The mission of the Physician-Scientist Support Foundation (PSSF) is to build a
sustainable and diverse physician-scientist workforce by developing leaders who will make fundamental
discoveries that improve human health.

Learn more about how we’re actively pursuing our mission from President Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, as well as Chairman of the Board of PSSF, Dr. Tadataka Yamada below.

Robert Lefkowitz

President of PSSF

From an early age, Physician-Scientist and Nobel laureate Dr. Robert Lefkowitz was enamored with medicine. At eight years old, he could often be found playing with his chemistry set and toy microscope—perhaps foreshadowing his prestigious career in the lab—and, with his family physician serving as his role-model, the young Bronx native was determined to become a doctor.

Dr. Lefkowitz’s ambition, intellect, and knack for science propelled him to study at some of New York’s most esteemed schools, ultimately earning him an MD from Columbia University. Upon graduating in 1966, Dr. Lefkowitz, along with all other medical school graduates at the time, was required to serve the government for the Vietnam War. Dr. Lefkowitz fulfilled this duty through the US Public Health Service. He was assigned to research at National Institute of Health, giving him his true first experience in the lab.

After two years conducting research on behalf of the NIH, Dr. Lefkowitz returned to clinical work, and began focusing his efforts on cardiology. However, after a few months, Dr. Lefkowitz realized he missed lab work and “the challenges of confronting a research problem.” Throughout the rest of his career, Dr. Lefkowitz intentionally pursued both clinical work and biological research. He credits this unique blend of medical expertise and investigatory adeptness with enabling him to produce such groundbreaking findings in biochemistry.

Acknowledging his path into research was unconventional, especially by today’s standards, Dr. Lefkowitz often refers to himself as a “serendipitous scientist,” admitting that he truly “had no intention of becoming a scientist.” However, he hopes that more medical students and professionals become increasingly intent on pursuing science and research, knowing firsthand that a physician-scientist’s skillset is invaluable to investigation, innovation and medical breakthroughs.

“There are a lot of really bright physicians who just don’t understand what kind of contributions they could make if they tried laboratory research” Dr. Lefkowitz professes. After having seen the drastic decline in physician-scientists throughout his career, Dr. Lefkowitz is currently dedicating time and resources to confronting what he sees as a crucial issue. He hopes his work with the Physician-Scientist Support Foundation will reduce the many obstacles that prevent medical students from pursuing a career in science. By addressing the financial and educational hurdles, as well as the limited grant opportunities, Dr. Lefkowitz believes more medicals students and professionals will be able to forge a similar path and make life-changing contributions to the fields of science and medicine.

Tadataka Yamada

Chairman of the Board of PSSF

When you receive a stethoscope for your third birthday, chances are you’ll find yourself pursuing a career in medicine. That was exactly the case for Dr. Tachi Yamada, a highly-esteemed physician-scientist with extensive experience in the medical community. As the grandson of one of the first Japanese-born, American-educated medical professionals in the U.S., Dr. Yamada grew up believing that he’d follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. Although he was committed to this path as a youth, he took a brief detour majoring in history and minoring in philosophy at Stanford University.

However, the lure of medicine drew Dr. Yamada back in. Due to his undergraduate studies, Dr. Yamada found himself playing catchup to his peers regarding the understanding of scientific fundamentals. Ironically, he credits this lag to him to becoming a better physician, as he recognized a strong scientific foundation was the key to being successful in the clinic. With this learning in mind, he focused a good proportion of his studies on the basic sciences and pursued research electives when the opportunity arose.

In addition to providing him with his first experience in the lab, these electives helped Dr. Yamada secure a position at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute upon graduation. He was tasked with studying infectious diseases, however, he had little guidance or supervision, and thus had to learn many techniques, approaches, and skills on the job. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Dr. Yamada conducted valuable research on the physiological effects of infections, such as septic shock, and produced several papers on his findings.

With this research to his name, Dr. Yamada was able to earn multiple grants and create more opportunities for himself in both research and academia. Finding continued success, Dr. Yamada expanded his career beyond academia, securing prestigious positions as the Physician-in-Chief at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Head of the Research & Development department at GlaxoSmithKline, Chief Medical & Scientific Officer at Takeda Pharmaceuticals and President of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Program.

Dr. Yamada hopes his experience and resume can inspire medical students to pursue a career as a physician-scientist by showing them there are additional career opportunities beyond academia. He wants aspiring physician-scientists to know they have the unique potential to uncover world-changing breakthroughs, create life-saving drugs, and impact and improve the lives of millions—if not billions—of people around the world.

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