Tim McCaffrey, Ph.D., is accustomed to working with research fellows from the United States who have funding for just three-month stints in his lab. Newly minted international medical graduates on the other hand, like those from the Middle East whom McCaffrey has hosted in his lab through GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ (SMHS) Office of International Medicine Programs (IMP) Medical Research Fellowship Program (MRFP), can dedicate an entire year to research.
From July of 2013 until this June, McCaffrey, a professor of medicine and director of the division of genomic medicine at SMHS, hosted Saudi Arabian research fellow Rami Alsubail in his lab, where Alsubail worked alongside infectious disease specialists on a project called Lung Dx. The researchers collected bacteria from GW Hospital ICU patients’ lung aspirates and used next-generation sequencers, which can sequence millions of strands of DNA simultaneously, to identify whether the infections were bacterial or viral. The Lung Dx project was recently submitted for publication, and was well-received by the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.
McCaffrey’s division focuses on translational research — those “bench-to-bedside” endeavors that take reams of data from the basic sciences and transform them into new treatment options for patients. “Our projects are great for residents because they get to see the clinical side of the research by shadowing physicians, and also spend time in the lab analyzing the samples they acquired from patients,” McCaffrey explains. “Rami worked on all aspects of the project, from getting the clinical data on the patients to sequencing the bacteria in the lab,” McCaffrey said.
Alsubail says that he was interested in genomics because of its nature as an innovative field. “Dr. McCaffrey helped me obtain the research and lab skills that I was looking for,” he said. “He also gave me a chance to observe the clinicians and be involved in patient care at George Washington University Hospital.” Earlier this summer, after completing his year of research in McCaffrey’s lab, Alsubail began his internal medicine residency at SMHS. “I’m maintaining my relationship with Dr. McCaffrey and thinking about how to expand our research projects between here and my home country,” he says. “I want to see how this opportunity can provide help for people around the world.”
Since 2011, IMP’s fellowship program has helped more than 50 international medical graduates enhance their research careers and pursue graduate medical education in the United States. The tools and experiences gained through the clinical research opportunities, available in a variety of specialties including anesthesiology, emergency medicine, general and neurosurgery, internal medicine and its sub-specialties, neurology, ophthalmology, pathology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and urology, provide fellows with the skills necessary to succeed in the next step of their careers. At the end of the one-year fellowship, participants will have honed practical medical research and inquiry skills utilizing the latest approaches in U.S. health care and medical research, and established a foundation for putting evidence-based medicine into practice.
“This visionary program has exceeded our expectations from all aspects,” says Huda Ayas, Ed.D. ’06, M.B.A. ’98, M.H.S.A. ’93, associate dean for international medicine and executive director of IMP. “It achieved 100% and 70% matching rates in the past two years respectively. The exchange and transfer of knowledge it is allowing have been mutually beneficial for both our research fellows and mentors. It is also serving as a model that U.S. medical institutions are emulating,” she continues. “This program has created an environment of learning and inquiry that will provide a solid foundation for greater professionalism, leadership, and quality of care to the research fellows’ home countries.”
McCaffrey, who is currently hosting another research fellow from Saudi Arabia, Hussain Alrobeh, says he is looking forward to continuing the partnership with IMP. “It’s a great example of two countries and two schools helping each other out,” he says. “We get well-trained people and they get different experience and exposure to American medicine.”