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Where Are They Now?

Three Time Seed Research Grant Recipient Secures NIH Funding

Yashar Kalani, MD

While researching at the Barrow Neurological Institute in 2011, Yashar Kalani, MD, PhD received an AMA Foundation seed grant to investigate cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. His project, titled, "Identification of novel molecular markers for vasospasm from the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage", explored how a molecular signal can indicate the severity of secondary brain injuries associated with brain aneurysms and hemorrhage.

Three years later, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has agreed to support Dr. Kalani's ongoing research with a $4 million, five-year grant. The study is expected to lower medical costs, identify at-risk patients, and ensure more timely patient recoveries. Competition for NIH grants is fierce due to the low 17% acceptance rate for applications.

"We hope this study will lead to less injury, less testing and cost, and shorter stays in the hospital," Dr. Kalani said.

Dr. Kalani has received a total of three seed grants from the AMA Foundation-- one while he was a medical student, one while he was a resident, and the most recent one while he was conducting research at Barrow Neurological Institute. He believes that receiving these seed grants has propelled his career as a researcher.

"I am very appreciative for your past support and am excited to start the next stage of this project," Dr. Kalani commented.

Award Inspired AMA Foundation President and Wife

Owen Garrick, MD, MBA, and  Jocelyn Freeman Garrick, MD, MS

Owen Garrick, MD, MBA, and Jocelyn Freeman Garrick, MD, MS, received their AMA Leadership Awards in 1995 and 1996, respectively. The two were dating at the time and have since had successful careers and are proud parents to three sons.

Awarded to medical students, residents and fellows, the young physicians who have exhibited non-clinical leadership abilities, the leadership award program is designed to encourage involvement in organized medicine and continue leadership development.

"At that point in my medical career, the AMA Foundation award was the highest recognition that I could have received," recalled Dr. Garrick, president of the AMA Foundation and president and chief operating officer at Bridge Clinical Research. "The leadership award confirmed that we are not alone in our passion for excellence in medicine, whether that be in innovative research, policy impact, or a focus on the underserved."

Dr. Freeman Garrick felt humbled by the award and said that it confirmed her ability to practice clinically while pursuing her public health research interests. "Attending the Foundation's awards night gave us a chance to network and meet established leaders who provided mentorship and a realistic view of how to manage my career while following my passion," she noted.

Dr. Freeman Garrick is an attending physician at Alameda County Medical Center-Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif. She is EMS base director and assistant medical director of emergency services for Alameda County.

"My memories of the Excellence in Medicine Awards ceremony are mixed. On one hand, I had the feeling that I did not belong, but at the same time I was inspired by the accomplishments of the other award recipients," Owen Garrick, MD, MBA.

Dr. Garrick earned his MD from the Yale School of Medicine and his MBA from the Wharton School of Business. He holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Princeton University.

Dr. Freeman Garrick earned her master's degree in epidemiology from Cornell University, completed a residency in emergency medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and attended medical school at the University of Southern California. Her undergraduate degree is from UC Berkeley.

Former AMA Foundation Scholar is Now a Donor and Volunteer

Michelle Niescierenko, MD

As a medical student in Buffalo in 2005, Michelle Niescierenko, MD, received the AMA Foundation Physicians of Tomorrow Scholarship which was then funded by the Audio-Digest Foundation. She also received the AMA Foundation Medical Student Leadership Award in 2006.

With the help of an AMA Foundation scholarship, Dr. Niescierenko participated in an exchange program where she shadowed  doctors and residents in Beijing. During her pediatric residency, she worked in Bolivia, Guatemala, Lesotho and Liberia, providing health education and pediatric health care.

Dr. Niescierenko's international exposure to health care motivated her to pursue a dual fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Children's Hospital Boston and in international emergency medicine at the Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"I hope to bring my expertise in pediatric emergency medicine and disaster relief to developing countries. Pediatric care is often overlooked in these settings," Dr. Niescierenko observed.

Now a board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Niescierenko volunteers in Liberia six weeks each year for Health Education and Relief Through Teaching, a nongovernmental organization that provides medical education to local doctors, nurses and physician assistants.

Dr. Niescierenko remains involved in the AMA Foundation as a donor, and as a volunteer for the Physicians of Tomorrow Scholarship selection committee, which helped select 21 $10,000 scholarship recipients in 2013

Seed Grant Recipient Investigates Effects of Space on Cardiovascular System

Peter Hong  Ung Lee, MD, MPH

Peter Hong Ung Lee, MD, MPH, received an AMA Foundation seed research grant in 2013 to conduct research on cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. For his project, he is sending fruit flies into orbit to study the effects of space on their hearts. The $2,500 seed grant will cover the cost of transportation for the 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm box of flies to travel to and from the International Space Station.

"We know from human studies that there are changes, usually a decrease in size and function, in the heart associated with spending time in space," explained Dr. Ung, who is a Ph.D. candidate and fellow in cardiothoracic surgery, heart-lung and lung transplant and FADs at Stanford University.

Dr. Ung, who has a varied background in space and medicine, uses fruit flies as a model to study the effects of space on the look and function of hearts. Although fruit flies have a different heart structure, the changes from a month in space will be preserved in their genes and available for study. This knowledge can be applied to help scientists understand the effects of space on the human cardiovascular system. 

"This research will be used to guide us in research for the future," concluded Dr. Ung.

Grant Recipient Gives Back 

Charles Kuszynski, MS, PhD

Former research forum presenter now faculty advisor for the same forum

As a student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in the early 1970s, Charles Kuszynski, MS, PhD, began participating in the Midwest Student Biomedical Research Forum, one of the four research forums the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation has sponsored for nearly 50 years. 

Dr. Kuszynski transitioned from student to advisor when he completed his master's degree in biochemistry in 1979, and has served as a faculty advisor for the same forum for the past 30 years.

"I am still an advisor for the forum because of my experience as a student," explained Dr. Kuszynski.  "I believe it is extremely important for students to learn how to present their data clearly and precisely and to practice public communications."  Dr. Kuszynski said the research forums also offer students a chance to network and to rate themselves in comparison to their peers. 

The Midwest Student Biomedical Research Forum is set up like a national scientific meeting, with structured presentations, formal presentation times and poster sessions.  According to Dr. Kuszynski, the student research forum reviewers critique the presentations in a more constructive manner than those they might receive at national scientific meetings, and faculty judges are selected who can provide commentary as a learning experience.

Seed Grant Recipient Creates Resource to Educate Cancer Patients

Kavita Dharmarajan, MD, M.Sc.

Kavita V. Dharmarajan, MD, M.Sc. received an AMA Foundation seed grant during her time at Mount Sinai Medical Center.  She used the grant to create an educational video for patients hospitalized with advance stage cancer to better equip them to make decisions related to palliative radiation and palliative care.

The interactive video entitled, "Improving Informed Decision-Making in Hospitalized Patients Considering Palliative Radiation Therapy Using a Video", was shown to patients at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Patients who viewed the video became more interested in palliative radiation and palliative care, and nearly 85% were more willing to consent to palliative radiation therapy.

"My project was designed to create an approachable and effective video decision tool to be viewed by patients who are hospitalized with advanced stage cancer and their caregivers to better equip them in making decisions regarding their further medical care, in particular from the perspective of receiving palliative radiation and palliative care," Dr. Dharmarajan said.

Dr. Dharmarajan reported that receiving the seed grant was instrumental in helping her attain dual appointments as an assistant professor in both the Department of Radiation Oncology and in the Brookdale Department of Palliative Care at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. She has since been asked to make a similar video by the chair of radiation oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

AMA Foundation Award Cultivates Leadership in Medicine

David Shih, MD, MS

Award recipient says medical expertise is only one component of being a physician

"Receiving the leadership award confirmed my belief that medical knowledge is only part of what makes a good physician," said David Shih, MD, MS, recipient of the 2000 AMA Foundation Leadership Award. "Community members, not just patients, look to doctors for leadership - in their workplace, church, parent-teacher association, or neighborhood."

Since receiving the award, Dr. Shih has worked in preventive medicine in epidemiology and health policy. He is currently a medical officer and epidemiologist for the Food and Drug Administration, where he protects the public by monitoring adverse drug reactions. While at the American College of Preventive Medicine, he advocated for preventive medicine both domestically and abroad.

A decade ago, Dr. Shih earned the leadership award for projects he undertook while in medical school at Washington University School of Medicine. He took time between his third and fourth years of school to work as a fellow at the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, he served as national treasurer for the American Medical Student Association, and he directed a jazz big band, The Hot Docs.

"The AMA Foundation is at the forefront in identifying up-and-coming leaders like Dr. Shih who are the future of medicine," said AMA Foundation President Barney R. Maynard, MD. "In this critical time of health reform, patients look to physicians not only for medical knowledge, but also for ideas on how to make our health care system work better."