Residents Reach HigherCompleting a medical degree requires four years of graduate work, from classroom time–studying, homework, and tests– to clinical rotations– observing in the clinic, shadowing in the hospital, or suturing in an operating room.

By the time one has completed their medical degree, they will have been in school for 20 years of their life. Then, medical specialties require residencies, anywhere from three years (family practice, internal medicine, or pediatrics) to seven years (neurosurgery). Some residents even elect to do an additional year to two years of training, known as a fellowship.

All in all, medical students training to become doctors can expect to be in school for anywhere from 23-29 years.

However, that has not stopped four General Surgery Residents from completing their Ph.D., in addition to their M.D. degree: Carl Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., Jeremie Lever, M.D., Ph.D, Raoud Marayati, M.D., Ph.D., and Clara Nicolas Martinez, M.D., Ph.D. 

Plus, John Killian, M.D., is currently pursuing his Ph.D. through UAB’s ARISE program, which is a physician scientist training pathway designed to prepare residents and fellows at UAB for the roles of researchers, scholars, and leaders capable of making a substantive contribution to academic medicine

Lever earned his Ph.D. as part of a dual degree medical scientist training program. He hoped to push the boundaries of knowledge and knew that he wanted to be a physician scientist.

“After earning my M.D./Ph.D. at UAB, I am proud to have matched for surgery residency at my home institution which has one of the best departments in the country for basic and translational science,” said Lever. “I plan to participate in the research years during residency to further develop as a scientist to help prepare me for a successful career as an independent investigator.”

Nicolas Martinez went about earning her M.D./Ph.D. a different way. She completed three years of research prior to residency, during which she earned a Master’s in Science at Mayo Clinic.

But, Nicolas Martinez did not stop there. She had a particular research interest in gene therapy for pediatric metabolic liver disease that went beyond the scope of her master’s degree. So, she began her Ph.D. program through the University of Barcelona, then took an additional year off during residency to wrap up projects and officially complete her Ph.D.

She felt nothing but support from the general surgery residency program.

“The UAB General Surgery Residency Program was very flexible with allowing me to take time to complete my Ph.D. at the University of Barcelona,” said Nicolas Martinez. “Ultimately, I always encourage other surgical residents to pursue their Ph.D. as well.”

Of course, an M.D./Ph.D. is not for everyone, but Lever does feel it is very impactful for surgical residents.

“Surgical trainees are some of the most talented and driven people in the medical training system. We should welcome the opportunity to have a broad impact through research,” said Lever. “The Ph.D. is a long and challenging degree, but it provides the most holistic and thorough training for participating in investigation at an academic medical center.”

In addition to five residents completing or pursuing post-graduate training, nine current residents have completed master's degrees, from a Master’s in Public Health to a Master’s in Science.

  • Emily Baird, M.D., MA
  • Sam Baker, M.D., MS-HPEd
  • Lauren Gleason, M.D., MSPH
  • Cozette Killian, M.D., MPH
  • Meixi Ma, M.D., M.S.
  • Clara Nicolas Martinez, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.
  • Wendelyn Oslock, M.D., MBA
  • Lisa Soler, M.D., MPH
  • Rindi Uhlich, M.D., MSPH

Killian obtained her MPH during medical school through UT Houston’s M.D./MPH dual-degree program. She feels that her masters helped her understand how physicians fit into the much larger healthcare ecosystem, and the importance of diverse, multidisciplinary teams.

 “Research and subsequent evidenced-based interventions can help us provide better, more equitable care not only for individual patients, but also for entire populations, and can guide policy to benefit generations to come,” said Killian.

Killian has felt supported by the General Surgery Residency Program to utilize her MPH.

“I have felt immensely supported by our program as I’ve paused my clinical training to cultivate the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct rigorous, impactful research,” said Killian. “I am incredibly grateful for both the department’s support and the freedom to pursue the path where I feel I can make the largest impact.”

Britney Corey, M.D., MACM, FACS, director of the General Surgery Residency Program, is glad that the department and the program fosters an environment that prioritizes furthering education and pursuing research.

“These residents are a testament to how dedicated we are to our academic and educational pillars here in the UAB General Surgery Residency Program,” said Corey. “Not only should residents feel allowed to pursue graduate and post-graduate opportunities, but they should be fully supported by the program to achieve their academic goals.”