The PIRRT program in the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh is designed to train academic pathologists to become independently funded principal investigators in disease-oriented research, and to play leading roles in combined research and diagnostic careers. The program, which was initiated in 2005, is structured for integration of full time research training with ACGME training.
PIRRT also aims to enhance the visibility of pathology as a career track among undergraduate, medical, graduate and MD-PhD students.
The program includes a department-funded PIRRT post-doctoral fellowship year (leave of absence from residency), accompanied by flexible elective time during ACGME training towards primary certification in Pathology. This funding allows maximal flexibility for a trainee to enter a given laboratory in Pathology or to forge new collaborative relationships harnessing the strengths of laboratories across the entire Pittsburgh community. There are also opportunities for additional research time integrated with a variety of subspecialty fellowships. The PIRRT fellow receives training in Peer Review and Grantsmanship, as well as longitudinal career advice during his or her entire post-graduate/post-doctoral training period from an advisory committee composed of research and clinical subspecialty mentors.
From a broader perspective, the Department of Pathology is fully committed to resident and fellow career development. Many different types and levels of investigative activity are encouraged – spanning the full range from clinicopathological series, diagnostic tests, disease pathophysiology, and basic science – and result in frequent awards at national meetings. In this general academic environment, trainees aiming to integrate independent research careers with diagnostic excellence can flourish side by side with trainees focused on improving diagnostic and prognostic markers.
All Pathology residents, regardless of whether they are working towards academic or private practice careers, receive 6 months of elective time in the AP/CP combined track, or 12 months of electives for single-track trainees, allowing optimal training towards individual goals and interests. This elective time is in addition to the research fellowship year provided by the PI Training Track, and provides the PIRRT trainee with maximal flexibility to fine-tune his or her research or clinical interests.
Trainees from our Department have historically transitioned directly to faculty positions with generous research startup packages. They may choose to pursue mentored K08 awards or proceed directly to early stage investigator R01 or foundation support.
The PIRRT post-doctoral year is compatible in length with the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award.
PIRRT trainees may also be eligible for career development programs and financial support through the University of Pittsburgh Physician Scientist Incubator program and the NIH-funded Pittsburgh Innovation in Collaborative Training of Residents Alliance (PICTOR) A StARR program. This NHLBI Stimulating Access to Research in Residency program supports Pathology, Medicine, Pediatrics and Surgery residents interested in heart, lung, blood, vascular and sleep research, and comes with the option for additional support in the fellowship or junior faculty years.
Qualified PIRRT trainees will be expected to meet the requirements for high-ranking acceptance to the Pathology Residency program and show evidence of strong commitment to an investigational academic career. Most applicants will have a PhD degree and primary authorship publications in a relevant field.
To remain in good standing, accepted PIRRT trainees are expected to:
- Meet with committee members every 6 months.
- Complete the research year at least one year before the end of residency or fellowship training in the Department of Pathology.
- Fully participate in a physician-scientist grantsmanship course that meets 2h/wk x 8 wks at the beginning of their research year.
The Phase I application is ordinarily completed when the applicant is interviewing for residency programs, and focuses upon the applicant's motivation, research background, and potential for independent research.
Once accepted into the residency phase of the program, the PIRRT trainee is expected to assemble a provisional advisory committee consisting of a PIRRT committee member and two other faculty members (typically in pathology, but may include potential research mentor, if already identified), and hold the first committee meeting in conjunction with the residency director by December 15 of PGY1. This committee is charged with assisting in the selection of a suitable research laboratory, coordinating the timing of relevant pathology rotations, and longitudinal career advice for research and the diagnostic aspects of the trainee's career, prior to, during and after the PIRRT research year.
Upon selection of a primary research mentor and project, the trainee will submit a Phase II application by February 15 of the proposed research year. The Phase II application considers the quality of the training plan, mentor and mentoring plan, and serves as the application for PIRRT funding of the trainee's research year salary, commensurate with the PGY year.
At this time, the committee will be adjusted, if necessary, to include the research mentor, a PIRRT committee member, and one or two other faculty reflecting additional research training needs or the trainee's chosen clinical subspecialty.
PIRRT Executive Committee
Charleen T. Chu, MD, PhD Michael Shurin, MD, PhD
Tim D. Oury, MD, PhD Ken Tamama, MD, PhD
Harry C. Blair, MD Alan Wells, MD, DMS