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Busy. Tired. Distracted. It’s a good description of a person ending a shift in an Emergency Department.

Imagine that person delivering complex information on numerous patients to another provider who, while fresh, is already receiving text messages and myriad other digital disruptions. This is what an end-of-shift handoff looks like and it’s an environment ripe for error.

Niraj Vyas, MBS ’19, a member of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s MD Class of 2024, believes proven, reliable and standardized processes can significantly reduce the risk of error in these and other hospital scenarios. Research he is conducting as part of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine's Medical Research Honors Program (MRHP) will establish a framework for such standardization.

“The ways things like end-of-shift handoffs are done can vary, not just from system to system, but also between hospitals,” he said. “There’s a wide variety and no way to evaluate if that handoff is going well. My research aim is to develop one framework that can be used to build a standard way to do things. It’s a big challenge.”

Niraj is among the first medical students to take part in the school’s new MRHP, a long-term, hypothesis-driven research program. Students who complete the program and remain in good academic standing receive an honors distinction upon graduation.

“There are a lot of reasons a medical student should take part in such a program,” he said. “For example, you need research to stand out if you plan to apply to a very competitive residency or specialty. Also, the program creates a good research foundation. I saw it as a way to step out into the real world.”

The “real world” to which Niraj refers is a process comparable to a doctoral program. To complete the MHRP, students are required to submit a research project proposal, write a thesis and deliver an oral defense. Additionally, students write abstracts, present posters and publish findings while building toward their thesis defense. The research experience is guided by a research mentor and a thesis advisory committee – all chosen by the student – as well as the program director. Student autonomy is crucial to success.

Niraj approached Dr. Chadd Kraus, system director of emergency medicine research at Geisinger and an associate professor of medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth, to be his mentor. “I am fortunate Dr. Kraus agreed to mentor me,” he said. “When I came to him with this project, I gained the autonomy of a research fellow but with the support of a collaborative academic environment.”

Niraj Vyas, MBS '19, MD Class of 2024
Niraj Vyas, MBS ’19, a member of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s MD Class of 2024