A third-year medical student is the first from the Foster School of Medicine to be awarded a prestigious National Institutes of Health scholarship offering a year of immersive research at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
Grant Zurcher was one of 50 across the country selected to participate in the NIH’s Medical Research Scholars Program, which will start in July. The program will require Zurcher to take a year off from school, but he will return to the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus to finish his studies and graduate with the Foster School of Medicine’s Class of 2023.
“I’ve enjoyed my research experience before and during medical school. Because of that, I’ve wanted to do more. Doing full-time research without having to also balance clinical duties or curriculum requirements for a whole year is a blessing,” Zurcher said. “I want a career in biomedical research, so this is an incredible opportunity that I can’t pass up.”
The Medical Research Scholars Program is designed for future clinician-scientists who seek to have careers in biomedical research. Zurcher, who has participated in research programs since high school, said he hopes to have a career in oncology, the branch of medicine that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
“I’ve wanted to pursue a career in oncology since before I started medical school, and that passion has only intensified over time,” Zurcher said. “When I get to the NIH campus, my hope is to do cancer research, especially translational cancer research, which aims to find new ways to diagnose and treat cancer. It’s what my entire application and personal statement was about, and I believe that’s part of why they chose me.”
Zurcher will have access to a wide array of teaching methods, professional development coaching and a top-notch mentorship program. He hopes to get some of his research published and to build contacts with the National Cancer Institute, which is vital to his future goals.
He will miss his Class of 2022 peers who started medical school together in 2018. However, he’s received encouraging words from his classmates and faculty members.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Zurcher said. “While I’m happy to be selected, I’m also sad to not graduate with my class. However, I’m grateful that everyone is so excited for me.”
Maleka Najmi, another third-year student at the Foster School of Medicine, also applied and interviewed for the Medical Research Scholars Program. It’s the first time two Foster School of Medicine students were asked to interview for the prestigious scholars program.
“We are proud of all our medical students for their hard work, especially Grant and Maleka, who were each granted an interview for this highly sought-after position due to their extensive research experience,” said Linda S. Ellis, M.D., MJ, MA, FABP, FCAP, associate dean of student affairs and associate professor in Department of Pathology. “They are just the latest examples of our medical students being uniquely prepared for prestigious opportunities due to the Foster School of Medicine’s advanced curriculum, which includes clinical experience in their first year and an emphasis on hands-on learning. Both will undoubtedly continue with their passion for research, and we look forward to hearing about Grant’s experience with cutting-edge technologies when he returns to El Paso.”
The Foster School of Medicine has evolved as a leader in clinically focused education thanks to hands-on clinical experience and a focus on culturally competent community service. Medical students gain clinical experience within the first year of the curriculum, a unique approach among most U.S. medical schools.
TTUHSC El Paso is one of only two health sciences centers designated as Title V Hispanic-Serving Institutions – and the only one on the U.S.- Mexico border — preparing the next generation of health care heroes, with 48% of students identifying as Hispanic.