Update: Marielisa Cabrera-Sánchez was named winner of the AMA Research Challenge on Dec. 8. Watch the program and learn more about her project.

What started with a list of 1,100 entrants is now down to a final five.

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The AMA Research Challenge is the largest national, multispecialty research event for medical students, residents and fellows, and international medical graduates. The challenge offers young and aspiring physicians a chance to showcase their research on a significant stage.

The virtual event had 1,100 entrants submit research poster abstracts, and 800 were selected to present posters. A semifinals round featured 50 presenters with the top scored research. From that group, a roster of five finalists has risen to the top.

2021 AMA Research Challenge finalists
Clockwise from upper left: Marielisa Cabrera Sánchez, Arman Shahriar, Priya Shah, Anastasia Piersa, MD, Dr. Naga Ganti

Taking place Dec. 8 with a broadcast on YouTube, the finals of the 2021 AMA Research Challenge will feature a group comprised of five finalists—three medical students, one resident and one international medical graduate—presenting their research posters to a panel of three expert judges. The winning entry will be awarded a $10,000 grand prize from sponsor Laurel Road.

Each of the five finalists appeared on a recent episode of AMA’s “Making the Rounds” podcast, which is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify or anywhere podcasts are available. Here's what you should know about each of the finalists and their work.

  1. Marielisa Cabrera-Sánchez

    1. Poster: “Genomic Adaptation of Moraxella catarrhalis During Persistence in the Airways of COPD patients” (PDF).

    2. School University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine.

    3. On how the project impacts her career trajectory: “As an aspiring physician who wants to work in the field of infectious diseases, I think that this field specifically—it has a lot of intersections. So, you have the clinical intersection, you have the medical intersection, and also the basic sciences. Bioinformatics ... has played a major role in fighting recent microbes like SARS-CoV-2, and will continue to do so. I think that my role will be more to work at this intersection and collaborate with scientists that are experts in different fields of the basic sciences.”

      Related Coverage

      A year later, AMA Research Challenge finalists see impact
  2. Arman Shahriar

    1. Poster: “Socioeconomic Diversity of Matriculating U.S. Medical Students by Race and Ethnicity, From 2017 to 2019” (PDF).

    2. School: University of Minnesota Medical School.

    3. On what he’d do with the grand prize winnings: “We'd likely donate a large amount of it to a local organization. There's a few we've been talking about as a group, and the rest would likely be used to fund our team’s ongoing work as we're all kind of doing this voluntarily. So, the data requests and open-access fees and things like that that come with doing research. It would probably help us move our projects along and be able to take on more work.”

  3. Priya Shah

    1. Poster: “Trauma-Informed Care in Pediatrics: An Interactive Module for Clerkship Students” (PDF).

    2. School: Harvard Medical School.

    3. On the challenges of implementing the project: “One of the biggest challenges that I faced was getting students interested in this topic. As I mentioned before, they were running around on wards, practicing their presentations, going to other didactic talks, and I would have loved for all of them to be interested in going into pediatrics, but not all of them were, and so I think one of the challenges I faced was coming into this space of an hour-long session with them, but not really knowing their varying levels of interest of the different students in the session, and so I think that something that was helpful for me was to assess where my learners were and what their goals were, and so starting the session off with asking some interactive questions, learning what they knew about the topic, what their goals for the session were, was a great way to make this relevant for them no matter what interests they had within medicine.”

  4. Anastasia Piersa, MD

    1. Poster: “How do Medical School Experiences Differ between Students from Low vs. Higher SES Backgrounds? A Multicenter U.S. Survey Study” (PDF).

    2. Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital.

    3. On the origin of her interest in the topic: “As someone who is from a low-income background, myself, and a couple of other medical students at the University of Chicago, we got really interested in this topic, and we really wanted to understand what the experiences are and try to see what we can do to help improve this issue and increase socioeconomic diversity. For us, the first step towards improving something is to really understand the lay of the land. And because there wasn't much research on this topic and how the experiences of med students from low SES [socioeconomic status] can differ from those of higher socioeconomic status we wanted to conduct this research study.” 

      Related Coverage

      4 things judges look for in medical poster presentations
  5. Dr. Naga Ganti

    1. Poster: “Epidemiology and prevalence of lung disease amongst e-cigarette users in the USA—A national study” (PDF).

    2. Institution: Keystone Health.

    3. On the importance of studying this topic: “According to National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2021 from FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], more than 2 million U.S. youth currently use e-cigarettes. Absence of strict policies and age cut off, or product approval before marketing, are key factors that make them more available to adolescent population. All these numbers and statistics spiked our interest to go with this unique project.

    4. “And our study was to evaluate epidemiological characters and prevalence of lung disease in e-cigarette users as this was a hot topic, after this, FDA authorizing the marketing of first set of electronic nicotine delivery systems. So, we tried to create awareness or statistical results from our study with the potential prevalence of lung disease in e-cigarette users.”

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