SMHS Faculty Spotlight
SMHS Faculty Spotlight
CFE (Center for Faculty Excellence)

GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences Center for Faculty Excellence 

September 2023 Faculty Spotlight
Excellence in teaching & learning, scholarly endeavors, and leadership are all around us at SMHS. The Center for Faculty Excellence would like to Spotlight our faculty’s contributions to SMHS, George Washington University, and beyond. Each month we will spotlight faculty from across the Academic Medical Enterprise. We want to thank our highlighted faculty members for sharing with us their advice and perspectives!
- SMHS Center for Faculty Excellence
Dr. David Leitenberg, MD, PhD
Join the CFE as we highlight David Leitenberg, MD, PhD, who discusses his journey within Immunology and Clinical Pathology, and how he blends his teaching and research interests inside and outside the classroom. He details his role as the Director of Medical Student Research, where he advocates for students to pursue research broadly, and discusses funding mechanisms for scholarly activities.  He also outlines the structure of the Scholarly Concentrations and his role as Co-Director of the Clinical and Translational Research concentration. 


Dr. David Leitenberg, MD, PhD, earned his B.A. in Zoology at the University of Vermont and his MD and PhD in Immunology at the University of Iowa. He completed his residency in Laboratory Medicine at Yale New Haven Hospital and his postdoctoral training in Immunobiology at Yale University. Dr. Leitenberg also oversees Immunology and Flow Cytometry diagnostic testing in the Division of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Children's National Medical Center. He is currently an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine and has joint academic appointments as associate professor in the Departments of Pathology and Pediatrics at GW.

Interview Q/A

How long have you been at GWSMHS? What drew you to your current position?
David: I have been at GW since 2001, just about 22 years. I was drawn to GW because I wanted to find a position that would allow me to combine my background as a clinical pathologist with my interest in doing basic research in immunology. This role allows me to have this variety in my work, and I hold joint faculty appointments in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine, Pediatrics, and Pathology. Also, my wife and I were both offered positions at GW. 
Why did you decide to pursue a career in clinical pathology?

David: I was trained in a combined MD/PhD degree program. After medical and graduate school, I was looking for a clinical role that was also compatible with a significant effort in pursuing research. I chose a residency where I was relatively narrowly trained in clinical pathology, which allowed me to combine residency training while continuing to explore my research interests as a post-doctoral fellow in Immunology.
What are some of your primary responsibilities here at GWSMHS?

David: I have an overarching role as Director of Medical Student Research, organizing activities and programs to encourage students to participate in research while at GW.
I also serve as chair of the Pre-Clinical Subcommittee of CUMEC and co-direct the first-year preclinical courses, Foundations of Medicine (FDN) and Immunology/Hematology/Inflammation/Infectious Disease (I3)  within the medical school. Within the graduate programs, I am Co-director of the Microbiology & Immunology PhD Program and teach courses within this program as well.
On the clinical side, I oversee and interpret the immunology-related flow cytometric diagnostic testing at Children's National Medical Center. My laboratory does testing that helps to evaluate people for immuno-deficiency disorders and to monitor immune status. Our lab also supports the Hematopoietic and Bone Marrow Transplant program, doing testing that integrates with how patients are prepared for bone marrow transplants, and we characterize the cells they are given as part of the transplant. We also do testing for diagnosing leukemia and lymphomas.
What is your favorite part of teaching?

David: My philosophy is to try and teach in a way that triggers intellectual curiosity in students. This can sometimes be a difficult thing to do with 180 students, but I hope that they are not only able to learn the material but be excited by it and develop skills that allow them to problem solve, think independently, and think critically about science and immunology. Even if this is just a tiny fraction of the students in the medical school, it truly is my favorite part of what I do.
Can you tell us more about your Director of Medical Student Research role?

David: The central part of my role as the Director of Medical Student Research is to help students get involved with research at GW. I define research very broadly and encourage students to do research in all areas, not just on clinical or basic science research but also public health and medical education-related research. All that counts as research. I want to encourage students to pursue research in a productive and rigorous way, where they understand how to develop questions and approaches that will answer those questions. 
There are a variety of events and methods we can connect students with research:
David: Early in the first semester, I am involved in a variety of events where I meet with students in big groups or smaller groups to advise them about how to get involved with research and connect them with resources that allow them to identify mentors. I also advise them about internal funding opportunities that are available to provide financial support for students when they do research in the summer between MS1 and MS2 years. These fellowships include the Gill Fellowship program where I am responsible for organizing and supporting students doing discovery-based research with GW faculty.  The Health Services Scholarship is another significant internal funding mechanism that I help with, but is primarily organized by The Office of Student Professional Enrichment (OSPE). Another way I can connect students with areas of research is through my role as the faculty advisor for the Beaumont Student Research Society, where I oversee the process of putting together the Medical Student Research magazine “Fusionand also manage the organization of the Medical Student Research Day, which is an annual event that occurs in the late spring where students present their research, network with each other and also can win prizes.
Another important aspect of my role as Director of Medical Student Research is to encourage faculty engagement and interest in mentoring students. We emphasize the importance of outstanding mentorship for both faculty and students.
Scholarly Concentrations
David: I also support student research in my role as the Co-Director of the Clinical and Translational Research Scholarly Concentration (CTR), which is one of nine different scholarly concentrations that is organized by the OSPE.  As co-director, I work closely with students (approximately 25-40 students join CTR each year) to help them identify mentors and have productive research experiences. We also organize a lecture series throughout the year that is focused on teaching about best research practices as well as providing practical advice that they will apply to their research efforts (e.g. how to get IRB approval). The scholarly concentrations encourage students to have a longitudinal experience throughout the four years of medical school. Since a scholarly project is a GWSMHS requirement to graduate, the Scholarly Concentration program allows students to complete that requirement while being able to individualize their medical school experience and pursue their interests in a way that's supported and structured by our program.
What about the future of GWSMHS and the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine excites you?

David: Being at GW for a while now, there are a lot of significant recent initiatives that are very exciting. Our current leadership at the institution has ushered in a new era that has created better integration between the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the Medical Faculty Association (MFA), and the GW Hospital. The progress that has already been made over the last couple of years has been to align the clinical departments more with the medical school's goals and to combine our research, clinical, and educational missions more effectively.
Within the department, I am excited to see how we can use our expertise in the department to implement new programs in both research and education. It is also exciting to have the opportunity to recruit new faculty who join us with new perspectives that reinvigorate the department.
What impact do you hope to have on students?

David: For the medical students, I want to help them be more intellectually stimulated and develop learning habits that they can use after finishing medical school. Even if they do not do research as a primary function of their job, the skills they gain from doing research can be applied to their day-to-day life as physicians to think critically, evaluate literature, and have an overall curiosity to learn new things.
What is one thing that keeps you motivated during the day?

David: The variety in the work I do daily keeps me motivated. In all my different roles, I can constantly think about things in different ways. For a portion of my day, I am doing something clinically relevant and then starting to develop teaching resources or meet with students. All this constant engagement keeps me interested and motivated by my work.
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