New program to bring students from China for PhD training

The University of Michigan Medical School is set to welcome more students from China for biomedical science training thanks to a new dual-degree agreement with Central South University’s Xiangya School of Medicine.

Xiangya School of Medicine students with their Michigan Medicine research mentors. For several years, Xiangya students have been visiting Ann Arbor as part of a 24-month research skills training program. A new agreement will create opportunities for some Xiangya students to obtain their PhD in biomedical research from UMMS.

Set to kick-off in 2020, the arrangement calls for up to 20 Xiangya students over the next five years to enter the UMMS Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) PhD training program. Funded by a successful Xiangya alumni intent on improving medical education in China, the new agreement expands on an existing partnership between the two schools; UMMS welcomes 10 Xiangya trainees each year for a non-degree conferring program that lasts 24 months.

“We’re now on our sixth group of student learners from Xiangya, and everyone on both sides is very happy,” said Frederick Huetwell Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine Eugene Chen, who has been spearheading the partnership with Xiangya, first the two-year research training and now the expanded, five-year dual-degree program.

“Our faculty mentors have been very impressed with the students from Xiangya, and the Xiangya leadership has also been very pleased with the program,” Chen said. “We put a great deal of effort into taking care of the students here, and the students return home and are champions for us.”

The new dual-degree program – students will earn their MD from Xiangya School of Medicine and their PhD from UM – is funded by Dr. Shaobo Li, a Xiangya School of Medicine alum who is the CEO of Sinocare, a Chinese medical device manufacturer. Li made the gift through his foundation to the Xiangya School of Medicine to launch the initiative. Xiangya has research training partnerships with several US institutions, including medical schools at Cornell, Emory, Yale and the University of Pittsburg, but the agreement with U-M is the first-of-its-kind dual-degree program offered through Xiangya.

“They chose us to be the test case for this new PhD training. It speaks volumes to the reputation of our institution and the partnership we’ve already established with Xiangya,” said Amy Huang, UMMS Clinical Assistant Professor of Cardiology and Director of Asia Programs. “We’re honored that they’ve put their trust in us.”

At the Xiangya School of Medicine, medical education begins immediately after high school and requires eight years to complete. Xiangya students will be eligible to apply for the new dual-degree program after year six of their MD program. The existing, two-year research training partnership between UMMS and Xiangya will remain in place, and some of the candidates for the new PhD training partnership are expected to emerge from that shorter, two-year program, Chen said. All applicants will have to meet all PIBS program standards.  

“Every medical school wants to be a global leader in training the next generation of physician scientists,” Chen said. “If we have access to the best students in China, it’s good for us. Education is not always students learning everything from us. The students also make a valuable contribution to their peers and the broader learning community here at Michigan Medicine.”