SJV PRIME Encourages Students to Research Valley Health Problems

UCSF SJV PRIME Encourages Medical Students to Research Valley Health Problems

Encouraging inquisitiveness is a core value of the Bridges curriculum at the UCSF School of Medicine, and fourth-year medical students in the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (SJV PRIME) have spent the past few months completing research projects that reflect personal interests and their experiences from two-and-a-half years of clinical rotations at UCSF Fresno. 

SJV PRIME students are given 12 to 20 weeks in their Career Launch year to concentrate on a Deep Explore project of their own choosing. This provides students time to understand a clinical question, create a project and make a change that can have a true impact, said Brian Chinnock, MD, RDMS, UCSF Fresno emergency medicine physician and Inquiry/ARCH Week director for SJV PRIME. 

SJV PRIME is a tailored track at UCSF School of Medicine for students who are committed to ensuring high quality, diverse and well distributed care to improve the health of populations, individuals and communities in the Valley. SJV PRIME students do projects in a wide range of areas but are encouraged to consider research from six topics pertinent to the Valley:  immigrant health, Valley fever, methamphetamine abuse, diabetes and obesity, human trafficking and pre-term birth.  

All UCSF medical school students are expected to conduct research including SJV PRIME students.  The only difference is the subjects of their research emphasize problems that are native to the Valley, said Eyad Almasri, MD, assistant dean for research at UCSF Fresno. 

Most of the SJV PRIME student projects are expected to be published in peer review journals and will add to their fields of study, Dr. Almasri said. 

For his Deep Explore research project, Marcus Cummins chose Valley fever (coccidioidomycosis), a lung infection caused by a soil fungus endemic to the San Joaquin Valley in California and some areas of the southwestern United States. Valley fever can present with lung nodules that are difficult to differentiate from early lung cancer. Cummins studied ways to develop a system to improve the ability to diagnose Valley fever without patients having to undergo invasive tests, such as lung biopsies. 

“I wanted (my research project) to be specific to the Valley first of all,” Cummins said. “And I wanted it to be related to pulmonary and critical care because those are potential interests of mine.” Cummins Matched with the UCSF Fresno Medicine Residency Program this March. 

Cummins’ research included working closely with the UC Merced Biostats Center for statistical analysis. “I had the opportunity to be involved in every phase of the project, right from project design to data collection, data analysis. I got to be involved in the statistical analysis as well,” he said. 

UCSF Fresno provides support for research and that commitment includes supporting the SJV PRIME students in their research projects, Dr. Almasri said. “We needed for example, statistical support and we teamed up with UC Merced to have time carved out for the medical students every month to connect and communicate with PhD statisticians at UC Merced.” 

A commitment to research is what makes UCSF and its regional campus at UCSF Fresno stand out from different medical schools or training programs, Dr. Almasri said. “The amount of support we provide to research and of course the amount of mentoring we provide is very important because we always are after the quality of the training.”  

His Deep Explore experience has given Cummins confidence he will need to carry out projects during residency and beyond. And he is excited that the Valley fever research project “has the potential to be directly applied to patient care and reduce costs for the health care system and cost to patients; and hopefully reduce some complications for patients.” 

The Valley fever research is an example of a medical student who is a Valley native (Cummins is from Fresno/Clovis) who has decided to continue his medical training in the Valley and will hopefully stay to practice medicine, Dr. Almasri said. “That is the whole point of having medical students here.” 

Research is part of the well-rounded education that SJV PRIME students receive, Dr. Almasri said. They learn how to look at published data and learn the advantages and flaws of research methodology – skills they can apply in the future as practicing physicians, he said. 

SJV PRIME student, Amitoj Singh, developed clinical skills during his two-and-a-half years at UCSF Fresno, and he values the time he has spent doing research. “We want medicine to continue to grow and expand so that we can ultimately provide better care for our patients,” he said. “Research allows you to not only impact the patient in front of you, but it allows you to impact patients you never see. It allows you to reach people beyond the four walls of your clinic or your office visits.” 

Singh chose to research the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea using positive airway pressure and its effects on anxiety and depression for patients in the Valley. The project combined a personal interest in psychiatry and an affinity for sleep medicine that developed during an elective two-week rotation at UCSF Fresno. Singh, who is from Fresno and a graduate of the UCSF Fresno Doctors Academy, matched with the UCSF Fresno Psychiatry Residency Program in March. 

Singh’s research has yet to be published, but already it is having an impact on patient care by raising awareness of how mental health is improved when you get better sleep, said Lynn Keenan, MD, director of the UCSF Fresno Sleep Medicine Fellowship program. Dr. Keenan was Singh’s faculty mentor for his research project. Each SJV PRIME student works with a faculty mentor for their Deep Explore project. 

“We now get a screening for anxiety and depression for all the patients before they get started with sleep treatment; and then we track that (improvement of anxiety and depression) as their sleep disorder gets better,” Dr. Keenan said. 

“SJV PRIME Deep Explore not only fosters inquisitiveness, but it gives students a chance to contribute to the body of literature to change the way we practice medicine,” she said. 

Dr. Almasri agreed, adding, “here at UCSF, we don’t train just doctors, we train leaders of health care.” 

Part of Newsletter: Focus on UCSF Fresno, Spring 2023