Working For The Win
At a recent medical conference for vascular surgeons in New Jersey, the research presentation given by a Washington College undergraduate beat out the competition from medical residents and medical fellows vying for the Robert Hobson II, M.D. Award.
Bob Libera ’15 exudes the confidence of someone who knows what he wants out of life, and is prepared to do the work to make it happen.
In his final semester of college, that means taking a crushing 18-credit course load that includes three upper-level labs and a research-based senior capstone project. It also means pursuing internships and networking with healthcare professionals who can help him forge a career in medicine. He’s already caught the attention of a group of vascular surgeons who were impressed enough with his clinical research to award him a prize given in honor of a pioneer in vascular medicine.
Intent on gaining hands-on experience in a hospital setting before his senior year, Libera landed a competitive internship last summer at the Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey. The program is headed by Dr. Clifford M. Sales, a vascular surgeon who enjoys working with aspiring medical students.
“I don’t know what kind of specialist I will be, but I know I want to be in medicine,” says Libera, a chemistry major. Throughout the summer, he and 16 other undergraduates shadowed specialists in oncology, pediatrics, neurosurgery, general surgery, the ICU, and pathology, among others.
When Dr. Sales emailed his summer interns inviting them to conduct clinical research with him over their winter break, Libera was the first to take him up on the offer. Libera collaborated with members of the Cardiovascular Care Group in January, investigating the treatment of elderly patients facing end-stage renal disease. Their research suggests that arteriovenous grafts (AVGs) are the best choice for octogenarians receiving therapy.
Typically, Libera says, patients requiring hemodialysis therapy are given medical catheters for acute treatment, but they are not a long-term solution. While a global health movement now advocates “Fistula First, Catheter Last,” Libera’s work with Dr. Sales indicates AVGs produce positive outcomes for patients in their 80s and deserve consideration as the course of treatment for this subpopulation.
“Our greatest finding is that AVGs can be cannulated more rapidly, decreasing potential time for infection while using a catheter,” says Libera. “There are typically fewer complications with AVGs, which reduces the need for percutaneous interventions to assist maturation. While the longevity of grafts is less than fistulas, reduced complications and potential for infection indicate that grafts should be considered when treating patients of the octogenarian in need of hemodialysis access.”
After making his presentation, “AV Grafts First in the Octogenarian,” before an audience of about 100 doctors, Libera participated in a question-and-answer session with the medical board. Even though he was the only presenter without a medical degree, he was selected to receive the group’s Robert Hobson II, M.D. Award on the strength of his presentation. He acknowledges the Department of Chemistry for preparing him for this moment: conducting significant research, presenting it, and defending it before an audience of superiors is a requirement of all chemistry majors.
“I’m grateful to Dr. Sales, who gave me the opportunity to explore patient records, to collect relevant data, and to present our research at the conference as the primary investigator,” says Libera.
He also had the opportunity to make connections with doctors—including the chief of vascular medicine at Rutgers University—which has led to a job offer. Libera intends to take the MCAT and apply to medical schools this summer and spend his gap year in a research position.
“For me, it’s about being proactive,” says Libera. “I know that putting myself out there, in new places, in new experiences, leads to good things.”