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Medical students receive research fellowship, essay award

Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Medical Society recognizes Chiang, Stern

by Kristina SauerweinJune 15, 2017

Robert Boston

Two students at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have received accolades for research and essay writing from the Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Medical Society.

I-Ling Chiang, who will be a second-year medical student this fall, was one of 51 recipients nationwide awarded the $6,000 Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship.

For essay writing, the honor society recognized Rachel Stern, MD, in the Helen H. Glaser Student Essay Contest. Stern received her medical degree in May and in July will begin her residency in pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Jacobi Medical Center in New York.

“The caliber of students who compete for an Alpha Omega Alpha award is incredible,” said Morton E. Smith, MD, professor emeritus of ophthalmology and visual sciences, associate dean emeritus and councilor for the university’s Alpha Omega Alpha chapter. “It is a high honor for our students.”

For the student research fellowship, 72 medical schools submitted nominations; however, only one student per school was allowed to apply. The 10-week program supports Chiang’s study of inflammatory bowel disease, a condition that affects about 3.1 million people in the United States.

Chiang’s faculty research mentor is Thaddeus S. Stappenbeck, MD, PhD, a professor of pathology and immunology and of developmental biology. “I was fortunate to join the Stappenbeck lab, which focuses on studying mucosal immunology, and participate in a project related to inflammatory bowel disorder,” Chiang said. “We hope to find potential new ways to treat the disease and identify biomarkers that could allow for a personalized medicine approach. I am very excited about this project, and I hope our findings can bring insights into tackling the disorder and, ultimately, help patients.

“As I aspire to become a physician-scientist, this fellowship will allow me to get more training in experimental techniques, exposure to medical research and mentorship from experts in the field,” Chiang said.

Out of the 77 medical student applicants for Alpha Omega Alpha’s annual student essay contest, Stern won third place and a $550 prize. Titled “The Phantom Disease,” her essay examines chronic pain and its portrayal in literature. It will be published in the autumn issue of the honor society’s international quarterly medical humanities journal, The Pharos.

“Chronic pain is something we learn a lot about in terms of what not to do — for example, not to prescribe opioids, not to be fooled by drug-seeking behavior,” Stern said. “However, it is nearly impossible for a definitive diagnosis of pain, so it is something that patients suffer through with a loneliness that doesn’t accompany other illnesses.”

Kristina covers pediatrics, surgery, medical education and student life. In 2020, she received a gold Robert G. Fenley Writing Award for general staff writing from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and in 2019, she received the silver award. Kristina is an author and former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Los Angeles Times, where she was part of a team of journalists that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for breaking news. Additionally, she covered the 2014 Ferguson unrest for TIME magazine and, for eight years, wrote a popular parenting column for