Southeastern Medical Scientist Symposium (SEMSS) Conference
by Kevin Zhang (M2) and Kaitlin McKernan (G1)
The Southeastern Medical Scientist Symposium (SEMSS) annual conference was hosted by The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) MSTP on November 19th-20th. SEMSS is an American Physician Scientists Association (APSA) regional meeting that aims to bring together physician-scientists, residents, and MD, MD-PhD, and undergraduate students to promote mentorship and information on the career path as well as provide many opportunities for students to present their scientific work. This year’s SEMSS was the first in-person conference for the past three years, and it was wonderful to meet students and faculty from other institutions face-to-face! Over 180 participants from the southeast and the rest of the US attended the conference.
The conference kicked off on Saturday afternoon with a keynote by Dr. Paige Porrett, the current director of VCA Transplantation at the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute and Director of Clinical and Translational Research. She talked about her research in reproductive immunology and her journey to both starting a uterus transplant program at UAB and publishing the world’s first experience of a clinical-grade, gene-edited porcine kidney transplant into a human being. Throughout the talk, she also gave practical advice for how trainees can overcome difficult challenges along the way of becoming a physician-scientist. After her talk, everyone had the opportunity to attend two different poster sessions, as well as sit in on several interactive breakout sessions that focused on topics ranging from Trust in Science and Well-Being and Resiliency in Medicine to PSTP Residency Programs and Medical School Applications. Vanderbilt MSTP students along with Assistant Director Dr. Megan Williams and Vanderbilt PSTP Director Dr. Patrick Hu served on panels throughout the afternoon. Saturday evening concluded with a networking session between all the conference attendees that featured heavy hors d’oeuvres and refreshments.
The second day of the conference kicked off with oral presentations by both undergraduate and current MD-PhD students. Congratulations to Vanderbilt MSTP student Juan Colazo (G4) who was awarded third place for his oral presentation in the medical/graduate student category! In addition, several Vanderbilt undergraduate students also won awards for their poster and oral presentations. Two Vanderbilt MSTP Summer Scholars, Rincon Jagarlamudi, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, and Kennedi Scales, a sophomore at University of Georgia, also presented posters featuring their research. Congratulations to Rincon, who was awarded first place in the undergraduate category!
The conference then concluded with another keynote by Dr. Deidra Crews, the Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity and Director of the Doctoral Diversity Program. As a physician-advocate, she highlighted how her own research program has aimed to advance equity in kidney disease and hypertension by focusing on the social drivers of health inequity. In addition, her motivating talk was a call-to-action for current students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to find innovative ways to get involved with health equity research, no matter their interests.
Overall, SEMSS provided an excellent opportunity to meet fellow students, hear from inspiring speakers, and learn more about all the wonderful work that other aspiring physician-scientists are doing around the country. A huge thank you to the 2022 SEMSS Organizing Committee at UAB and everyone from Vanderbilt that attended the conference. We hope to see everyone at SEMSS next year when it will be hosted by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia!