By Hamda Almaazmi
I love experiencing new things—whether it’s finding a new hotspot for brunch in my Fells Point neighborhood, seeing my first live NFL game or my trip to Disney World earlier this summer. (Yes, I’m 27 years old, but I enjoyed it so much!) Being a research resident at Johns Hopkins has made these experiences possible.
But more importantly, my residency here is bringing me closer to my dream of becoming a colorectal surgeon. I always knew I wanted to practice medicine—and not as a physician, as a surgeon. I really want to be challenged.
I’m attracted to the complexity of colorectal cancer, which manifests in several types of tumors and can grow and spread in other parts of the body. I’m also very interested in learning and employing advanced surgical techniques, including minimally invasive, laparoscopic and robotic approaches.
I first came into Johns Hopkins Medicine’s orbit last year as a resident at Tawam Hospital in the United Arab Emirates, my home country. Johns Hopkins Medicine International (JHI) has been working with Tawam since 2006 to enhance the hospital’s clinical programs and operations and to develop educational programs, including a two-way residency exchange between Tawam and The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
At that time, I already had completed the first of three parts to the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), “the boards” that are required to practice medicine in the U.S. I also had reached out to my local health authority to initiate the process for going abroad to further my medical training.
I knew that back home I couldn’t get the same educational opportunities that are available through international medical training. We don’t have high patient loads, so our surgeons don’t have the same level of advanced experience in treating cancers of the colon. If I want to learn the latest ways of performing colorectal surgery, I had to go abroad.
While at Tawam, I met Nicole Rosson, a JHI director involved in the Tawam affiliation, and explained to her my interest in colorectal surgery. Nicole helped connect me with leading experts in the field—Dr. Jonathan Efron and Dr. Bashar Safar, with whom I’ve been working on research since arriving as a Johns Hopkins resident in April 2018.
I had heard about Johns Hopkins as being one of the famous medical institutes worldwide, not only in the U.S. I never thought I would have an opportunity like this.
I’m working with my mentors on two research projects, which we plan to publish and present next year. The first project uses data on patients with tumors in their large or small bowels and compares their treatment plans and survival rates. We’re still working on the paper, but early results show that patients with small-bowel tumors tend to use surgery and chemotherapy together more than patients with tumors of the large bowel, and they have higher survival rates.
I’m also collaborating with Dr. Efron, Dr. Safar and senior surgical resident Dr. James Taylor on a paper on anal screening for cancer. We are seeing an increase in colon, rectal and anal cancer cases—but that’s because we’re detecting it earlier because of the screening, which is a good thing.
I’m also working on a joint database project with Imperial College London, which researchers will use to compare information on colorectal patients in the United States and the United Kingdom. And I’ve completed the second step and practicum of USMLE and have taken three courses at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
There are so many opportunities here. So far in seven months, I have research going on. I’ve taken courses. I finished two licensing exams. And I can still do more next year!
I don’t know yet what I’ll be doing next year, but I ‘ve applied for surgical residency in the United States, mostly to schools on the East Coast. My first pick, of course, is Johns Hopkins.
I’m very grateful for the support from my mentors and so many others at Johns Hopkins. Back home, I would’ve had to do all of this work and planning on my own. I wouldn’t have had recommendations from a world-renowned institution. I wouldn’t have had the same strong personal statement without their advice. I wouldn’t even have known which program to apply to.
My dream is to be matched with Johns Hopkins, where I can finish my clinical residency and then do a fellowship for a year or two. Then I want to go back home and work in three main fields—I really do love to challenge myself!
First, I want to start more databases and registries in the U.A.E. so we can do more of our own research and really have the best guidelines for every patient. Then, I want to be a clinician and serve as many patients as I can. Third, I would love to be involved in the surgical residency program back home to improve it and help junior medical students pursue their dreams—just as I’m doing now.
Hamda Almaazmi, M.B.B.S., is a research fellow in colorectal surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.