Sparks to direct undergraduate medical research

Monday, January 5, 2015

Matt Sparks, MD, medical instructor in the Division of Nephrology, will serve as director of undergraduate medical research, announced Mary Klotman, MD, chair of the Department of Medicine.

Dr. Sparks’ focus will be on increasing the number of medical students participating in research within the Department of Medicine, said Dr. Klotman.

In this role, Dr. Sparks will oversee medical student research in the department, particularly the third-year experience in which Duke medical students have the unique opportunity to devote their entire third-year to a mentored research project.

“I’m excited about this opportunity to recruit more students into our research programs and labs,” said Sparks. “The Department of Medicine has incredible faculty and resources and we need to open these opportunities to more Duke medical students.”

Over the last several years, nearly a third of Duke medical students leave Duke to pursue their third-year research experience at other institutions. Another sobering fact is that only 22 of the 92 medical students in their third-year were working with faculty mentors from the Department of Medicine.

“We have a lot of room to improve on these numbers,” said Sparks.

He’s already started to explore potential resources that might be used to give scholarships for tuition support, and he is working to expand the School of Medicine directory to reflect updated descriptions of student research opportunities within Medicine research programs and labs.

Another area ripe for improvement is educating the faculty on what it takes to be a successful mentor to medical students.

“Enhancing the faculty member’s mentoring toolbox will be an important component to this initiative if we want to make lasting changes.”

Lastly, plans are underway to begin a journal club in a collaboration between the Department of Medicine and the Duke medical students’ Careers in Internal Medicine Interest Group (CIMIGro).

“Our goal is to not only expose students to sound research but also give them a glimpse into how faculty members successfully navigated a career as a physician-scientist or researcher,” said Sparks.

Sparks will collaborate with Saumil Chudgar, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the Hospital Medicine Program and the Division of General Internal Medicine and director of undergraduate medical education.

“Matt will be a big help to us as we increase opportunities for Duke medical students to be engaged in patient care and basic and clinical research activities of the Department of Medicine,” said Dr. Chudgar.

Chudgar, Sparks and others in the Department of Medicine aim to encourage more medical students to consider matching to internal medicine residency training here.​