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USF medical school’s research support office builds experience, creates life-long learners

The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine developed a unique office to inspire MD students to become life-long scholars. It’s called Research, Innovation & Scholarly Endeavors – RISE

Conducting research while in medical school isn’t required for graduation, but a research support office at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM) is offering several services, including connecting medical students with research opportunities – across all four years of medical school – to give them valuable experience, ways to bolster their resumes, and a potential advantage over their peers when competing for future positions, including the national match for residency positions.

The USF Health research support office is RISE (Research, Innovation and Scholarly Endeavors). Launched in 2015, it’s housed within the MCOM’s Department of Medical Education. It facilitates and promotes access to active research and provides services such as consultations for study design, statistical analysis, writing scientific publications, presentations at local and national conferences, and, in many cases, leads to first authorships for medical students.

Third-year medical student Kareen Zuhdi presents his research findings to MCOM Vice Dean Dr. Bryan Bognar.

Third-year medical student Kareen Zuhdi presents his research findings to MCOM Vice Dean Dr. Bryan Bognar.

The RISE program and staff – including a faculty director, administrative director, biostatisticians, and several coordinators – are focused on providing support ‘from ideation to publication, and everything in between on the research continuum,’ said Rahul Mhaskar, MPH, PhD, professor and faculty director of RISE, and assistant dean for medical student research in MCOM.

Dr. Mhaskar joined RISE in 2018 to enhance the research services infrastructure to support the increased research project load and expand the research opportunities especially for medical students to create ‘vertical learning’ teams. These specialty-specific teams match medical students with resident physicians in training and attending physicians on faculty at MCOM. This network better defines and sustains a pipeline of impactful research opportunities, as well as invaluable mentorship.

“Nearly every medical student in USF Health Morsani College of Medicine conducts research across their four years of medical school,” Dr. Mhaskar said. “Most will graduate with at least one publication, and half will have multiple publications. RISE is an element that adds enormous value to our student’s medical education and their resumes as they interview for residency positions, providing them a decided advantage compared to other MD programs.”

Supporting research endeavors for medical students is not new or unique. Nearly every medical school does this.

But MCOM was at the forefront when it built the RISE, not just in launching the effort but in building a full office of support staff for the effort, with specialists available to help students, residents, fellows, and faculty navigate through the research project continuum under one roof using the “One stop shop” for all research services vision.

“Many, if not all, medical schools support research efforts of their medical students and might have one or two staff directly involved or as work added onto other roles and job duties,” said Roberta "Bobby" Collins, founding administrative director of RISE. “Our RISE program has staff whose primary roles are dedicated to helping students in their scholarly endeavors. We aim for an all-inclusive, one-stop-shop approach. This design ensures stronger, coherent support and success.”

“And beyond supporting students in their research efforts, we hope to guide these students to be life-long scholars and physician-scientists,” she said.

Collins helped set up the RISE office in 2015. This spring, she will retire, and Erin May, current senior academic services administrator for RISE, will take the baton for leading the administrative wing of the RISE office.

The MCOM RISE team, from left, Lynnsey Trantham, Erin May, Dr. Rahul Mhaskar, Bobby Collins, and Emily Coughlin.

The MCOM RISE team, from left, Lynnsey Trantham, Erin May, Dr. Rahul Mhaskar, Bobby Collins, and Emily Coughlin.

In addition to opportunities for foundational scientific research, RISE also offers a Summer Scholarly Award Experience Program, which funds a full-time scholarly opportunity for students between their first and second years of medical school. The program allows the students time to pause on the rigors of the MD program for a few weeks and fully immerse themselves in the research projects.

RISE also supports students with travel awards, allowing students to present their work at conferences across the country.

Overall, the RISE program has proven successful.

“RISE connects medical students, residents, and fellows with each other and to core research support systems and helps them publish their research findings,” Dr. Mhaskar said.

“Now, many students have multiple, first-time authored, peer-review publications. And the very best of them will have CVs like junior faculty by the time they graduate, allowing them to get out into the residency market and be highly competitive from the start.”

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About Health News

USF Health News highlights the great work of the faculty, staff and students across the four health colleges – Morsani College of Medicine, College of Public Health, College of Nursing and Taneja College of Pharmacy – and the multispecialty physicians group. USF Health, an integral part of the University of South Florida, integrates research, education and health care to reach our shared value - making life better.