MSTP Office Hours: Dr. Raghu Mirmira, MD, PhD
Dr. Raghu Mirmira has defined his career with one word: diversity. As professor of pediatrics and medicine, director of the Diabetes Center, director of the Wells Center, and co-director of the MSTP, Dr. Mirmira has incorporated a multitude of disciplines into his career. He describes his work as a quartet of jobs that each demand a balance of time and attention. Some days, he is a researcher, and on others he becomes a teacher. In some cases he sees himself as a clinician, while others require him to play the administrator.
When asked about how he balances these many jobs, Dr. Mirmira replied: “The diversity is in part what makes my work enjoyable, it’s what gets me in every day.” He recommends keeping a wide range of specialties and responsibilities in your repertoire. “It helps to keep things dynamic and it keeps me excited about work, knowing it’s not the same thing every day.”
Another of Dr. Mirmira’s various responsibilities is his lab, which focuses on elucidating the pathophysiology of diabetes. Using a variety of models from zebrafish to humans, the Mirmira lab seeks to apply experimental concepts to the real world. Unlike the usual view of Type I diabetes as an autoimmune disease, Mirmira lab sees it as a complex interplay of independent variables contributing to the disease.
Given his myriad of positions on campus, Dr. Mirmira takes a variety of approaches to his graduate students depending on their stage of training. Graduate students work independently with direct communication between the students and himself in the form of weekly one-on-one meetings. This combined with regular emails and daily interaction means his students receive clear direction without being micromanaged.
Collaborations are strongly encouraged in Mirmira lab throughout the years of training to bring a dynamic quality to the ever-growing research. He continues to welcome MD/PhD students to bring new ideas and ways of thinking to the lab. Under his instruction, his students have developed a commitment to excellence that pervades their careers, no matter which field they ultimately enter.
Dr. Mirmira and the MSTP
Besides his commitment to his lab, Dr. Mirmira also co-directs the MSTP with Dr. Harrington. Dr. Mirmira became involved with the IU MSTP around 9 years ago when Dr. Wade Clapp was looking for someone to transition in as co-director of the program. Dr. Clapp was seeking a leader in their field, someone who could model a physician scientist for students throughout the MSTP. The candidate would also have to bring in fresh ideas while also balancing administrative, research, and clinical duties.
A MSTP-trained scientist who was familiar with resolving departmental issues, Dr. Mirmira was certainly an ideal candidate. His commitment to his patients and his clinic was likewise demonstrated in his thriving laboratory. Because of his ability to be a reliable mentor and physician, Dr. Mirmira was an excellent model of the physician scientist at work. Consequently, Dr. Clapp’s choice in a new co-director was quite clear, and the MSTP has benefitted hugely from it.
Since joining the MSTP as co-director, Dr. Mirmira has brought some new changes to the program. There is now a stronger integration with Purdue, giving students a chance for a broader range of educational tools. Dr. Mirmira also brought a new focus on quality to the program, with his goal being to smooth student transitions and help maintain a healthy learning environment.
Looking forward, Dr. Mirmira has big plans for the program. He intends to integrate the MSTP into the new curriculum, and let the program evolve with the medical school. He describes his vision of what the MSTP will do, “Innovation, what can we do that’s outside of the box that isn’t traditional.” There is a focus on expanding professional development to help students grow as individuals. Through these new seminar topics, Dr. Mirmira hopes to establish a community of growth and support. “It’s not that you’ll be trained dramatically differently, it’s how can IU support that training in your future careers.”
Challenges of the Physician Scientist
As a MSTP-trained scientist himself, Dr. Mirmira aims to clarify the challenges of the MSTP and help students overcome them. “The biggest challenge is that the pathway is as long as it is. You’ll wonder if you’re falling behind or if you’re really special, and that’s rough.” By providing a vast network of professional support, the MSTP aims to ease this challenge and keep students looking forward.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Once through the program, there are clear responsibilities for physician scientists in their communities. Like Dr. Mirmira’s vast career, there are a number of potential roles. Regardless of their contribution to their scientific and medical communities, Dr. Mirmira wants to see students become leaders and innovators in their fields. “MD/PhD’s are uniquely poised, their training gives insight and credibility that nobody else in our profession has. Seek out what can leverage your experiences as a MD and PhD and do something with that.”
Words of Wisdom
To students just entering the program, Dr. Mirmira offers solid advice. “Take your time and immerse yourself in every phase of your training. It happens very quickly.” He reminds students not to worry about transitioning between graduate and medical school. “Your career will be about straddling both of those.”. The IU MSTP has helped every student overcome the hurdles of transitioning into and out of graduate school. While the change is daunting and presents challenges, everyone has made it through. “That’s the sign of a good program,” Dr. Mirmira says with pride, “we help them.”
Students about to depart IU receive slightly different words of wisdom. While they have passed one stage of their career, they have a long and fulfilling road ahead. “You have to be a good physician and it takes time. You have to be a good scientist and it takes time. It doesn’t end with MSTP.” Students in the IU MSTP were accepted here because they were well qualified, intelligent, and curious people. They displayed a strong desire for lifelong learning that this career demands. Dr. Mirmira urges students to keep moving forward, diversify their interests and constantly set new challenges.
“There’s no such thing as ‘I’ve finally arrived,’ it doesn’t exist. There’s always something more to be achieved.”
In his final remarks, Dr. Mirmira reflects on his experience as co-director of the MSTP. In terms of professional schools, the MD/PhD program is the most life-transforming experience a student can have. “The person coming out of the MD/PhD program is very different from the person who went into it. It’s amazing to see it and I see it all the time.”
Dr. Mirmira’s students, the evolution of the MSTP, and his flourishing research are a testament to his ability as a dynamic physician scientist. He exemplifies diversity through his positions as physician, scientist, educator and administrator. Each day he seeks out a new challenge to increase his understanding and improve both IU and his field as a whole. He is always looking for something more to achieve.