Over the last several years of my training in medical school and residency, I found myself drawn to transplant surgery as a career. I was drawn to transplant for reasons similar to why I was initially drawn to surgery—requires dedication, ambition, a strong work ethic, technically challenging, and an opportunity to fundamentally change patients’ lives for the better. As planning for my two years of dedicated research time began, my mentors at the University of Massachusetts (UMass, my home institution for general surgery residency) and I began to brainstorm how I could use this time to best prepare me for a career as an academic transplant surgeon. I viewed this opportunity not just as a way to become better versed in conducting basic science research, but more importantly I wanted to find a way to better myself as a future physician-scientist which would ultimately allow me to provide better care for my patients.
My mentors at UMass and I began the search for not only a well-established and highly reputable transplant surgery program, but a program that would have the research tools and mentorship available that would allow me to succeed during my research years. Publications and presentations at national meetings are two ways to measure success during research years, but there are also invaluable skills and general fund of knowledge that can be obtained during research. Through our search, I learned of an (extraordinary) opportunity to join a transplant lab under the guidance of Dr. Arjang Djamali and Dr. Robert Redfield at the University of Wisconsin through an NIH funded Transplant T32 grant.
As I am writing this blog I have officially been in the lab for eight days, and I truly feel like I have learned more (or learned that I need to know more) in eight days than I have the last eight weeks as a clinical resident. This isn’t the result of not being challenged as a surgery resident (I certainly was), but it simply comes from the fact that the scientist part of me has not been accessed in quite some time. As medical students we are first taught the basic science behind medicine before making the leap to clinical medicine and ultimately to the hospital wards. For many of us, the basic science knowledge falls to the wayside in place of the more applicable clinical medicine, which is used on a daily basis. What many forget (myself included) is that our daily decisions as clinicians are based on discoveries initially made in the lab. In my previous research experience I learned how to obtain and analyze data in order to answer a clinical question. However, I wanted to further expand my research experience by diving deeper into the realms of basic science research. I wanted to become involved in basic and translational research that adds clinically meaningful findings to the field of transplantation. Immunology plays a large role in transplant both in finding an ideal organ match for a patient and in patients who experience rejection. As a result, I want to pursue a deeper understanding of transplant immunology and exploring how I can apply this knowledge to improving graft outcomes in patients through further research.
Although there are bound to be growing pains throughout this process, I am fortunate enough to be equipped with a great team including my PI and lab’s PhDs without whom I would be lost at this point. Over the course of the next two years, I look forward to not only finding more answers regarding antibody-mediated rejection, but also learning the process of basic science research starting with microsurgery in rats, to running cellular assays, and eventually analyzing the results with the goal of presenting our research at local and national meetings. In addition to the tangible goal of publications and presentations, I believe the knowledge and skill set imparted to me through this experience will make me a better transplant surgeon for my patients and community and for that, I am extremely humbled and grateful.