General Surgery's summer academic program jumpstarts medical careers

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Dr. Alexander Rosemurgy, founder and director of Division of General Surgery’s Academic Summer Program, and Dr. Sharona Ross, one of the surgeon mentors, with some members of this summer’s class — the largest ever.

Each summer they arrive with primarily one common goal – a career in medicine. By the time the summer ends they know if that’s what they really want.

“When they come into our program most students don’t know a pneumothorax from a pneumovax”, said Alexander Rosemurgy, MD, professor of surgery for USF Health and surgical director of the Digestive Disorders Center at Tampa General Hospital. By graduation, he adds, they not only know what a pneumothorax is, they likely have observed the insertion of a tube thorocostomy to treat the condition.

Each Friday at 7:30 a.m., students and mentors meet in the TGH/USF Digestive Diseases Office conference room to critique research projects.

Largest Class Ever
Over the last five years, 48 participants have rotated through the Division of General Surgery’s Academic Summer Program, which educates and mentors students interested in careers in medicine. The program, founded and directed by Dr. Rosemurgy since the late 1980s, provides a wide range of supervised research and clinical experiences to undergraduates, recent baccalaureate graduates, and beginning medical students. This summer the program is hosting its largest class ever — 25 students — overseen by Dr. Rosemurgy; Dr. Sharona Ross, a GI endoscopy and minimally invasive surgeon (MIS) at TGH/USF; and Dr. Michael Albrink, an MIS surgeon in the Division of General Surgery. They come from various universities across the country, including USF, Auburn, Columbia, Cornell, Emory, Purdue, the University of Michigan, University of Florida and Florida State University.

During the intensive three-month program, students learn medical terminology; attend lectures and conferences; produce videos of surgical procedures; collect and manage data; learn statistical analysis; prepare, edit and submit abstracts and papers; present their research results; and shadow USF surgeons in the operating room, on rounds, and in outpatient clinics at Tampa General Hospital. Putting in 10 to 12-hour days is not unusual.

Paul Harold shows off a video depicting a single-incision laparoscopic removal of the gall bladder. Students have the opportunity to produce surgical videos used for instruction.

While many academic medical centers across the country may have similar programs, Dr. Rosemurgy said, what helps distinguish the TGH/USF program is the volume of student contributions to abstracts and papers presented at national and regional surgical conferences and published in high-impact medical journals like the Annals of Surgery, Journal of the American College of Surgeons, Gastroenterology, and Surgical Endoscopy, to name a few. Within the last five years, participants have co-authored 112 national presentations, 46 published abstracts, 57 peer-reviewed published manuscripts, and more than 20 videos presented at national meetings.

“This program is highly productive,” Dr. Rosemurgy said. “Students can’t do everything that needs to be done to research and write a paper without learning something in the process. Productivity is used as a surrogate marker of learning and mentoring.”

L to R: Andrea Marcadis, Paul Toomey, Kenneth Luberice and Connor Morton in the research room.

Medicine’s Next Thought Leaders
The continuing research projects students are tackling this summer include investigating whether a more aggressive approach to removing pancreatic cancer based on tumor margin information impacts patient outcome, evaluating how to best distinguish between benign and cancerous pancreatic tumors before undertaking resection, and determining whether patterns of reflux affect symptoms before and after laparoscopic operations to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The rigorous studies require creativity, critical thinking, and plenty of painstaking work to complete and meet the criteria worthy of being submitted and accepted to peer-reviewed journals or for national presentation, Dr. Rosemurgy said. “Our goal is to influence the career choices of bright young students interested in medicine, medical research, or related fields, and to encourage them to become thought leaders who will improve health care research and delivery in the years to come.”


I’m so proud of these kids. They’re going to do great things!”
– Dr. Alexander Rosemurgy, program director

A recent study by the Division of General Surgery indicates the program’s efforts are paying off. A blinded survey of the 48 participants over the last five years found that their scholarly skills improved after the summer research program. The overwhelming majority (92 percent) of the students developed more favorable opinions of careers in medicine, and only 8 percent reported the experience deterred them from a career in medicine because of lifestyle or studious demands. In addition, more than three-quarters of students felt the program promoted a career in surgery, and 82 percent reported it elevated their goals to become leaders in American medicine.

Paul Toomey, starting a USF surgery residency in July, looks over some research data with Marcadis. A graduate of the summer program, Toomey returned this year to help mentor new students.

Student Returns As Mentor
Program veteran Desiree Villadolid, MPH, began in summer 2001 as a USF undergraduate in biomedical sciences. She has worked with Dr. Rosemurgy to develop, refine, and maintain databases tracking the characteristics, treatments, and outcomes of hundreds of patients with achalasia (a rare disorder of the esophagus), GERD, portal hypertension, bile duct cancer, and pancreatic cancer. She continued the extracurricular summer research full-time while pursing a graduate degree in epidemiology and biostatistics at the USF College of Public Health, returning to mentor other program participants. This will be Villadolid’s last summer as a mentor — helping students to collect, input, and make sense out of complex patient data — before heading off to the University of Miami to begin medical school. She plans to be a surgeon.

“I know there aren’t many woman surgeons, but Dr. Sharona Ross has been a tremendous role model for me. She’s married with four children and still has a career she loves in surgery,” said Villadolid, who already has more than 20 published papers, 19 abstracts and five presentations to her name as well as a production credit on a surgical video used to teach residents.

The Gee-Whiz Factor
Villadolid helped Dr. Rosemurgy cull the 100 ideas for this summer’s research projects that the division’s faculty and residents began identifying in the spring – narrowing the topics down to the most fascinating and clinically-relevant hypotheses for students to test.


“It has to pass the gee-whiz factor. That means, if we study this, will the findings likely add something we didn’t already know to the body of knowledge in medicine?”
– Desiree Villadolid, student mentor

Paul Toomey, a 2008 graduate of the USF College of Medicine who will begin a general surgery residency at USF in July, is helping Villadolid mentor students this summer. Toomey participated in the summer academic program between his first and second year of medical school. He worked on a project with Dr. Rosemurgy, Dr. Ross, Villadolid and others evaluating whether preoperative therapy for achalasia (botulinum toxin injection to relax the sphincter muscle, balloon dilation of the sphincter, or both) impacts the difficulty or outcome of laparoscopic Heller myotomy. This minimally-invasive surgery, which allows food and liquids to pass into the stomach, is intended to improve the swallowing difficulties of patients with achalasia. The findings were presented at the 2006 International Congress and Endo Expo Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons Annual Meeting. “We found preoperative therapy did not make the operation more difficult or adversely affect its outcome,” he said.

With a background in biomedical engineering (his bachelor’s degree is from Duke University), Toomey wants to apply research to help solve clinical problems. “The summer research experience definitely helped solidify my decision to become an academic surgeon,” he said.

Above: Dr. Rosemurgy reviews a case with students Demetri Arnaotakis, Andrea Marcadis and Kenneth Luberice, l to r, shadowing him at the General Surgery Clinic. Below: The students listen as Dr. Rosemurgy consults with the patient.

First-Hand Look at Surgery
Andrea Marcadis, 19, and Kenneth Luberice, 20, are among the undergraduate students in the summer program’s 2008 Class.

Marcadis, who will be a sophomore at Emory University in the fall, plans to major in chemistry and apply to medical school. “This has made me think more about specializing in surgery,” said Marcadis, whose father is a plastic surgeon. “I like that surgeons can go in and directly fix something that’s wrong. For instance, they can take a patient into the OR and take out the cancer.”

Luberice will be a USF senior this fall and is majoring in biomedical sciences. A linebacker for the USF Bulls football team, he jumped at the chance to get a head start on his medical education when a counselor from USF Academic Enrichment Center told him about the General Surgery summer program. Luberice, who underwent a shoulder operation to repair a high school football injury, recently observed his first operation — Dr. Rosemurgy undertaking a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication, a surgical procedure to prevent the back flow of stomach acid into the esophagus.

“I was surprised at how many people were in the operating room. It was really amazing to see how everyone worked together as a team,” Luberice said.

Dr. Ross leads students in a discussion of their ongoing surgical research projects.

Dr Ross, one of the surgeon mentors, said Dr. Rosemurgy has been and remains a very influential person in the development of her surgical career and in the lives of many students he has mentored.


“Very rarely do students have the opportunity to test the waters of a profession the way this research program affords.”
– Dr. Sharona Ross, academic surgeon-mentor

“A career in academic medicine, and surgery more specifically, is a life commitment to the disciplines of dedicated patient care and unending scholarly pursuit,” she said. “I look forward to the opportunity to share Dr. Rosemurgy’s lessons together with my experiences as a woman surgeon and mother of four children with the annual research program participants.”

Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications
Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Media Center