Research Leads Help Guide Residents in Fulfilling Goals

“I don’t know where to start.”

If you asked Vivek Yedavalli to recount the remarks he hears most from new radiology residents, this sentiment would top the list.

So, when Erin Gomez, director of the Diagnostic Radiology and Molecular Imaging residency programs, and several senior residents began developing a program to better guide new residents in their research goals, Yedavalli was on board.

The result — the Residency Research Lead Program — was established last year. The program aims to guide each resident toward realizing their own research and career goals.

Yedavalli currently serves as a research lead for the program. He shares the role with Farzad Sedaghat, assistant professor of radiology.

Chief of neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and an assistant professor of radiology, Yedavalli is a well-known researcher with a focus on stroke and perfusion imaging, and he has earned several national research awards, including the Radiological Society of North America Roentgen Research Award.

Sedaghat earned his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, later returning after residency and fellowship to join the diagnostic radiology faculty. He has expertise in abdominal imaging and intervention. 

In their roles, research leads help residents determine their research aims and how best to reach them. 

“The goal is to facilitate opportunities for residents’ exposure to the world of clinical research,” Yedavalli said. 

Each resident must complete a research project to successfully graduate from residency. Part of the research leads’ work is to help new residents determine what research they may want to pursue and find the faculty member best equipped to work with them.

However, as Yedavalli explained, it isn’t just about fulfilling the research requirement. While some residents will naturally be more inclined toward research than others, exposure to research benefits every new radiologist. 

“Research exposure translates to clinical research and helps develop problem-solving skills,” Yedavalli said.

Additionally, exposure to a variety of types of research in residency can be vital for helping residents select a subspecialty later, in their fellowship.

But direction on how to get this exposure, or whom to seek out for which specialty, can be hard for residents to come by. 

Enter the residency research leads. 

The program offers a more formal, structured process for exposing trainees to different types of research and projects, rather than putting the onus on residents to seek out a project and mentor on their own.

Within six months of starting residency, trainees are given a detailed survey to determine their research interests and career goals. The survey asks how interested a resident is in research, how they would like to satisfy their research requirement and at what speed. The survey also includes questions on what types of research residents are interested in, what type of practice setting they are ultimately looking for and what they are looking for in a mentee/mentor experience.

Likewise, faculty are also surveyed on their interests and what they are looking for in a mentee. The research leads then work to match residents and faculty based on a variety of criteria, including research interests and schedule constraints.

Once a resident and faculty member are matched, they can connect on their own to determine a plan for how to proceed. From there, logistics such as how often meetings occur and what research topics will be pursued are determined by the resident and their faculty mentor. 

For Sedaghat, the program is especially helpful at Johns Hopkins, which offers many opportunities and draws trainees from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.

“Johns Hopkins is a large institution, and it can be challenging for newcomers to navigate,” he said.

The Research Leads Program, however, helps radiology residents of all interests and backgrounds find their place at Johns Hopkins. 

This is especially important to Sedaghat, who has successfully leveraged his background in economics to collaborate with Hopkins scientists in translational research, thanks to the mentorship of senior faculty. Now he hopes to pay it forward, helping, as he explained, “we want to show trainees that their diverse academic backgrounds can be a major asset when it comes to research.”

In addition to linking residents and faculty mentors to facilitate research projects, the program also plans to offer special guest speakers and social events designed to connect trainees and faculty across the department.

According to Sedaghat, many residents are also interested in attending conferences. One initiative currently in progress is the development of a database that will list conference opportunities across the nation.

Sedaghat and Yedavalli also plan to offer open office hours for residents, giving them an open door to inquire, in person, about logistical issues or share concerns. 

“It is important to have a sounding board, to have a person who knows what residents are going through and can relate and offer guidance,” Yedavalli said. 

If this program goes well, it may serve as an example for others to follow, in radiology and across Johns Hopkins. 

According to Yedavalli, they are looking to implement a similar program with neuroradiology fellows. 

“This really does serve as a great template for other training programs,” he noted.

At the end of the day, for Yedavalli, it is all about fostering those relationships between mentors and mentees. 

“A lot comes down to direction and having someone as a guide to help navigate residency and navigate what their interests might be,” he said.

He recalled his own experience with mentors throughout his career, some of whom he still calls on for guidance.

“I personally have a number of mentors I look up to,” he said, adding, “They have helped mold my career and continue to do so. I wouldn’t be here without them.

He concluded, “Mentors are pivotal to the success of our residents.”