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Pictured: Franco (left) and Nguyen (right) in the Larner College of Medicine. Both students were recently able to turn findings from their second-year summer research projects into academic papers.

Summer Research: From Project to Published Success

Guided by mentorship from Larner Faculty, third-year students published work based on summer research projects

by Angela Ferrante

Each summer, second-year medical students at the Larner College of Medicine actively engage in diverse research projects under expert faculty guidance, spanning clinical, basic science, and health policy realms. These projects, driven by personal passions, unravel medical puzzles, and address unmet health needs, marking research as a pivotal and enriching experience in medical education. Notably, the outcomes of such projects, exemplified by the successes of current third-year students Kenny Nguyen and Jordan Franco, often exceed expectations, leading to academic publications that contribute valuable insights to the medical field. 

Jordan Franco, a third-year student, achieved publication success with his project on laboratory literacy, resulting in a paper titled "Defining and Identifying Laboratory Literacy as a Component of Health Literacy: An Assessment of Existing Health Literacy Tools," published in Academic Pathology. This study explores the relationship between health literacy and laboratory testing, emphasizing patient comprehension of results in healthcare decision-making. Franco's meticulous work involved scrutinizing over a hundred health literacy methods, revealing gaps in addressing essential concepts for laboratory literacy.

Franco's mentor, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Mark Fung, M.D., Ph.D., expressed excitement about the project, stating that it was a unique experience, "Not only because it is something we’re both passionate about, but because I saw it as the chance to uplift a future colleague—my thought processes the entire time was ‘What can I do in my role as a mentor to help Jordan become a great doctor?’”

Likewise, fellow Class of 2025 member Kenny Nguyen collaborated with Associate Professor of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, Mirabelle Sajisevi, M.D., on a project investigating treatment outcomes in low and intermediate-grade salivary gland cancers, leading to the publication of "Oncologic Safety of Close Margins in Patients with Low- to Intermediate-Grade Major Salivary Gland Carcinoma" in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Sajisevi, who is also a UVM Cancer Center member, highlighted Nguyen’s pivotal role, stating, “Kenny was fantastic to work with. He was responsible for the IRB proposal and submission, led the data collection at UVM for this multi-institutional study, and outlined a draft of the manuscript that was refined and ultimately published.”

Their findings challenge conventional treatment approaches, suggesting that select patients with narrow margins may be observed safely post-surgery given they were found to have comparable oncologic outcomes to patients who received radiation post-surgery.  The question of whether to apply radiation is important, especially given the associated morbidity, financial toxicity, and time intensity. Nguyen, expressing gratitude for Sajisevi’s mentorship, stated, “Tackling such a significant project as a medical student was a challenge, but having Dr. Sajisevi as a mentor made it doable.”

Mirabelle Sajisevi emphasized the transformative role of mentorship, guiding her mentees through substantial research undertakings. For Franco, the project evolved from a friendship between Fung, and Nancy Morris, Ph.D., ANP, when they were fellows within the Program for Research in Medical Outcomes (PRIMO) and both provided input to Franco on this project, reflecting the power of mentorship in shaping comprehensive research endeavors.

The Larner College of Medicine highlights these achievements as a testament to the transformative influence of research and mentorship. Nguyen and Franco's work showcases how a summer research project, initiated after the first year of medical school, can contribute meaningful insights that challenge existing norms and improve patient care. In recognizing the impact of these accomplishments, the college reinforces the idea that a summer project has the potential to significantly contribute to the academic and medical communities, shaping the future of medical practice.