Global Health Nexus, Winter 2004

Aiming High: First Graduates of MS Program in Clinical Research

Last spring Drs. Ryan McCafferty and Hanae Saito became the first graduates of a program especially designed for a small group of students with big ambitions — the MS Program in Clinical Research. “Most dental school graduates choose among private practice, research, or teaching,” says Dr. Saito. “I wanted all three. That’s why I chose the MS Program in Clinical Research.”

Today Dr. Saito, who briefly practiced dentistry in Japan after receiving her dental degree in 2000 from the Iwate Medical University School of Dentistry, is honing her research and teaching skills at the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research, where she is a Senior Research Fellow. She helps manage clinical trials and mentors students from the MS Program in Clinical Research.

Dr. McCafferty says that the program inspired him to carve out a particular niche as an endodontist. “An endodontist with a master’s degree in clinical research is a valuable commodity,” explains Dr. McCafferty, now a first-year student in NYU Dentistry’s postgraduate program in endodontics. “I don't think there is anyone else in the country pursuing this career track. It opens up more options for me. It helps me as a practitioner by empowering me to apply data more intelligently to patient care. It helps my career in academia, where an advanced degree is essential. And it’s great for my research career, since most people in the field don’t have a research degree and rely mainly on their on-the-job training.”

“Our program teaches students how to apply their critical thinking skills to real-life research,” says Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake, Director of the MS Program in Clinical Research, which began in 2001 with just two students and has now grown to 16 students. Says Dr. Dasanayake, “Our current students come from all walks of life. They include physicians, dentists, computer scientists, agronomists, dental assistants, hygienists, and aspiring dentists. The common denominator is that they are all interested in clinical research.”

Adds Dr. Carla Dersarkissian, a second-year MS Program student who received her DDS degree from NYU in 2001, “I’ve learned that there are more options beyond the traditional career path that most dental school graduates pursue.”

Given the current shortage of trained clinical researchers in all health fields, the MS Program in Clinical Research comes at the right time. Industry-sponsored trials are expected to employ 56,000 principal investigators in 2005, up from 33,000 in 2000, according to an industry newsletter. Thousands more will be needed for government, academic, and other nonprofit-sponsored research.

The MS Program in Clinical Research prepares students for careers in any health field. “Although we have a responsibility to help meet the acute need for oral health researchers, we also want our students to be able to take advantage of the wide range of other career options available to them,” says Dr. Dasanayake. “Few programs provide such broad-based training.”