot) are currently in training and two additional fellows will begin training in July 2012. The program has been successful in recruiting women and minority trainees. In parallel to this successful training program the faculty within the Division has continued to grow, enriched by the graduating fellows. At the first grant submission there were 9 faculty members within the Division on Substance Abuse. Currently, there are 23 faculty members, of which 11 are capable of serving as mentors. This sustained growth demonstrates how vibrant the Division on Substance Abuse is for young investigators.
Substance abuse remains a significant public health problem that requires more effective treatment interventions. A cadre of clinical researchers is needed to explore the mechanisms of disease and to develop new behavioral and pharmacological treatments. Our long-standing program has been at the forefront of training young investigators and through continued support, our program hopes to ensure that there is a new generation of junior clinical investigators who eventually become leaders in the substance abuse field.
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