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A Celebration of Student Research and Faculty Mentorship

May 19, 2022
by Abigail Roth

“Mentoring Yale medical students has been one of the highlights of my time at the University. I have consistently been inspired by your brilliance, insights, ingenuity, camaraderie, and generosity with each other.” These words were spoken by Assistant Professor of Urology Michael S. Leapman, MD, after receiving the John N. Forrest Jr. Prize for Mentorship in Student Research at Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) annual Student Research Day (SRD) on May 10. Leapman continued, “You have upped the caliber of our work by being bold and challenging yourselves and challenging me.”

Student Research Day honors YSM’s MD students for their research and—with the creation last year of this unique mentorship prize—pays tribute to the faculty mentors who support them. This year over 250 attendees from across the medical campus gathered virtually to engage in an interactive day of student research presentations and discussions. In welcoming remarks, Professor and Associate Dean of Student Research Erica Herzog, MD, PhD, said, “Today we proudly showcase the breadth of state-of-the art research being led by our students. The creativity and diversity of the students’ research epitomizes the thesis tradition, which remains a cornerstone of the Yale system of medical education.” She noted their research had spanned the translational spectrum, from the most basic to the most applied.

Seven graduating students participated in the Jill and Lee Goldman, MD '73 Plenary Scientific Sessions, each presenting on their award-winning thesis work and engaging in Q&A. Twenty-one students contributed to panel discussions, presenting and answering questions about their scientific posters. More than 50 student posters were available online in advance of SRD.

Seven Scientific Sessions

The value of the thesis is evident in the Plenary Scientific Session presenters’ reflections on important lessons learned through the research process. Fourth-year MD student Alexandra Kimmel, whose thesis was titled Treating Children with Physical Disabilities: Development of a Video-Based Education Resource Using Simulated Participants, says her most valuable lesson was the power of participatory research and including patient perspectives in medical education. “Many of the co-authors on this project are proud wheelchair users, and their perspectives—as well as those of the other disability advocates and parents of children with disabilities with whom we collaborated—add such a richness to the curriculum,” including a focus on the multifaceted humanity of patients with physical disabilities and fundamental similarities between caring for disabled and able-bodied patients.

Zoe Adams, a fourth-year MD/MA student, whose thesis was Contested Spaces, Stigmatized Treatment: Methadone in 1970s New York, Boston, and New Orleans, learned not only how to conduct historical research using a variety of sources—from archival materials, to first-person interviews—but also to think about how to disseminate her work to more general audiences. “I believe history has a place in public writing and can shine a light on the carceral policies that have characterized methadone and the persistent stigma towards people who use drugs,” Adams says.

The most valuable lesson fourth-year MD/MHS student Audrey Leasure learned working on her thesis—Identification of Novel Risk Factors and Severity Determinants for Intracerebral Hemorrhage: A Focus on the Role of Hypertension —is “research and academic medicine are team sports, and the more people you have on your team, the better! Some of our best work resulted from interdisciplinary collaborations with scientists in different fields.”

Nensi Ruzgar, who will graduate this year with a joint MD/MHS degree, says working on her thesis—Pediatric Surgical Needs and Barriers in Access to Care in Middle Eastern Refugee Families: A Mixed-Methods Study—taught her “to appreciate the human and community aspects of research.” Her research initially involved combining statistical methods to learn about the epidemiology of certain conditions in refugee children. However the second half of the project, according to Ruzgar, “put a name and face to each row of data. I was lucky enough to meet, interview, and learn from numerous refugee families,” she says, “and I think it served as a much stronger reminder of why I went into medicine as well as into this project in the first place! I felt so much more inspired when these families' voices were directly reflected in our conclusions and next steps.”

Graduating MD/PhD student Micha Sam Brickman Raredon shares that writing his thesis—Single-Cell Systems Engineering of Alveolar Lung—was among the most transformative experiences of his time at Yale. “It forced me to consolidate years of work into a clear, concise, and well-thought-out body of work—to synthesize many pieces and snippets of exploration into a whole.” It also was a journey of self-reflection for Raredon. He describes how in some ways he lost sight of his clear goal during his PhD, and that the process of writing his thesis and working on it with his mentor, “let me see clearly that I had actually accomplished a great deal and in many ways achieved what I had originally set out to do.”

Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Student Research Sarwat Chaudhry, MD, emphasized that experience in science as a medical student is not just a pathway into an academic research career, but preparation for a lifetime of service as physicians, regardless of specialty or the nature of practice. “Through their theses, our students cultivate the ability to make observations, form hypotheses and critically appraise evidence”—skills which Chaudhry envisions the students will carry with them “as they go on to make remarkable contributions to improve health and health care no matter what path they choose.”

True Meaning of the Word Doctor

In the annual Lee E. Farr, MD, Lectureship, Rexford Ahima, MD, PhD, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and director of Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, presented on obesity from a basic science and clinical perspective— framing the conversation in terms of the important lessons that the medical community learned from the experience of former U.S. President, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and Yale Law School professor William Howard Taft.

One piece of advice Ahima shared with students was to choose mentors who support them. This theme was reiterated throughout the symposium and culminated in the presentation of the mentorship prize, which honors the impact Emeritus Faculty John N. Forrest Jr, MD, had on student research at YSM. In his introduction, Dr. Forrest’s son—John K. Forrest, MD, associate professor of medicine (cardiovascular medicine) —stated that the prize, for which students nominate the awardee, “is meant to recognize the mentors who fulfill the true meaning of the word doctor and who have taken the time to teach and mentor young medical students in scientific research. This was the passion of our father during his time here at Yale and it is so wonderful to see it continue and grow.”

Student Research Day will be held on May 9 next year.

The Jill and Lee Goldman, MD '73 Plenary Scientific Session topics:

Zoe Adams, Contested Spaces, Stigmatized Treatment: Methadone in 1970s New York, Boston, and New Orleans (Thesis advisor: John Harley Warner, PhD, Avalon Professor in the History of Medicine and Professor of American Studies and of History)

Micha Sam Brickman Raredon, PhD, Single-Cell Systems Engineering of Alveolar Lung (Thesis advisor: Laura E. Niklason, MD PhD, Nicholas M. Greene Professor)

Alexandra Kimmel, Treating Children with Physical Disabilities: Development of a Video-Based Education Resource Using Simulated Participants (Thesis advisor: Andrés Martin, MD, MPH ‘02, Riva Ariella Ritvo Professor in the Yale Child Study Center and director of the SP Program)

Audrey Leasure, Identification of Novel Risk Factors and Severity Determinants for Intracerebral Hemorrhage: A Focus on the Role of Hypertension (Thesis advisor: Kevin Sheth, MD, professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery)

Nensi Ruzgar, Pediatric Surgical Needs and Barriers in Access to Care in Middle Eastern Refugee Families: A Mixed-Methods Study (Thesis advisor: Emily Christison-Lagay, MD, associate professor of Surgery (Pediatrics))

Shobana Subramanian, Presynaptic Plasticity in Mammalian Synapse Involved Actin Remodeling and Vesicle Recruitment (Thesis advisor: Elizabeth Jonas, MD, professor of Internal Medicine (Endocrinology) and Neuroscience)

Kelechi Umoga, Assessment of Emergency Care Services in Nigerian Hospitals: A Cross-Sectional Study (Thesis advisor: Christine Ngaruiya, MD, MSc, DTMH, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine(Global Health))

Submitted by Abigail Roth on May 19, 2022