Na succeeds Professor Duška Dragun, who headed the Clinician Scientist Program until her untimely death in late 2020. In 2021 and 2022, Professor Britta Siegmund and Professor Dominik N. Müller, oft he ECRC, a joint institution of Charité and Max Delbrück Center, took charge of the program on an interim voluntary basis. The Clinician Scientist Program of the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin enables physicians-in-training to conduct research alongside their clinical activities at different stages in their careers.
The BIH Charité Clinician Scientist Program has continuously evolved over the past eleven years. Today, in addition to the standard program, there are also the Junior, Digital and Advanced Clinician Scientist Programs, thus providing structured, tailored support to young doctors in their career development, both during and after residency training. With currently about 150 active fellows and about 200 alumni, the Berlin-based programs are not only by far the largest of their kind in Germany, but according to the German Research Foundation they also set best practice standards for the whole country – especially through their quality assurance measures.
Pursuing both science and clinical work
The program’s new director holds a BIH Johanna Quandt Professorship and is head of the Immune System Defects and Dysfunctions in Tumor Patients Group at the BIH as well as head of the Immune Dysregulations in Oncology Lab at the ECRC. She is also a senior physician in the Department of Hematology, Oncology and Tumor Immunology at Charité Campus Virchow-Klinikum, under the direction of Professor Lars Bullinger. As a long-time member of the BIH Charité Clinician Scientist Board and as spokesperson of the Berlin School of Integrative Oncology (BSIO), she has additionally gained a wide range of experience in cultivating young medical talent.
She wants to further develop the Clinician Scientist Program in the longer term and adapt measures that support young physicians in academic medicine to the current situation. “The digital transformation and medical progress on the one hand, and the acute shortage of specialists and the pandemic on the other, pose special challenges for young physicians working in academic medicine today,” says Na. “Anyone who wants to seriously pursue research alongside clinical work needs support, especially in our current times, and that’s what we want to provide.”
Na is a role model for clinician scientists
Professor Christopher Baum, Chair of the BIH Board of Directors and Charité’s Chief Translational Research Officer, congratulates the program’s new director: “Professor Il-Kang Na is the perfect fit to lead the CSP. As a research physician herself, she is a role model for aspiring clinician scientists. Medical translation is about identifying medical problems, converting them into a research design, and translating the findings from the lab back to the clinic. That’s why clinician scientists are so important: They know what’s wrong with patients, while also understanding how to tackle the problem scientifically – thereby turning research into health.”
Professor Joachim Spranger, Dean of the Charité and thus in charge of research and teaching at the university medical center, first expressed his deep gratitude to Siegmund and Müller: “In addition to their many other duties, the two of them have led the program for two years on a voluntary basis with great dedication and a considerable extra time commitment. This has enabled us to ensure, without interruption, that up-and-coming physicians can conduct research at the highest level while at the same time undergoing further training to become specialists in the various disciplines. In Professor Na, a superbly qualified colleague now takes over the leadership of this important and joint BIH-Charité program. I warmly congratulate Professor Na on her new role and wish her every success in her upcoming duties. I’m convinced that she will contribute significantly to providing continued support to clinically active scientists at Charité, ensuring that they have protected time to devote to their research activities.”
Close ties with the BIH Biomedical Innovation Academy (BIA)
Unlike under Dragun, who also served as director of the BIH Biomedical Innovation Academy (BIA), the Clinician Scientist Program and the BIA will now have separate leadership. Dr. Nathalie Huber and Dr. Iwan Meij jointly lead the BIA, where they are successfully continuing Dragun’s work in academic staff development. The Clinician Scientist Office, including its head Huber, remains based at the BIA. Professor Igor M. Sauer, deputy director of the Department of Surgery and head of Experimental Surgery at Charité, and his deputy, Professor Robert Gütig, head of the BIH Mathematical Modeling of Neuronal Learning Group, lead the Digital Clinician Scientist Program. Na and her deputy, who is yet to be appointed, and the BIA’s leadership team will work together to ensure close collaboration between the various Clinician Scientist programs and the BIA.
Text: Stefanie Seltmann, BIH