Third-year Miller School Student Named a Fulbright Scholar

Elizabeth Sierocinski, who just completed her third year at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has received a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to continue a research project in Germany looking at patients’ responses to findings in research imaging.

Sierocinski began as a research intern with the Study of Health in Pomerania (SHIP) through the German Academic Exchange in 2013. One branch of the data gathering in West Pomerania – a relatively poor, rural region of Germany with significant health problems – is whole-body MRI scans, which provide incredibly detailed information about patients. Some of the information is useful to disease prevention and treatment, but much of it consists of incidental findings that may or may not be of consequence. Sierocinski’s focus is on the psychosocial consequences of releasing these incidental findings to patients.

“An important issue with imaging is deciding when to disclose incidental findings and when not to, and even if it’s a good idea to be using whole-body MRI,” Sierocinski said. “You can get all of this knowledge, but in reality if it’s benign and you need to take six months to work it up, that can be really distressing to the patient.

“It ties in to the medical ethical principles: You could be harming your patients if you’re giving them information you shouldn’t have sought in the first place.”

Sierocinski, who is headed for a career in primary care, ideally in rural medicine, has been on the Executive Board of the Miller School’s Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS). “The time commitment involved for Ela last year as a pre-clerkship student helping to run one of the two clinics was enormous,” Amar R. Deshpande, M.D., associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for medical education and competency assessment, wrote in a recommendation letter to the Fulbright committee.

“At a time when most of her classmates were studying for tests and the medical licensing exam, Ela dedicated a full night every week of her pre-clerkship years to this clinic where we care for people with little to no access to longitudinal medical care.”

For her part, Sierocinski could not be more enthusiastic about the DOCS program. “It’s so amazing,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I applied here.”

Her DOCS experience will inform her Fulbright research. “This is so interesting and so important,” she said. “Usually it’s a knee-jerk reflex – I want to get all the scans possible and investigate everything – but you really have to think about it because there are lots of effects that are psychological, long term and economically significant. And a lot of things you do to work up a patient are not entirely benign.

“If I have a good understanding of this type of issue, I’ll be able to advise my patients better and hopefully help them understand why I am or am not ordering a scan.”

Sierocinski, who was born in Canada and grew up in Davie, comes to medicine by way of a music degree from Boston College. She taught piano and guitar in college and high school.

“I really love taking care of people through music,” she said. “I really love taking care of people, and I really love teaching – and that’s primary care. Every time I came to a new area of interest it fit me better and better.”

And her Fulbright work is a natural continuation of her interest in taking care of the people who need it most in the most effective way possible. Working at the Institute for Community Medicine in Greifswald, Germany, she will also be making presentations at research symposiums in Germany before returning for her fourth year at the Miller School.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled for Ela. This is a great testament to her commitment in caring for the underserved, a cornerstone here at the Miller School,” said Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., the Bernard J. Fogel Chair in Medical Education, senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education and professor of medicine. “Clearly, the Fulbright committee recognizes the outstanding achievements of our students. Ela represents the third Miller School student to receive such recognition in recent years.”

Sierocinski is “a superb role model and an upstanding citizen with a strong moral and ethical compass, and in our field of medicine her empathy and desire to help the underserved is excellent,” Deshpande said in his letter of recommendation.

Added Sierocinski, “I’m really excited!”

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