When Will Tierney, MD, applied to medical schools in 2011 after earning a master’s degree in applied human anatomy from Case Western Reserve University, he already had extensive research experience. Because of its commitment to training physician investigators, he ultimately decided to attend the five-year program at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine (CCLCM) of Case Western Reserve University.
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“What really captured and held my interest was clinical research and the ability to translate scientific concepts into patient care,” says Dr. Tierney, now a chief resident in the Head & Neck Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “And that is the central goal of the Lerner College of Medicine—training physician-scientists who bridge hard science with the clinical art of medicine.”
While in medical school, Dr. Tierney gravitated toward otolaryngology because of early encounters and collaborations with physicians from the Head & Neck Institute who serve as preceptors, professors and advisors at CCLCM. The relationship between the Head & Neck Institute and the Lerner College of Medicine is mutually beneficial.
“As we work in the Head & Neck Institute to be the No. 1 place for residents to have surgical training and for patients to receive surgical care, the Lerner College of Medicine is a foundational part of that,” says Paul Bryson, MD, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Voice Center and Section Head of Laryngology. He also serves as Associate Professor of Surgery and Assistant Director of Career Advising for CCLCM.
Partnering on seminal research projects
Dr. Tierney began research projects alongside Cleveland Clinic otolaryngologists soon after arriving at CCLCM when Tom Abelson, MD, the preceptor of his class in the Arts & Practice of Medicine and a now-retired otolaryngologist from Cleveland Clinic, introduced the first-year medical student to surgeons in the Head & Neck Institute via email. Dr. Bryson was the first to respond.
“We got together and started writing research proposals when I was a first-year medical student and he was first-year staff,” recalls Dr. Tierney. “We have been working together ever since.” They have collaborated on diverse clinical research projects examining the intersections of neuroscience and laryngology and the safety of office-based procedures.
Dr. Bryson also served as the advisor for Dr. Tierney’s thesis on hemodynamic fluctuation during laryngological procedures. The thesis project for CCLCM led to Dr. Tierney earning a second master’s degree—this one in clinical research science—from Case Western Reserve University. In addition, the year-long project comparing the hemodynamic impact of office-based laryngeal procedures to those performed in the operating room has led to changes in clinical practice.
“It has been very helpful in demonstrating safety for patients in the office setting and supporting our growth activity in office-based procedures, even for older patients and some that have co-morbidities,” says Dr. Bryson.
Creating empathetic caregivers
While research is important at CCLCM, so too is helping students become empathetic caregivers. Dr. Abelson has assisted with that endeavor from the time the medical school began enrolling students in 2004 as a preceptor for first- and second-year medical students in the Arts & Practice of Medicine. The class, which extends through all five years of the CCLCM program, covers topics such as medical ethics, diversity and inclusion, population health and more.
“By spending two hours a week for the first two years of medical school with eight students, I feel like I get to help form them into better doctors and better people,” says Dr. Abelson. He can also share a lifetime of experiences as a general head and neck physician.
“I get to show off what we do in head and neck, and, with timely and accurate information, they can decide if it’s a field they want to pursue,” he says. “Even if they don’t go into otolaryngology, it’s very important for students to understand what we do, what they should and shouldn’t refer, and how to handle some of the issues we deal with.”
Forging lifelong relationships
Perhaps the biggest intangible benefit of the relationship between students from the Lerner College of Medicine and physicians from the Head & Neck Institute is collegiality—both professionally and personally.
Dr. Tierney credits Dr. Bryson as a mentor and influencing his decision to pursue a subspecialty in laryngeal surgery. When he completes his residency in 2021, Dr. Tierney will complete a fellowship in laryngology at Vanderbilt University. But the two physicians also forged a friendship beyond the clinical arena. As a physician-in-training, Dr. Tierney pays it forward by working alongside CCLCM students and helping them with their theses.
“The Lerner College of Medicine is one of the most innovative programs in the country, and the relationship with Cleveland Clinic’s Head & Neck Institute gave me opportunities I don’t think would’ve been replicated anywhere else,” says Dr. Tierney. “The access to staff physicians and the ability to do meaningful, clinically relevant research are built into the program. If you want to jump in and make a difference as a medical student, it’s welcomed with open arms here.”