Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Training

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Pitt named a top workplace for postdoctoral fellows

The Departments of Psychiatry, Medicine and Psychology of the University of Pittsburgh offer a training program in cardiovascular behavioral medicine research for postdoctoral and predoctoral fellows. The program is funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The postdoctoral program is designed for physicians (including third or fourth year residents) and Ph.D.'s in psychology and related behavioral disciplines. The predoctoral program a two-fold program:  1) one arm is designed for B.A. or B.S. applicants interested in earning a Ph.D. in Health Psychology with an emphasis on cardiovascular behavioral medicine and 2) a second arm is specifically for summer training in research for medical students.

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Overview of T32 Program in Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Training

Cardiovascular behavioral medicine is defined as the application of psychological and behavioral principles and theory to understanding the etiology, course, prevention and treatment of, and recovery from, cardiovascular diseases (CVD).  As such, it is a multidisciplinary field that requires high quality and broad training in behavior and behavior change, research methods and statistics, and cardiovascular physiology, pathophysiology, and CVD outcomes.  Beginning in 1983, our program offers training in cardiovascular behavioral medicine research at three levels: postdoctoral, predoctoral, and short-term medical student research training.  Our program supports 4 predoctoral and 4 postdoctoral fellowships and 2 medical student summer research traineeships per year. 

Our program for the post- and pre-doctoral fellows is designed to foster proficiency in four areas that comprise the foundations of cardiovascular behavioral medicine: 

1.    Principles of health behavior and health behavioral change, through which an understanding is developed of theoretical underpinnings of relevant areas of psychology, such as motivation, personality, emotion regulation, attitude and behavior change in individuals, with the latter focusing on physical activity, diet, smoking, and sleep behavior. 

2.    Research methodology and statistics, whereby the skills necessary for designing and conducting research and for drawing valid inferences from empirical data are taught, with exposure to analytic approaches to complex longitudinal data.  

3.    Cardiovascular physiology and psychophysiology, through which an understanding is established of cardiovascular and metabolic functioning in the healthy human and the new technological advances that allow measurement of function.    

4.    Cardiovascular diseases, including distributions of CVD in human populations, disparities between populations (e.g., by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic position, gender, etc.), principles of pathophysiology and physiology as related to disorders of the heart and vasculature, and state-of-the art approaches to assessing biomarkers of risk and imaging subclinical and clinical cardiovascular diseases. 

Building upon these foundations, our program facilitates the development of independent clinical research scientists who take a multidisciplinary approach within the following primary areas: (a) mechanistic pathways connecting psychosocial and sociodemographic factors to cardiovascular risk; (b) determinants and consequences of health behaviors; and (c) behavioral interventions to reduce cardiovascular risk.   

 Multidisciplinary training model.  Our training model is a team-based mentoring model with supplemental experiences that are individually tailored to fill prior training gaps and prepare our trainees to nimbly adapt to emerging research areas and opportunities.  Mentoring teams are established during the interview process and charged with working closely with the trainees in developing their fellowship objectives, providing opportunities to acquire skills needed, advising on the key didactic training available to meet their career goals, and introducing them to networks of scientists with similar research interests at other Universities. 

The training faculty are a talented group of scientists who have well developed and widely recognized research programs.  The figure below shows faculty interests in relation to our three primary areas:

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Resources supporting our program.  World-class imaging facilities are located at the University of Pittsburgh and include a state of the art PET facility and MR Research Center.  The Ultrasound Research Epidemiology Laboratory provides key resources to our trainees interested in subclinical cardiovascular disease.  An extensive range of additional non-invasive imaging modalities (e.g., measuring endothelial function, coronary vascular reserve and myocardial fibrosis) are available through our Vascular Medicine Institute, with imaging workshops conducted within a training program in imaging sciences in translational cardiovascular research.  Complementing these resources are the services offered through the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center.  This center provides expertise in measurement of body fat, nutrition, and metabolism relevant to research on obesity and prevention of diabetes.  Formal coursework is available through the Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology, Epidemiology, Health and Physical Activity, and Medicine.  The Office of Academic Career Development, headed by the Associate Vice Chancellor of the Health Sciences, supports the development of career paths for postdoctoral fellows at the School of Medicine and hosts series of workshops relevant to our program, i.e., grantsmanship, writing skills, management and leadership training, survival skills, and ethics in research. 

     CBM Trainees