Students delve into medical interests through research projects

Medical students presented posters of the research they’ve conducted at an annual symposium.

- By Tracie White

Ulysses Rosas, a fourth-year medical student, discusses his project May 5 at the 33rd Annual Medical Student Research Symposium.
Norbert von der Groeben

Ulysses Rosas, a fourth-year medical student, was inspired to become a physician by the excellent care he received from his childhood doctors. So it’s not surprising that when he went searching for a topic to research during medical school, he chose one focused on bedside care.

“I had a lot of good doctors growing up who encouraged me to do well in school,” said Rosas, who saw a physician once per month for orthopedic problems until he was 10. An explanation of his research project was displayed on a poster board May 5 at the 33rd Annual Medical Student Research Symposium at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. His project focused on how best to get medical students up to speed in hands-on care as they head off to residency programs, where virtually overnight they become full-fledged doctors.

Rosas was one of about 45 medical-student presenters who displayed the research they had conducted between heavy course loads, clinical rounds and studying for board exams. Each Stanford medical student is required to conduct at least one quarter of research, but most do more than that.

Opportunity to focus on interests

“This is an opportunity for students to take their interests and really focus in on them,” said Laurence Baker, PhD, director of the Scholarly Concentration Program, a required program of study for medical students that promotes in-depth learning and scholarship. “This is the first time for many making the transition from student to the role of ‘thinker’ as a real investigator.”

Rosas, who has chosen a career in internal medicine, will be staying at Stanford Medicine after he graduates in June for his residency program. As a soon-to-be resident himself, he was particularly interested in the best way to gain the necessary new skills that may not have been taught in medical school — such as how to read an EKG, or respond to hospital emergency codes.

“How do you tell someone they have cancer? Or what do you do when a patient dies?” said Rosas. Pointing to his poster board, he explained that his research involved measuring the success of a voluntary four-day course to prepare students for their residencies. The results? “Students who did the course increased their level of confidence and reduced levels of anxiety,” he said.

Who’s healthier: Americans or Brits

The students’ research, which was being judged by faculty and staff, ranged across a variety of topics, including deep dives into primary care, basic science and public health issues. 

Angela Guerrero discusses her project, “Retrospective analysis of inpatient dermatology consultations for cancer patients,” with Charles Prober, senior associate dean for medical education.
Norbert von der Groeben

One project by student Thanh Truong posed the question: Who is healthier, Americans or British people? The Brits won, at least when it comes to rates of diabetes and hypertension.

“It’s fun to see the final projects,” said Lars Osterberg, MD, associate professor of medicine and one of the judges for the event who made the rounds interviewing students. “That the students manage to do all this on the side, while doing all their other work, it’s just amazing.”

The symposium drew a crowd of spectators, among them students and faculty members. At the end of the event, the judges picked 10 winners of the poster competition. They received a monetary award funded by the Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association.

Some of the projects are still in progress. All have a Stanford faculty adviser. Funding comes from a variety of outside fellowship awards and internal fellowships from the Medical Scholars Research Program.

TB in Brazil

Second-year student Tarub Mabud chose to explore his interest in global health by researching the problem of the high transmission rates of tuberculosis among prisoners in Brazil. Incarceration rates in Brazil are some of the highest in the world, the prisons intensely overcrowded, due primarily to the drug trafficking in the region, Mabud said.

The project involved a mathematical modeling of various strategies for controlling the spread of TB. Mabud also spent a summer in Brazil visiting prisons.

“There is a lot of TB in prisons around the world due primarily to overcrowding,” Mabud said.

He conducted data analysis comparing the prison populations in Brazil to a national database and found the risk of TB increased dramatically the longer the time of incarceration. The risk of prisoners in Brazil contracting TB was 20 times that of Brazil’s general population.

“I’ve been working on this project for about a year,” Mabud said. “I have about two more months. There’s always the hope to publish, right?”

Across the room, Sara Aziz, another second-year student, was busy explaining her research project on deep brain stimulation to one of the judges. She described the process of how neuroscientists drill holes into the skull of a patient with Parkinson’s disease to implant electrodes on specific parts of the brain. A medical device called a “brain pacemaker,” implanted beneath the clavicle, sends electrical impulses to the brain via these electrodes.

“It’s very cool how little we know about the brain,” Aziz said. “There is so much to learn, and I think that is very exciting.”


Winning poster presentations

  • Alanna Coughran, “Assessing contrast sensitivity with a smartphone app to screen for early functional defects in glaucoma patients.” Mentor: Robert Chang, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology.
  • Tim Dang, “Reimagining nutrition education in medical school.” Mentor: Christopher Gardner, PhD, professor of medicine.
  • Anne Erickson, “Long-acting contraceptive placement among female soldiers in the U.S. Army.” Mentor: Kate Shaw, MD, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.
  • Nathaniel Fleming, “Raising the threshold for re-excision of histologically transected dysplastic nevi: a 20-year institutional analysis demonstrating favorable patient outcomes.” Mentor: Susan Swetter, MD, professor of dermatology.
  • Luqman Hodgkinson, “Adherence to antiretroviral medications and effects of community outreach programs at Emusanda Health Centre, Kakamega County, Kenya, 2008-2015: a retrospective observational study.” Mentor: Michele Barry, MD, professor of medicine.
  • Tiffany Kung, “A novel approach to tuberculosis detection through environmental surface sampling in Brazilian prisons.” Mentor: Jason Andrews, MD, assistant professor of medicine.
  • George Liu, “Computer-aided detection of endolymphatic hydrops to aid the diagnosis of Meniere’s disease.” Mentor: John Oghalai, MD, professor of otolaryngology.
  • Chao Long, “Factors associated with patient Press Ganey satisfaction scores for ophthalmology patients.” Mentor: Robert Chang, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology.
  • Mateen Moghbel, “Comparison of the predictive value of FDG-PET and CT-based response assessment criteria in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.” Mentor: Erik Mittra, MD, PhD, clinical assistant professor of radiology.
  • Daniel Rogan, “Comparison of emergency department clinical decision rules for evaluation of syncope — a microsimulation.” Mentor: Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine.

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