Einstein medical residents continue their quiz dynasty

From left, Tany Thaniyavarn, Praveen Ramakrishnan, Chinua Nwakile, and David Wheeler discuss an answer. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
From left, Tany Thaniyavarn, Praveen Ramakrishnan, Chinua Nwakile, and David Wheeler discuss an answer. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 10, 2014

To patients, Praveen Ramakrishnan looks like any other doctor at a busy city medical center, with his white coat and a stethoscope draped around his neck.

But come game day, the 31-year-old internal medicine resident transforms into "the human Google." Ask him a question, and - well, you get it.

His teammate Chitra Punjabi, 30, answers to "the black mamba" - a highly venomous snake and code name for Uma Thurman's assassin role in the movie Kill Bill. "She's tiny and very dangerous," a colleague says.

And Greek-born Apostolos Perelas, 29, plays "the Spartan."

Together, they are champions of Medical Jeopardy, who, fittingly, work as internal medicine residents at Albert Einstein Medical Center.

In April, they will head for Orlando, Fla., where they will compete for the hospital's third consecutive national championship in the Doctor's Dilemma, a Jeopardy!-style competition of medical wits hosted annually by the American College of Physicians.

No other hospital or medical school in the country has won the crown five times. Einstein doctors aced it in 1997, 1998, 2007, 2012, and 2013, beating dozens of teams each year with their buzzer-quick fingers, calculating betting, team collaboration, and dead-on answers.

"When we play, it's a bloodbath," said Guillermo Garrido, 31, an attending physician at Einstein's Elkins Park campus who coached last year's squad and played on the team in 2012.

Topics can include little-known diseases, treatments, diagnostic techniques, medical history - certainly not typical watercooler musings.

In "final jeopardy" last year, the team had to answer this question: "What is the imaging test of choice to diagnose hepatopulmonary syndrome?" (Or, for the layperson, liver and lung syndrome.)

The answer: a bubble study.

Garrido said one of the toughest categories was medical eponyms. The eponym for polycystic ovary syndrome, for example, is Stein-Leventhal syndrome.

Medical chiefs at Einstein attribute the team's success to recruitment of top-notch medical graduates, good teaching, and lots of practice against faculty and one another. The team also brings on one newcomer each year and keeps a previous team member as coach to provide continuity.

When a major competition nears, team members are given easier rotation schedules so they can rest and practice.

"We take Jeopardy seriously here," said Steven L. Sivak, a doctor and chairman of Einstein's department of medicine. "They practice all year round."

Glenn Eiger, a doctor, associate chair of the department, and residency program director, says he is not hunting for Jeopardy! hounds when admitting medical graduates into Einstein's residency program.

"This is a by-product of residents who are intellectually curious and have a passion for learning medicine," he said. "They're just passionate about knowing what's in the books."

He acknowledged the reigning team is "a special bunch."

"Their teamwork and camaraderie have really helped them," he said.

Ramakrishnan, who is from India, told Eiger when interviewing for his residency spot in 2010 that he knew about Einstein's Jeopardy legacy in the 1990s and 2007.

"He guaranteed he'd get the trophy back for us if he was admitted," Eiger said.

And he delivered.

Punjabi, who is from the Philippines, was valedictorian of her medical school and received the highest score on the licensure exam for physicians in the Philippines, Eiger said.

Though about half of Einstein's 72 internal medicine residents are from the United States, none of the Jeopardy coaches or team members is U.S.-born. Garrido, who will serve as an assistant coach this year, is from Venezuela. Head coach Jedrzej Wykretowicz, 31, a player last year, is from Poland. And Jean Bustamante Alvarez, 27, a first-year resident, is the team alternate and newcomer. He's from Venezuela.

"The international grads are usually more of the memory-repository type," Eiger said, "based on their training, coming from other medical-education systems in the world."

Does being a Medical Jeopardy king help when treating patients?

"When you've got a weird diagnosis or challenging case, yes," Ramakrishnan said. "Not for the run-of-the-mill cough and cold that you see every day."

Einstein's program is competitive. It received 5,000 applications and interviewed more than 300 for 24 internal medicine residency positions available this year.

Getting on the Jeopardy team is even harder. There are only three players and one alternate.

At some point during the year, all internal medicine residents, however, get a chance to play among themselves. At the end of each month during "morning report," they use Jeopardy to review material covered over that month.

Garrido's wife, Mildred Garcia, a second-year gastrointestinal fellow at Einstein, participates in another way. She serves as the official team cheerleader, texting and tweeting news from the competitions.

Since she began attending matches a few years ago - and the team won - she has worn the same outfit for every competition: gray sweatpants and a sweater.

"I decided that was a lucky outfit," she said.

Even with the holes in the sleeves.


Some Medical Jeopardy final questions:

1. This viral epidemic started from a single focus in New York City in 1999.

2. Demyelination of the corpus callosum seen in chronic alcoholism.

3. Most commonly used antidote for ifosfamide-induced encephalopathy.







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