By Wendy Sarubbi | March 21, 2016 3:43 pm

Does everyone with lower back pain need an MRI? Can taking sesame oil decrease inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis? Is there a more reliable, easier way to determine if adolescent athletes have suffered a concussion? Does congenital heart disease in children impact their emotional intelligence?

The College of Medicine’s FIRE (Focused Inquiry and Research Experience) is designed to instill a spirit of inquiry into tomorrow’s physicians. And 2016’s FIRE Conference, on March 17 and 18, showed the diversity of scientific questions first- and second-year M.D. students possess.

Their projects included the effectiveness of cancer treatments, health disparities, the influence of diet on disease and evaluation of surgical techniques. “This part of our curriculum showcases the future,” said Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean who began the FIRE module as part of the new medical school. “It highlights how students are thinking beyond today. They are creating the practice of medicine and answering the questions that are needed for tomorrow.”

A mandatory two-year scientific project is unique in American medical schools. The goal is to help students appreciate the scientific method, to have experience conducting scientific experiments and to encourage them to ask “why” during their clinical careers. Some will actually do lab research while caring for patients, but Dr. German wants even those who don’t conduct formal research to have the training to analyze patterns and symptoms to discover better ways to provide care.

Dr. Steven Ebert, director of the FIRE module, is a cardiovascular disease researcher at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. He said he was impressed by the quality and diversity of this year’s projects and the dedication students had for their experiments. “Research is at the core of evidence-based medicine,” he said. “The FIRE module helps students better understand research, how things really work and helps them make better formed decisions about treatments for their patients. It strengthens their curiosity. A person with a spirit of inquiry doesn’t just accept dogma. They determine for themselves if the evidence is reliable.”

Students work with a research mentor –College of Medicine faculty and faculty from other UCF colleges, volunteer and affiliated faculty or others in the community with scientific expertise. Second-year M.D. student Nathan Esplin researched whether pre-Columbian residents of Peru suffered from tuberculosis with mentor Dr. Marla Toyne of UCF’s College of Sciences. With help from Dr. Toyne and graduate anthropology students, he examined skeletal remains of people from the Eastern Highlands of Peru and found evidence that tuberculosis may have had a significant impact on the health of these early people.

Students received awards based on evaluations from faculty and their peers. Winners are:

Student Choice Poster Presentation

First Place: Christopher Atkins

Second Place: Brittany Urso

Third Place: Amna Imran

Student Choice M-1 Oral Presentation

First Place: Jessica Kris

Second Place: Jeremy Tran

Third Place: Sonya Freeman

Student Choice M-2 Oral Presentation

First Place: Richard Taylor

Second Place: Lauren Vassiliades

Third Place: Shuang “Lisa” Li

Faculty Choice Poster Presentation

First Place: Katherine Smith

Second Place: Jonathan Mayl

Third Place: Mejdi Najjar and Ahdad Ziyar

Faculty Choice M-1 Oral Presentation

First Place: Sonya Freeman

Second Place: Jessica Kris

Third Place: Jake Altier and Jeremy Tran

Faculty Choice M-2 Oral Presentation

First Place: Steven Kelly

Second Place: Nathan Esplin

Third Place: Laura Goyack

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