Pathology resident wins national award for creating innovative learning materials

When the pandemic limited clinical interactions for medical students and residents, Dr. Nupur Sharma decided to help her colleagues continue to learn.

Sharma, a senior resident physician in pathology in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and Vidant Health, began an online reading group for other residents on hematopathology, the study of diseases of the cells that make up the blood. The reading group grew to nearly 100 participants, including international trainees. Sharma and her colleague Dr. Akanksha Gupta, a hematopathology fellow from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, co-authored a board-review book based on the notes that came out of the group discussions.

For her efforts, Sharma is a recipient of this the David C. Leach Award, which honors achievement in graduate medical education. The award is given by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), a physician-led organization that sets and monitors the professional educational standards essential in preparing physicians to deliver safe, high-quality medical care to all Americans.

The award recognizes residents and fellows who have fostered innovation and improvement in their programs, advanced humanism in medicine and increased efficiency and emphasis on educational outcomes. The prestigious national award recognizes only a handful of the 140,000 resident physicians and fellows training in the United States.

Sharma will be honored during the virtual 2022 ACGME Annual Education Conference being held March 30 through April 1, 2022.

“These esteemed honorees personify the resolution of the GME community to provide quality, equitable healthcare and education,” said ACGME President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Thomas J. Nasca. “Now more than ever, it is important to recognize those who serve, and those who work every day to ensure the American public that physician education is in the most capable of hands.”

The David C. Leach Award was created in 2008 to honor Leach, the former executive director of the ACGME (1997-2007), and his contributions to resident education and physician well-being. This award acknowledges and honors residents, fellows, and resident/fellow teams and their contributions to graduate medical education.

“The fact that this is an award given to residents and fellows across all specialties makes it extra special,” Sharma said. “I believe I made an impact on our future physicians’ educational growth in a difficult time, which is deeply satisfying.”

A headshot photo of Dr. Nupur Sharma is a recipient of this year’s David C. Leach Award, which honors achievement in graduate medical education.

Dr. Nupur Sharma is a recipient of this year’s David C. Leach Award, which honors achievement in graduate medical education. (Contributed photo)

The reading group project and book filled an educational gap during an unprecedented time when clinical exposure to patients and experiences was limited.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic started and in-person interaction became difficult, I felt the need to fill the gap in learning by connecting with residents in my program and across the nation,” she said.

Feedback from other residents led Sharma to work with Gupta to publish the notes as a guide to hematopathology. Sharma has now added to the catalog of work and continued to create content for the group’s website. She also worked with her faculty mentor, Dr. Philip Boyer, clinical associate professor in pathology at Brody, to design an electronic curriculum for pathology resident onboarding and residency study.

“The aim was to provide a single data-rich resource with online learning modules, high-resolution slide images, etc., for all trainees entering the field of pathology from different backgrounds and prepare them for practicing this specialty,” Sharma said.

She believes the projects align with the mission of ECU and Brody as well.

“The most important mission at ECU is to provide high-quality education to its students,” she said. “We use innovative learning strategies and delivery methods to maximize access. Now, residents can access these modules anywhere, anytime, making learning flexible. My work in the form of this comprehensive curriculum and an easy-to-read board-review book reflects that mission and provides students with an innovative approach to learning.”

Sharma’s vision and passion for learning has impacted faculty as well.

“Academic physicians periodically have the amazing and humbling opportunity to interact with truly exceptional residents. Dr. Sharma is such a resident, a unique, well-rounded trainee, scholar, and leader,” said Boyer, who recommended Sharma for the award, alongside Dr. Ann Sutton, clinical associate professor in pathology and Sharma’s mentor. “Dr. Sharma has made truly exceptional contributions to curriculum development and teaching with an impact both locally in Greenville and nationally and internationally. She is developing skill sets that will serve her well as a fellow and as an academic pathologist.”

Sharma said the projects that earned her the award have been worthwhile and helped her grow as a physician through creative solutions to challenges such as the pandemic.

I hope that my journey motivates students to see opportunity in adversity,” she said. “The idea is to find creative solutions to challenges in education. I hope medical students will find my story inspiring and consider it as a career choice.”