During our three-month summer vacation between first and second year of medical school, we decided to try and get more research experience abroad, specifically in the US given that we were both interested in pursuing residency in the States. We wanted to get some first-hand experience in the States and wanted to be able to stay there for as long as possible, so we chose the longest summer vacation we had during medical school.
We started researching possible universities and hospitals we could contact and, amongst others, contacted a professor at Yale School of Medicine. Applying for research opportunities meant a lot of emailing professors and consultants who either have their own lab or who are heavily involved in research, and essentially hoping that someone was interested or had an opening. Fortunately, Dr Daniel Wiznia, an orthopaedic surgeon with a background in engineering, was running a medical engineering research lab in the department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at Yale alongside Dr Steven Tomassini (a Yale Research Scientist) and he reached back out to us.
Yale is in New Haven Connecticut which is a city which is made up almost completely of the university (Yale owns around 90% of the city). The medical school campus was very big and was spread across an entire side of the city, alongside the multiple hospitals. We were very excited to explore the city, even if it meant travelling over 12 hours to get there!
After initial correspondence, we decided to work on a project about neurofibromatosis type II (NF2) which had just been launched. This project was focused on mapping vestibular schwannomas (VS) with the aim of developing an artificial intelligence that could eventually map VS tumours itself. We were both very interested by this process so chose to get involved in this project. As Dr Wiznia runs a medical engineering lab, students were from mixed undergraduate programs including mechanical and biomedical engineering, pre-med and medicine. This also gave us a great opportunity to obtain an insight into the different people that were getting involved in medical research. Although we were all working on different projects, the students were all very welcoming and we quickly became good friends with the engineering student who was also working on our project, Samantha.
The project we were working on was being run by Dr Wiznia and a psychiatry professor also at Yale, Dr Frank Buono. The project had already been started by a mechanical engineering student and when we joined the team, we had to quickly integrate into the workflow. Although getting started was difficult, as we had to familiarise ourselves with a few new programs which were completely foreign to us, we were able to get very ‘hands-on’ with the project once we had a bit of practise. We were primarily working with a proprietary program which allowed structures to be mapped from radiographic images. Our work consisted of mapping the VS common in NF2 patients, from MRI images.
As well as getting research experience with Dr Wiznia, we were interested in seeing some clinical work whilst we were there. Although difficult due to some remaining COVID restrictions, we managed to obtain an observership in Transplant Surgery with Dr Ramesh Batra. Our experience with him was particularly insightful as he had completed his surgical training in the NHS before moving to the States for his transplant fellowship at Mayo. After his fellowship, he was offered the job at Yale and stayed in the US. His advice about the pros and cons of the different methods of training in the UK versus the US was invaluable to us given our interest in residency in the States. He gave us advice about when it would be best to consider moving and what we can do now to boost our application. During the observership, we shadowed different transplant surgeons and residents; we took part in the morning pre-rounds and rounds which started at 7.30am, we listened in to MDT meetings between the surgeons, hepatologists, dieticians, pharmacists and nurses, and saw multiple surgeries.
A highlight of the two-week observership with Dr Batra was seeing the extensive liver and kidney transplant programs at Yale New Haven Hospital. The programs boast an extensive multi-disciplinary team including dedicated transplant nurses, pharmacists, and dieticians. We were lucky enough to see multiple liver and kidney transplants during our time with the team where our clinical knowledge was also tested through some challenging but interesting questions. We were able to follow the patient treatment pathway from the moment the patients received the call that an organ had been found for them to the patients being discharged a week after surgery.
We are excited to continue working with Dr Wiznia and Dr Buono remotely and are grateful for the opportunity to continue our work on the project which is progressing quickly. After our experience in the States, we would definitely recommend other people to try to get research experience in the States, if they are interested in pursuing medical school or residency in the US. It gives you great first-hand experience of the system and allows you to better decide if it’s somewhere you can see yourself in the future.
Noemi and Manwi are two second year medical students at the University of Sheffield. Both have an interest in all fields of Clinical research. Noemi is especially interested in Paediatric general surgery and Manwi is interested in Cardiology. In their spare time, they enjoy trekking, cooking and exercising.