A team of residents from Southern Illinois University's School of Medicine is preparing to defend its 'Medical Jeopardy' title. SIU beat 34 other teams in an annual contest sponsored by the American College of Physicians. Recent past winners include big names such as the Mayo Clinic, the Albert Einstein Medical Center and Northwestern University.
It was late in the game and the contestants were behind. They anxiously awaited the next question, buzzer fingers ready.
“Your patient has a blood-like rash with joint pains. What is the diagnosis?”
Correct answer: cryoglobulinemia.
Clearly, this isn’t your average trivia game. It was Doctor’s Dilemma, also known as “Medical Jeopardy,” and the contestants were three internal medicine residents from Springfield’s Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
That question marked a turning point in their efforts to win the three-day national Medical Jeopardy contest in Washington, D.C., last May.
The SIU team beat 34 other teams in this annual contest sponsored by the American College of Physicians. Recent past winners include big names such as the Mayo Clinic, the Albert Einstein Medical Center and Northwestern University.
The SIU team consisted of Dr. Nishith Singh of Springfield; Dr. Sudhir Hansalia, who is working in Richland, Wash.; and Dr. Jacob Mathew, who completed his first year of training at SIU before transferring to a program in New Jersey to be closer to his wife and young child.
SIU has had a team enter the state contest for the last 10 years, but this is the first time a team from the school has won the nationals.
“It’s like the NCAA tournament for medical schools,” said Dr. Susan Hingle, SIU associate residency program director. She encourages residents to enter the competition.
To enter the national contest, a medical school must first win its state competition, which SIU did in October 2007.
The team had to be well-prepared. During the national competition, it faced about 180 questions covering a variety of topics, including problems with the heart, lungs, skin, bones, nerves and throat.
“I was told it’s quite unpredictable as to what type of questions there would be,” Singh said. “The preparation is very exhaustive … because the questions are so vast, you can never prepare for it.” He compared it to a medical school final in the form of a game.
Still, the team tried to prepare by reviewing “basic concepts,” playing an online version of Doctor’s Dilemma and practicing.
“The faculty and chief of residents observed us take a simulation of this competition,” Singh said. “They tried to make sure the environment was competitive with buzzers and everything.”
Using previous competitions’ questions, the faculty determined the team’s strengths and deficiencies.
Because points are deducted for incorrect answers, Singh said strategy is key.
“It’s mostly a game of nerves, he said. “If you answer too much and most of the answers are incorrect, then you’re almost done, you’re out. So restrain yourself and stick to answers of which you’re very confident.”
That format helps determine how SIU selects doctors for the squad.
“We have a lot of very, very bright residents here, but when we were picking team members, we wanted to pick people who had that restraint and that kind of self-awareness and willingness to sit back when they didn’t know the answer,” Hingle said.
Singh said some of the questions the team was asked at the nationals have helped him with patients here.
“I think the questions they tend to ask are really clinically relevant, but they ask them in such a way, it really makes the residents think,” Hingle said.
When the SIU team won, “it was disbelief,” Singh said. “It took some time for the feeling to sink in, half an hour.” The team received a trophy and cash awards.
Singh has been named to SIU’s current team, which is preparing for the state Medical Jeopardy next fall.
Hands on your buzzers
Examples of questions SIU School of Medicine doctors had to answer:
Q: Bacterial agent causing pneumonia associated with the following risk factors: bronchiectasis, daily corticosteroid therapy and malnutrition.
Q: Immunoglobulin involved in anaphylactic reaction.
Q: Psychiatric side effect associated with interferon alpha.
If you’d like to try Doctor’s Dilemma, play the “mobile” version online at: http://ddm.acponline.org. Hint: have a medical dictionary very close. Good luck.