Education and Training on Precision Medicine in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond

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June 3, 2021

The Office of International Medicine Programs (IMP) continues to expose medical students to precision medicine, a relatively new concept that has yet to be embedded in most medical curricula and training despite the significant role it will play in the future. IMP has made efforts to supplement the gap in precision medicine education and training through the Virtual Research Training Programs (VRTP) that were launched this past year. 

Fernando Vidal-Vanaclocha, MD, PhD, a research professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and research director for IMP, feels the lack of exposure to precision medicine in medical education must be addressed. “Medical students must receive training on how to approach precision medicine principles at the beginning of their education, and once they are practitioners, they need additional support for precision medicine adoption and implementation.”

Genevieve McKenna, program manager at IMP, echoes her support despite precision medicine requiring significant financial investment from the medical and research community. “Precision medicine strategies can also help prevent disease or reduce costs over time, and it is not an investment only for education and technology.”

Two versions of the program, a four-week version and an eight-week version, are being conducted virtually due to COVID-19 and offer a unique opportunity for international and GW medical students to collaborate as they navigate current issues within medicine and discover how precision medicine offers creative solutions to those issues. Virtual participation also allows a greater number of students with access to these programs without the need to apply for visas or pay for travel and housing costs.

The four-week VRTP is an elective that is available to senior-level international and GW medical students or medical graduates who will develop presentations focused on the incorporation of precision medicine principles and methods into their clinical or research practices. The eight-week VRTP is available to all levels of medical students and recent medical graduates and offers a broad introduction to precision medicine through a combination of lectures, discussions, and participation in a culminating project.

As part of their culminating project, the eight-week VRTP students will support an ongoing clinical research study through activities such as clinical and molecular data integration and clinical significance analysis. This year, Vidal-Vanaclocha, who teaches both courses, expanded the list of IRB-approved precision medicine projects for students to select from a variety of medical specialties, including oncology, cardiology, endocrinology, pathology, internal medicine, and neuropsychiatry. An IRB-approved study on COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 sequelae will also be offered. These exciting projects will also involve Spanish faculty from a network of university hospitals in Spain.

Additionally, IMP is currently revitalizing its continuing medical education (CME) programs to involve distinguished GW faculty and courses related to popular topics in medicine and science, such as precision medicine, oncology, disaster medicine, trauma systems, and cardiology, in addition to preparation for medical boards. These courses have the potential to be held both virtually and in person once COVID-related travel restrictions are lifted.

International and GW medical students who are interested in the four- or eight-week VRTP are encouraged to request applications from Genevieve McKenna at gmckenna94@email.gwu.edu. The applications for the four-week VRTP, which will be held between Sept. 27 and Oct. 22, 2021, are due on Aug. 20, 2021. Physicians interested in learning more about CME courses may contact Kara Woodman at kwoodman@gwu.edu.