Kidney TREKS: Opening the Door to a Career in Nephrology

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This summer, I had the privilege of participating in KidneyTREKS (Tutored Research and Education for Kidney Scholars), a program for medical students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows created by the American Society of Nephrology to provide exposure and mentorship in nephrology. I am hoping to highlight some of my favorite experiences in order to encourage my colleagues to apply to this program. The two program sites are the University of Chicago and Mount Desert Island (MDI) Biological Laboratory. Before you read on: the deadline to apply for this year’s programs being held in Chicago July 20 – 27 and MDI June 8 – 15 is next week, January 18.

KidneyTREKS Chicago was geared towards clinical research and discovery.  I had the opportunity to learn nephrology physiology and work with colleagues to solve nephrology problems. Prior to the trip, we were each assigned to specific diets, such as low salt, for urine collections. Once we arrived in Chicago, we created hypotheses and ran calculations based on the compilation of our data. Physiology was further made applicable by running experiments and trying clinical skills, such as kidney biopsy and ultrasound simulations.  

Nephrology scholarship was not only limited to physiology and lab values; there was a strong humanistic component to the program. For one challenge, we were each assigned to a certain diet and grocery store, given the same budget as a food stamp, and were asked to create a meal to feed a family of 4 within these guidelines. We were given lectures by a nutritionist regarding kidney diets and diabetic diets and then went off into Chicago. This difficult task provided a strong perspective to the expectations that we may place on nephrology patients, the role of socioeconomic status on following recommendations, the importance of providing resources, and all-in-all understanding that perfection is near to impossible. 

For another project, we were “assigned” to be patients and were given a bag of medications (candy) with administration instructions. Not a single medical student in the group was fully adherent during this 1 day experiment. This further allowed me the introspection into the expectations that we may set for kidney disease patients.

In addition to the “scholastic programming”, what made Kidney TREKS such a positive experience, was the “fun” activities interspersed. From “Make You Own Pizza Night” at Lou Malnati’s to a baseball game (in which I tried to convince all of my new American friends to cheer for the Blue Jays instead of the home team…), these events allowed us to meet the UChicago nephrologists in a more social setting. One of the highlights for me was  discussing impressionist art with Dr. Fred Coe and comparing our favorite impressionist pieces at the Chicago Art Institute.


The week at KidneyTREKS Chicago was overwhelmingly positive and the best part is that this mentorship programming is so well organized that it did not end over the summer. All participants of Kidney TREKS are invited to be part of KidneySTARS, a mentorship program occurring concurrently during Kidney Week, and are paired with a long term nephrology mentor at their home institution. My mentor, Swapnil Hiremath, has been an incredible resource to me at UOttawa. We have been able to discuss all matters of nephrology: from clinical practice, applying to residency, research, and the role of social media and blogging in nephrology and medicine. Having longitudinal mentorship and programming in place allows me to build on interests from my week in Chicago at KidneyTREKS.

I am very grateful to the American Society of Nephrology, the UChicago team and Dr. Hiremath for allowing me this learning and mentorship opportunity, and I encourage my fellow medical students to apply for KidneyTREKS.

Post By: Dalia Karol, Medical Student at University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine   



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