"Upstate has a lot of opportunities, and the bar is set high,” MD/PhD student Becky Lewandowski said of the program. “There’s very much a 1-on-1 feeling and a supportive community here, both in the Graduate School and in the Medical School. They try to help MD/PhD students with the transition from the clinical years to the research years and vice versa. There are a lot of things in place to support that."
Students in the MD/PhD program tend to be interested in the “crossover” of knowledge between basic research and clinical application, Lewandowski said – not just how things work at the molecular level, but how those processes play out in a clinical setting. "You have to look at both," she said.
Lewandowski earned her PhD at Upstate in 2008, and her MD in 2010, before beginning her residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital. Lewandowski’s research specialty during her PhD years was the pharmacology of cardiovascular gap junctions. She specifically looked at possible pharmacological tools to better understand these important cellular communicators within the heart.
During the PhD portion of her studies at Upstate, Lewandowski shared authorship on several articles in scholarly journals and book chapters. In 2008, she was first author on a paper for Circulation Research which described her thesis work. Specifically, the paper looks at the role of a gap junction pharmacophore, RXP-E, and its effects on maintaining electrical propagation in ischemic cardiac cells.
"In any research lab, the goal is both discovery, and then just as importantly, communication of that work. In our field, the most common modality is through publication in scientific journals,” Lewandowski said. “By taking the time to do the research program, you’re around people working toward a goal of making discoveries, with the added skills of communicating both the ends and the means."