Artist illustration depicting a surgeon cutting a marbled composition notebook.

Mentorship Program Pairs Public Health and Surgery to Improve Practice and Outcomes

Surgery and public health partner in an innovative mentoring program.

By Jackie Powder • Illustration by Patrick Kirchner/Dog Ear Consultants

Marie Diener-West, who has taught Statistical Methods to some 7,000 students in 28 years at the School, can actually remember one particular student in her 2007 course. 

“It was the first time that I had ever heard of a surgical resident or fellow in the MPH degree program,” recalls Diener-West, PhD ’84, MPH program chair and Abbey-Merrell Professor of Biostatistics.

That student anticipated the surgical community’s growing interest in applying public health tools to surgical research. It crystallized at Johns Hopkins in 2010 with the establishment of the Surgery Faculty-Student Mentoring Program, which pairs about 20 Bloomberg School students each year with surgeons from the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. The initiative, part of the Johns Hopkins Surgery Center for Outcomes Research, was originated by Adil Haider, MD, MPH ’00.

Yale medical student Cheryl Zogg, MSPH ’13, MHS ’14, says the program helped her visualize a future as a surgeon and researcher. 

“Seeing practicing surgeons reaching out to public health students was … one of the first times that I saw that those two worlds could come together,” says Zogg.

She presented her research, which examined body mass index and operative outcomes in thoracic surgical oncology, at the 2015 American College of Surgeons conference, and the study was published in Annals of Surgery, a top journal in the field. 

Between 2011 and 2015, student-surgeon pairs in the program co-authored 212 peer-reviewed articles in 62 journals, as reported in JAMA Surgery. Topics have included hospital readmission rates for differing procedures, cost-effectiveness comparisons and associations between surgical experience and outcomes. 

“We’re not just writing papers for the sake of writing papers,” notes program director and trauma surgeon Elliott Haut, MD, PhD ’14, FACS. “We’re writing papers that people actually read and cite, and asking ‘How do you change practice with health services research?’” 

Public health students apply the research skills they’re learning to examine large datasets like the National Trauma Data Bank or the Nationwide Inpatient Sample. Many complete their research as part of the MPH program’s required capstone project. 

“As a student, getting hands-on clinical research mentorship with practicing people in the field was a really incredible gift,” Zogg says. “It shaped, for many of us, how we think about our research and career.”