TOP Education An Appeal to All University of Tokyo Medical Students

An Appeal to All University of Tokyo Medical Students

Set Your Sights on a Career in Medical Research!

January, 2008

Graduate School of Medicine and Faculty of Medicine
Takao SHIMIZU, Dean

During your first two years in the Faculty of Medicine, you will study the basic sciences of anatomy, histology, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, and forensic medicine. You will also study subjects that are fundamental to all medicine, from pathology, immunology, and microbiology (including virology and bacteriology), to social medicine, public health, and medical informatics, and how they relate to health, hygiene, and the prevention of disease. Those fields are the foundation upon which the following two years of clinical lectures and training will then be built.

Over the next four years, you will learn how we have come to understand as much as we do about the phenomena of life and the mechanisms of disease, and also what is yet unknown. You will learn that the 'sacred' practice of medicine is still being improved, and that the knowledge and techniques supporting it are still imperfect. Long ago, when I was a medical student, I learned that Creutzfeldt- Jacob disease and muscular dystrophy were "slow virus diseases," so called because of the long time required for the viral infections allegedly causing them to manifest as symptoms. Later, however, medical research resulted in the discovery self-propagating proteins known as prions, and genes associated with muscular dystrophy were also identified. These were great successes for the life sciences, and particularly for molecular biology. Genes that cause cancer were identified, as were genes that suppress it. The mechanisms of cell proliferation were discovered and effective antibody therapies were developed. But while great progress has been made, the fact that we still have no effective treatments for pulmonary fibrosis and autoimmune disease, for example, reawakened me to the importance of basic research. We count on you medical students to be more than just expert test-takers and founts of facts: you should also use your imagination, your creativity, and even your empathy for others’ suffering. We count on your humanity to pave the way for new forms of medical science and clinical care.

What do I ask of you?

1. Study hard in all of your subjects: basic medical sciences, social medicine, and clinical medicine. Your real value as medical students will be manifest only if you have a deep and wide-ranging knowledge of the human body, the human mind, and the environment in which we live. I feel that medical students in Japan study far less than do those in the U.S. and the U.K. You should read many textbooks and academic journal articles. You need to do that not just to acquire facts, but also to understand the mechanisms involved, and to learn how these discoveries were made. As much as we can, we will support students who want to participate in academic conferences and research meetings.

2. Do some laboratory work yourself. Take advantage of the "Free Quarter” system and of the opportunities for placement in a basic medical science laboratory, where you'll work side by side with those in charge. You can also take part in research on weekends or on other days off. Find out what DNA and proteins actually look like, and what calcium ions do in cells. If life-science research interests you, take part in the MD-researcher program, clinical research training program or enter the PhD-MD course. Scholarships are available to support you for four years of graduate study. Japan now has both an overwhelming need for physician-researchers and a lack of medical educators. As students at the University of Tokyo, you and your peers at all other "national" universities should be aware of your duty and responsibility to be active in Japan's national medical research programs.

3. Know the social context of clinical care. Use newspapers and the Internet to stay informed about the crises now facing health care, and to understand what your patients want. I also believe that important knowledge of philosophy and of the human mind can be gained through novels and other literary works.

4. Broaden your range of contacts. Now is an excellent time for you to meet medical students at other universities in Japan, and to experience foreign cultures and health care systems in other countries. For that, you'll need to make sure that you can communicate well in both Japanese and English.

5. Build up and maintain your stamina. Exercise both your body and your mind through Tetsumon Club and the University's other athletic activities. Medical students at the University of Tokyo, I challenge you to play badminton or tennis with me: I will not be beaten easily! In the summer, let's also meet at the Karasawa clinic in the northern Japan Alps.

I hope that for the next four years you will make the best of this rare privilege and precious opportunity.