Quantities of quality

I have the honor of delivering the 2022 State of the Department Address during Grand Rounds next month. I hope you will join me in person for the event on December 15 in Medical Alumni Auditorium. We have already begun to assemble the data that tells the story of this past year, and I am grateful to our department’s administrative team for their thoroughness and responsiveness to queries. The continuity these professionals provide helps us look not just at the last year, but the last decades in some cases, to identify trends and insights into future directions for the department. One area we have been looking at is how our department has been performing in the research mission. There are multiple prisms through which we can examine our work in research, beyond the bottom line of new grant awards, the narrow focus of a Blue Ridge ranking, or the number of publications in high-impact, peer-reviewed journals. These are all valuable measures and serve a purpose when comparing our department to other institutions. But they are not always accurate indicators of what we value, what makes the soil, so to speak, so rich for an Iowa researcher looking to grow a career.

One of the pieces of data we discovered for this year’s address is that there are 13 scientists with Career Development Awards, 5 pre- and post-doctoral fellowships, and 10 grants with multiple principal investigators in this department. That means mentors in building a research career, that means guidance in learning the ropes, that means collaborators whom we can lean on and take shared ideas and approaches from good to great. One collaboration that has been inspiring to watch is the one between Dr. Jon Day and mentor Dr. Brian Link, as they have piloted the first year of the StARR program at Iowa. The Stimulating Access to Research in Residency (StARR) funds the training of residents who want a relatively short-term immersion in research. And now that time has paid off as Dr. Day has just received word that his abstract analyzing outcomes and prognostic factors of transformed follicular lymphoma has received an Abstract Achievement Award from the American Society of Hematology (ASH). Dr. Day will present this award at the ASH meeting in New Orleans next month. Congratulations to him and to Dr. Link!

Research also coincides with clinical care and a recent example of the successful blending of the two can be seen in the designation of our polycystic kidney disease clinic as a Center of Excellence in Autosomal Dominant PKD by the PKD Foundation. It has taken nearly a decade of close teamwork from many to build the clinic and the research that feeds it into one worthy of this prestigious designation. And evidence of that research into this common genetic disease can be seen in a recent publication in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN) from Nephrology Division Director Dr. Chou-Long Huang and his lab. That JASN publication, which revealed new insights into the pathogenesis of ADPKD and thus new avenues for treatment, drew plenty of attention including an editorial comment because of its ground-breaking discovery into a condition with limited therapeutic options. It is impressive work that takes many people working closely across all disciplines, which is, fortunately, something we are very good at here in Iowa.

quality improvement concept on the gear, 3D renderingWe are also training the next generation of researchers in our residency program. And the lessons our education leaders teach when it comes to research includes grant proposals, abstract preparation, and impact factors, but plenty of time is also spent on rigor and persistence and “finding the joy” in work well done. Consider our residency program’s commitment to its quality improvement curriculum. Of course, there are national requirements for our residents to complete some scholarship, but the QI work done at Iowa goes far beyond minimum expectations. Residents also can use these results of their projects to practice communicating their work on regional and national stages. If a resident has an abstract accepted at the Midwest meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, our Division of General Internal Medicine, led by Dr. Rich Hoffman, has sponsored that resident’s travel and registration costs. Every year, including this one, a handful of residents get a taste for medical conferences and we get to show off a little what kinds of physicians we are training.

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