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Scholarship gives a boost to aspiring surgeons

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2013 - Spring


Three medical students interested in surgery—Michelle Chen is drawn to otolaryngology, Gloria Sue aspires to a career in plastic surgery, and James Tooley plans on becoming a transplant surgeon—got a boost recently, thanks to a scholarship given to students interested in pursuing academic careers in surgery.

Awarded for the first time in 2012 by the Department of Surgery, the Samuel Jordan Graham Scholarship is given annually to pay for up to one year of tuition costs for students who have completed their third year of medical school and will be applying for residencies in surgery; M.D./Ph.D. students who have no remaining tuition expenses are recognized with a non–monetary award. The goal of the scholarship is to encourage students to pursue careers in academic surgery and recognize those who have demonstrated outstanding promise. Last year, five students applied for the scholarship, which was given to one M.D. student and one M.D./Ph.D. student. This year, 13 students applied. “We had a hard time [choosing] because we had outstanding applicants,” said Richard Gusberg, M.D., vice chair of the surgery department for student education, professor of vascular surgery and diagnostic radiology, and a member of the scholarship selection committee.

This year, two scholarships and one award were given to students whose background and accomplishments suggest promising futures in academic surgery. “That would be defined by some combination of their clinical excellence, their evidence of scholarship, which means research, and something that speaks to their leadership skills,” said Gusberg.

For Chen, the scholarship is a huge help toward financing her medical education. Chen favors otolaryngology because she finds the anatomy of the head and neck to be complex and beautiful, yet also functional due to its involvement with hearing, speech, and swallowing. “The beauty of that is to really be able to transform someone’s life through surgery,” she said. Chen spent a year between her third and fourth year of medical school doing research on prognostic factors of parotid cancer with the hope of better tailoring treatments in the future. She is enthusiastic about a career in academic surgery because of the possibility of solving questions through research and the collaboration that takes place in an academic setting.

Gloria Sue, who also received a scholarship, became hooked on surgery when she scrubbed into an open heart surgery as an undergraduate. “I loved every second of it,” she said. As soon as she arrived at Yale she began observing different kinds of surgeries to gain exposure, eventually deciding on plastic surgery. She spent a research year performing genetic studies on patients with Dupuytren’s contracture, a debilitating disease of the hand in which the fingers are bent toward the palm. She also performed research on breast reconstruction, an area that she plans to pursue clinically as a plastic surgeon. She has already published a dozen papers, an accomplishment she credits to her outstanding mentors at Yale.

James Tooley, an M.D./M.H.S. student who is currently spending a year doing research on a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship, received a non–monetary award. His research is in type 1 diabetes and immunology, with a focus on understanding the suppression activities of regulatory T cells. “If we can understand how regulatory T cells relate to disease and how they function, we may be able to prevent autoimmune disease and organ rejection,” he said. He looks forward to working in an academic setting because it affords the opportunity of being at the forefront of new treatments.

The scholarship, which is funded by the Department of Surgery, is named for Samuel Jordan Graham, a prominent attorney and judge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1913 to 1919 he served as assistant attorney general under President Woodrow Wilson.