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Pre-doctoral trainees receive top NIH training awards

For the fifth year, MUSC pre-doctoral students have hit an academic grand slam by winning the most competitive grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The National Research Service Awards (NRSA), which are the coveted grants that promising pre-doctoral students seek to win from NIH, were awarded to 12 of MUSC’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) students. Three candidates are awaiting word from NIH on whether they also have won
NRSA grants.
Winning an NRSA fellowship not only helps underwrite a portion of one’s pre-doctoral education and training, but also signifies a very high potential for a successful scientific career, said Perry Halushka, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the College of Graduate Studies and director of MSTP. The students also receive a $1,500 bonus for each year that they have the award, which may be up to five years.
“These awards demonstrate that we have outstanding students and mentors who are nationally competitive,” Halushka said. “In fact, our students’ success rate in winning these awards is better than twice the national average success rate.”
Applying for the award includes three components that students must submit; a research grant proposal, a training plan, and three letters of recommendation. A panel of experts from various NIH institutes reviews the applications.
At MUSC, the incentive to compete for the fellowships is not only monetary. “We require all of our MD/PhD students to compete for the NRSA, and we strongly encourage the graduate students to compete for the grants,” Halushka said. “We prepare them for the process. All students take a grant-writing course at the end of their first year of graduate school.
“For the past 10 years, to my knowledge, only one student has failed to succeed in getting an NRSA,” Halushka added. “Our success rate during the last several years has been 75 percent, whereas nationally, the success rate is 30 percent.”
The current NRSA awardees are: Timothy Whitfield (Ph.D. student); Mildred Embree, Gabrielle Cannick (both from the Dental Medicine Scientist Training Program); and from the Medical Scientists Training Program: Amena Smith, Loretta Hoover (also an MUSC Women’s Scholar), Thomas Mullen, Armina Wiggins, Andre Eaddy, Juan Varela, Mark Hallman, Chris Gault and Joseph Palatinus.
MUSC currently has 59 MSTP students enrolled. During the past five years, 14 students have received their own individual NRSA grants, according to Halushka.
“Considering the size of our graduate school, this is a considerable accomplishment and we can be very proud of our students and faculty,” he said.

Friday, Jan. 23, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.