Practice Makes Perfect – Even When It Comes to Presenting Scientific Data

By Oscar K. Serrano, MD

One of the things I admire most about surgeons is the critical nature with which they scrutinize their work. This self-criticism and striving for constant improvement is, perhaps, what attracted me to surgery in the first place. That ability to take questions from the bedside or operating room and to search for answers through laboratory research or clinical trials in an effort to improve the quality of care we provide resonated with me.

Resident Research Day at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City is an excellent venue to demonstrate these critical thinking skills. It provides an organized opportunity to present findings from a year-long project that residents have researched under the guidance of a faculty mentor. It also gives residents the experience of a formal research meeting with a strict format and time guidelines.

My research project evaluated the clinical utility of PET imaging for the staging of gastric cancer. I was interested in assessing how much more information PET added in the work-up of gastric cancer when compared to a quality CT scan. Our results demonstrated that PET changed the management of care in approximately 15 percent of cases, thereby leading us to conclude that PET is a valuable tool in the staging of gastric cancer.

Dr. Serrano receiving his award from Dr. Robert Michler, surgeon-in-chief and chairman of the Department of Surgery at Montefiore

Dr. Serrano receiving his award from Dr. Robert Michler, surgeon-in-chief and chairman of the Department of Surgery at Montefiore

My experience at Resident Research Day was very special. I felt very fortunate to be selected to give an oral presentation, a prestigious recognition that enabled me to highlight our work to our department. I rehearsed for two weeks and tried to squeeze every second from the seven minutes I was given.

That morning, I was very nervous. As I walked up to the podium, I suddenly realized the entire department was ready to scrutinize my work in an open forum. The presentation went faster than I had practiced – I hadn’t taken nerves into consideration. However, I managed to say everything I wanted to mention and still had time for questions.

The discussion was perhaps the most challenging part. Senior surgeons were engaged and asked difficult questions. No matter how much one reads or how much time is spent looking at the data, there will always be someone who will think of a question that will leave you puzzled. I guess this is the beauty of research symposiums such as Resident Research Day: the ability to share your findings with someone new to the topic and for them to provide innovative and creative ideas.

Resident Research Day proved to be an excellent exercise in critical thinking and scientific inquiry. It provides a formal outlet for residents to showcase our work and adds a solid academic foundation as we journey through our residency. And now, at the next medical meeting I attend, I feel better prepared to be the surgeon in the crowd who asks a question that really makes the researcher think!

Oscar K. Serrano, MD, is a resident in the Department of Surgery at Montefiore Medical Center. He received the “Best Research Presentation – Third Year Resident” award for his presentation at Resident Research Day. He can be reached at OSERRANO@montefiore.org.

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