Education Recognition Research Women in Surgery

Residents Receive International Research Fellowships 

Two residents with the Division of General Surgery have recently received international research fellowships. These highly competitive fellowships will support the residents during their lab time at Washington University. Residents Helen Li, MD and Catherine Zivanov, MD were both awarded fellowships that will continue to support their surgical research.  

Resident Highlight: Helen Li, MD 

Helen Li, MD, was selected as a Fogarty LAUNCH Fellow by the Northern Pacific Global Health Leadership, Education, and development for Early-career Researchers (LEADERs) program.  The current Global Health Fellows and Scholars Program, “Launching Future Leaders in Global Health” (LAUNCH) Research Training Program, builds on the successes and experiences of the Fogarty Global Health Training Program, held from 2017-2022. This program continues to support one year of mentored research training in global health at established biomedical and health research institutions and project sites. The award package includes $10,000 in research funding, travel support to attend NIH events and coverage of other costs and salary support. 

“Global health research has always been an intersection of collaboration, innovation, and service,” says Li. “Recent times have demonstrated that we live in an ever-shrinking world, where one community’s health and well-being can have massive impact on our own, whether they are our neighbors at home or across the globe. Thus, I feel it is our duty as healthcare workers to be aware of these relationships and do our part in ensuring that all have equal access to healthcare that is accessible, high-quality and affordable.”  

“It is incredibly exciting to have WashU Surgery as a part of this multi-institutional project,” Li elaborates. “As a leader in so many areas of research, stepping into the realm of global surgery really epitomizes our department’s commitment participate in the ever-growing conversations reflecting on our role in the global surgery community. I am hoping to use this Fogarty grant to create opportunities for reciprocal innovation in general surgery which can benefit underserved communities [in the United States] as much as those in Kenya. I also hope this grant can help to create more opportunities for other surgical trainees like myself to utilize research as advocacy on a global scale.” 

Li, who is in her Post-Graduate Year II, earned her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis and her medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine. Her surgical specializations include acute and critical care surgery, hepatobiliary surgery, pediatric surgery and global surgery.  

Resident Highlight: Catherine Zivanov, MD 

Catherine Zivanov, MD, was accepted into an international MSKCC Stern Fellowship in Global Oncology Research from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). MSKCC’s Global Cancer Disparities Initiatives (GCDI) program partners with physicians and scientists across multiple disciplines to improve outcomes for cancer patients, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). The one-year fellowship trains current or recently graduated residents or PhD students in global oncology research and how to collaborate with LMIC cancer researchers. The fellowship’s goal is to help develop a strong foundation in clinical research that is vital for generating new, relevant global cancer research questions. This is done by linking US and Nigerian investigators, expanding collaborative research opportunities and encouraging career paths in global oncology research in North America.

“I am thrilled to have been selected for the MSKCC Stern Fellowship in Global Oncology Research,” says Zivanov. “Participation in this fellowship will allow me to spend 3 months working with the Global Cancer Disparities Initiatives (GCDI) program at MSKCC in New York City followed by 9 months working with the African Research Group for Oncology in Nigeria. The GCDI program at MSKCC has partnerships in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania and focuses primarily on colorectal and breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and outcomes.”  

“In addition to fostering collaborative research with emphasis on global health ethics and cultural humility,” she explains, “I will have the opportunity to develop and contribute to projects that will help improve our understanding of and alleviate the growing international burden of cancer.” 

Zivanov, who is also in her Post-Graduate Year II, earned her undergraduate degree from the University of South Alabama and her medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Her surgical specializations include acute and critical care surgery, breast surgery, endocrine surgery, hepatobiliary surgery, transplant surgery and global surgery. 

The General Surgery Residency Program at WashU 

The Washington University General Surgery Residency is an advanced, active and innovative program that has continued to bolster the clinical and research experiences of early-career surgeons. It was among the first surgical training programs in the country to begin reshaping a century-old model of teaching residents how to perform surgery, and it continues to pioneer surgical education and training. 

Residents are even further supported by experts in the surgical field who champion resident research, including Ryan Fields, MD, Director of Resident Research, and Paul Wise, MD, general surgery residency program director. 

“We are so fortunate to help our trainees explore opportunities in global surgery,” says Fields. “This type of training is instrumental in not only bringing cutting-edge research and therapies to all corners of the globe, but also in better understanding health care disparities and opportunities to improve the health of our planet. The Department of Surgery has a long-standing and ongoing commitment to making sure our surgical residents have access and support to pursue global surgery research and professional development as part of their overall surgical education.” 

Wise echoes these thoughts. “In the past, research or “lab” time was invariably related to performing basic science research, but the Department of Surgery and general surgery residency program pride themselves on trying to expand the options for residents beyond ‘pipetting and gels.’  A multitude of options have developed over the last two decades, including opportunities through the Division of Public Health Sciences, additional degrees and education-focused research, such as the ACS-AEI fellowship.” 

“More recently,” he explains, “residents have even participated in international opportunities.  Dr. Li’s and Zivanov’s pending experiences further underscore the department’s interests in doing all that it can to make sure that the academic exploration that occurs during the residents’ professional development time is fruitful and meaningful to what they foresee as their next phase in their academic careers after clinical training.”