Dr. Katharine Hsu, an esteemed physician-scientist who specializes in immunology research and treatment of blood cancers, has been named director of the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program, a joint program between Weill Cornell Medicine, The Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Founded in 1972, the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program awards a medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College and a doctorate from either the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences or The Rockefeller University. The program has trained more than 400 physician-scientists working in a range of areas in clinical medicine, scientific research and education.
In her new role, Dr. Hsu will work to diversify matriculating classes and train students to become skilled leaders as both clinicians and biomedical researchers, bridging the two areas and bolstering the vital partnership that leads to breakthroughs in medicine. Dr. Hsu will succeed Dr. Olaf Andersen, who has directed the program for 25 years, blending the cultures of the three institutions into one expanded training program and boosting its national profile.
“As a prominent physician-scientist with a distinguished background in both clinical care and scientific research, Dr. Hsu brings with her invaluable experience and knowledge, as well as an enduring commitment to diversity in academic medicine,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “An alumna of the program herself and a respected member of the Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial Sloan Kettering communities, Dr. Hsu is perfectly poised to take on the role of director of the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program.”
“Dr. Hsu’s unwavering dedication to the care of her patients, advancement of scientific research and the training of a generation of diverse physician-researchers, combined with her experience as a graduate of this program, makes her an exceptional choice to lead the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program,” said Dr. Craig B. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Her vast experience, deep knowledge and visionary leadership will continue to build this program’s excellence and foster an inclusive learning environment with opportunities for people from historically underrepresented groups.”
“Dr. Hsu is herself an exemplar of the impact physician-scientists can have in biomedicine; she well understands the crucial role that graduates of this dual-degree program will play in the next generation of biomedical research,” said Richard P. Lifton, president of The Rockefeller University. “Coupled with the respect she commands in the Tri-Institutional community and her strong commitment to increasing diversity in both medicine and science, she will be a great leader for the program, building on Dr. Andersen’s legacy of excellence.”
“Physician-scientists play an extremely important role, not only in terms of asking and answering questions, but also bridging the communities of patient care and biomedical research,” said Dr. Hsu, who is a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an attending hematologist and oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “The Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program has a distinguished legacy of bridging those communities, training aspiring physician-scientists who can speak and understand both the language of disease and of molecular processes. I am grateful to Dr. Andersen, whose incredible leadership has driven the program’s excellence, and am excited to build on his work and continue to develop one of the most competitive programs in the country.”
Through a rigorous course of study and access to research mentors in top laboratories at all three institutions, the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program seeks to prepare its students to serve as leaders in the field of biomedical research, while also promoting communication and collaboration among the partner institutions. With their unique educational experience, graduates can then apply their scientific knowledge to their clinical work, seamlessly going from bench to bedside, to advance innovations in medicine and healthcare.
The program in 2018 received a perfect score on its Medical Scientist Training Program grant renewal application by the National Institutes of Health, which provides stipends, tuition allowance and other funds to students who are pursuing the combined M.D.-Ph.D. degree. Weill Cornell Medicine is currently one of the top-ranked medical schools in the nation for number of students graduating with combined degrees, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Dr. Hsu will prioritize working to increase racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and gender diversity of the M.D.-Ph.D. classes, so that students and graduates represent the population as a whole. “We want to ensure we are building a future community of physicians and scientists who are going to understand not only the medical and scientific challenges in their patient population, but also the social and economic challenges that patients experience,” she said.
As an alumna, Dr. Hsu also feels a strong sense of kinship with current students that will inform how she leads the program. “Because I can empathize with the students,” she said, “I’ll be better positioned to address their needs and help them succeed.”
Dr. Hsu earned her doctorate in cell biology in 1993 from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, where she studied in the laboratory of Dr. Moses Chao, and earned a medical degree in 1994 from Weill Cornell Medical College. She went on to complete an internship and residency in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a post-doctoral fellowship in hematology and oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering before joining its faculty.
Dr. Hsu studies natural human killer cells and their role in recognizing and killing cancer cells and cells infected with viruses. Her findings on the genetics and biology of these cells have contributed to treatments of cancers, including leukemia and neuroblastoma. As a clinician, Dr. Hsu treats patients with bone marrow disorders, leukemias and lymphomas, and she currently sees patients as an attending in the inpatient Bone Marrow Transplantation Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
Dr. Hsu has published numerous studies in high-impact journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In 2019, Dr. Hsu was recognized with the Weill Cornell Graduate School Alumni Award of Distinction. She was also inducted to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2012 and received the Leukemia & Lymphoma Scholar Award in 2016.