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12.13.2011

Resident Scholarly Activity Program Seeks New Mentors to Expand Its Success

In 2007, the Department of Medicine established the three-year Resident Scholarly Activity Program, or RSAP, to give internal medicine residents experience in the arduous research process, from developing and investigating an idea to presenting the conclusion at a national meeting or publishing it in a peer-reviewed journal.

Four years later, the program is an unqualified success, and heading toward its goal of becoming a leader in medical research education by improving the quality of research and clinically relevant questions pursued by medical residents. The proof is in the steady increase in the number of residents who have published or presented their findings, usually as part of a team with their mentors, in respected national journals, including the Annals of Internal Medicine, or at prestigious national conferences, such as the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session.

By year’s end, 75 percent of RSAP residents will have published or presented their research findings, up from 70 percent last year and about 57 percent in 2009, a success rate RSAP co-directors hope to continue by expanding the program’s network of mentors and providing a greater diversity of analytical assistance to more sophisticated studies.

RSAP’s founding co-directors, Leonardo Tamariz, M.D, M.P.H., and Ana Palacio, M.D., M.P.H., both assistant professors of medicine who launched RSAP’s predecessor, said the program evolved rapidly. “Now it provides learners the necessary educational tools to conceptualize their research projects through online modules, and helps them identify mentors and solve problems through one-on-one sessions – all with the ultimate goal of exposing residents to research and making them more competitive when applying for fellowships,’’ Tamariz said.

Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, which sponsors RSAP with funding from department chair Marc Lippman, M.D., credits Tamariz, Palacio and fellow co-director Stephen Symes, M.D., associate professor of medicine, and program administrator Deirdre Campbell for its success.

“The program is amazing and our chairman enthusiastically renewed it for good reason,’’ Carrasquillo said. “RSAP has added a very strong academic element to the residency program and is helping prepare the next generation of physicians for a future in which research and data will form a major component of their practice.’’

RSAP evolved from a pilot project that began in 2004, when Laurence Gardner, M.D., then the chair of medicine and now executive dean for education and policy, asked Palacio and Tamariz to develop the curriculum for research rotation month, which takes place during the first year of the internal medicine residency. In 2007, when it was apparent that guiding residents through the development of an original research concept was productive for them and the department, Palacio, Tamariz and Symes, program director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Jackson, proposed the more formal three-phase RSAP program.

The first phase starts in the first year of residency with a series of lectures to help residents identify mentors, prepare an IRB proposal, and improve epidemiological and biostatistical knowledge. The lectures, which are organized by Campbell, receive raves – anonymous reviewers describe them as “informative,” “clear,” “interesting” and “helpful” – and are now offered to residents in pediatrics and pathology at Jackson and to the general surgery and internal medicine residents at the Miller School’s residency program at JFK Hospital in Palm Beach County.

The second phase, which parallels the second year, consists of research-in-progress meetings to track the progress and quality of each project. The final phase, during the third year, includes the formal presentation of research methods and findings.

While all the residents participate in the same workshops and undergo the same evaluations, the scope, magnitude and design of their projects are individualized and vary depending on the motivation of each resident.

For George Marzouka, M.D., one of RSAP’s most prolific researchers, the program in general, and Tamariz’s advice and guidance in particular, have been invaluable. Now in his third year, Marzouka was interested in clinical research, but remembers feeling lost when he began his internship. “I wanted to get involved but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know where to go, what to do, or who to talk to, but RSAP got me started,’’ Marzouka recalled. “They are the guiding hand that assesses what you’re good at and helps you make the connections. They give you the tools to figure it out.’’

And figure it out he did. By the end of his first year, Marzouka was the first author on two published papers and had presented 10 abstracts at major national conferences. Today, he has at least seven major papers pending publication.

For more information about RSAP or becoming a mentor, visit the RSAP website or contact Campbell at 305-243-2979.

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