What is the Pathfinder program?
The Pathfinder Program is a collaborative effort between the Center of Excellence in Generative Medicine (COEGM), The Institute for Naturopathic Generative Medicine (INGM) and the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM) that seeks to foster excellence in naturopathic bioinformatics, personalized medicine, and systems biology.
How does it work?
A maximum of eight students (two students from each year) can be accepted into the Pathfinder program. Accepted Pathfinders receive partial scholarships that extend through their four year course of study. Throughout this time Pathfinders are directly mentored by Dr. D’Adamo and a select roster of visiting scholars –from basic sciences all the way through to final dissertation. Over the course of your time at UBCNM you will receive additional training in techniques and skills that are not part of the standard UBCNM curriculum.
Here’s how it breaks down, year by year:
Year One: A librarian without a library
The first year of the Pathfinder program will delvie into the science and art of bioinformatics, an interdisciplinary field that develops methods for storing, retrieving, organizing and analyzing biological data. An informaticist is essentially an information scientist, a librarian without a library. In our minds an informaticist should be wearing a white coat and holding a test tube full of simmering, rainbow-colored, glowing information; but information isn’t messy (at least in any physical sort of way) so no need for the white coat. Since a major activity in bioinformatics is to develop software tools to generate useful biological knowledge, you will begin your journey by learning the basics of information technology.
Year Two: Dancing with systems
The second year of the Pathfinder program takes your bioinformatics skills and applies them creatively to plumb the deepest depths of why things happen in the naturopathic environment. Webs, networks and motifs all combine to animate static molecular signaling networks with filters and pulsations. Welcome to the brave new world of network medicine: the web of complex interactions within biological systems. Here the goal is to model and discover emergence, how complex effects result from the systemic interactions of simple building blocks, typically metabolic webs, gene regulatory elements, or cell signaling networks.
Year Three: The making of a medical gaze
The French philosopher Michel Foucault coined the term medical gaze to denote the dehumanizing medical separation of the patient’s body from the patient’s identity. This myth, known as biological reductionism, was part of the belief that the human body is the sum of a person, and through thorough examination (gazing) of a body, the doctor deduces symptom, illness, and cause, and therefore a near-mystical discovery of hidden truth. Naturopathic physicians have long known and appreciated the benefits of biochemical individuality. Year three builds on the knowledge and skills you’ve gained in the first and second years of the program, adding the quality of personalization to the medical decision-making skills you will be learning during the first year of your clinical curriculum.
Year Four: Generativism
The fourth year of the Pathfinder program culminates in the design, production and acceptance of a mentored research project. Pathfinders in the final year of the program also serve as teaching assistants (TAs) in the didactic courses produced by the COEGM and as senior clinicians on COEGM rotations. Pathfinders with exceptional clinical skills may be offered postgraduate positions as Shift Supervisors at the COEGM. Pathfinders with exceptional teaching and research skills may be offered a fellowship position. Completed fellowships are expected to go on to develop similar didactic, clinical and research programs at the other naturopathic teaching institutions. All Pathfinders graduate with full board certification from the Institute of Naturopathic Generative Medicine (INGM), the official AANP-recognized specialty society for accreditation in personalized medicine and bioinformatics.
Since the Pathfinder Program is done concurrently with the naturopathic program, one must understand that it amounts to additional coursework. This can be a problem for some students, especially in the first year of the naturopathic program, which is heavy on basic sciences. However, we try to interweave the Pathfinder program with the naturopathic program in such a way that Pathfinder requirements can be completed during lulls and breaks in the semester. Some Pathfinder work can also substitute for the UBCNM research requirements.The Pathfinder curriculum is comprised of club-like, informal meetings that take place roughly every two weeks. Objectives are discussed, news is shared, materials introduced and notes are compared. More often than not, when the meetings adjourn they are followed by a convivial meal at a local restaurant.