Nikki Gentile, 27, was a researcher and manager of clinical evaluations at the University of California Davis Point-of-Care Technologies Center before joining the Health Education Adaptive Learning Experience (HEAL-X) program at Tulane University. The first-of-its-kind accelerated medical training program gives PhD research scientists the opportunity to get an MD in three and one-half years.
Nikki Gentile is in the inaugural class of PhD research scientists who will earn an MD in three and one-half years at the Tulane University School of Medicine. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)
Gentile says she enjoyed her career in research but her passion for clinical work made it clear she wouldn’t be happy if she didn’t pursue a medical degree.
“I feel that it’s a great opportunity for aspiring physician scientists to accelerate their training and begin practicing translational medicine,” she says. “I think that offering an accelerated program is really valuable because of the time that you are saving.”
The HEAL-X program is unique for both its focus on accomplished researchers in the biomedical sciences and for its specialized teaching structure. Instead of typical first- and second-year medical school classes and lectures, these students are grouped together as peers in interactive, discussion-based classes designed for advanced researchers.
“Having a class full of PhDs promotes really interesting discussions. And one thing that I really love about the program is that we are all very highly respected by the faculty,” Gentile says. “We are thought of more as colleagues in a sense so we can relate to them on a different level and have a more personal conversation-style discussion than a typical medical student would.”
The program started in January with 15 students from across the country. It’s an accomplished group. Collectively, they have published 117 papers, have filed 10 patents (with an additional nine patents pending) and have an average age of 33.