College of Osteopathic Medicine student takes top prize at MSU’s 13th Annual Graduate Academic Conference


Megan Carrillo, a fourth-year student at MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, was surprised when she won first place in the oral presentation category at this year’s annual Graduate Academic Conference, or GAC. Carrillo presented a case report that was published in The Annals of Pediatric Research along with another medical student and several physicians who work at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

It all started when, during her pediatric rotation, Carrillo encountered a patient who had two rare diseases: Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome and Nutcracker Syndrome. The 16-year-old African American girl came in because she’d been vomiting for two days and had been admitted to the hospital several times in the previous nine years for similar complaints. During this hospital stay, the problem was finally diagnosed.

After seeing the case play out, Carrillo asked Dr. Banu Kumar if she would help her put together a case report for publication. The report itself was published in November 2020, and mostly deals with how the patients’ rare diagnoses were discovered.

But Carillo’s presentation at the GAC delved into other obstacles that came up in the patient’s treatment: stigma and bias. The patient had a history of mental illness and drug use, and her symptoms had been attributed to these issues in the past.

Carrillo and the physicians she worked with believed that these factors, along with the fact that they needed to do a CT scan with contrast—something that’s not often done in pediatric patients—ultimately delayed the patient’s diagnosis and eventual treatment.

“My intention with my presentation was to spread information and advocate for patients with psychiatric illness and drug use in their history and to hopefully help reduce stigma and bias surrounding these patients,” Carrillo explained.

Putting together her presentation not only helped educate those around her on these issues, but also helped her check her own personal bias—which everyone has.

“Being able to work on a project that explored more of the human side of medicine, or more art of medicine, was what I found most rewarding and was my biggest takeaway from this project,” she said.

Eight other osteopathic medicine students participated in the conference, but because the students presented in groups of three simultaneously, Carrillo didn’t get a chance to see all of their presentations. Carrillo did present in the same group as Erika Tvedten, a third-year osteopathic medical student.

“I found her presentation inspiring because she talked about the importance of a thorough physical exam in catching certain diseases. The one she expanded on was a lung cancer patient where the signs presented on the skin,” Carrillo said. Tvedten took home the second-place prize.

Carrillo also thinks medical students should know there are several avenues for getting involved in research projects.

“As a third- or fourth-year student, if you see something interesting in the hospital, talk to the resident or attending,” Carrillo advises. “Say, ‘I'm interested in this case and this patient, and I'd like to write it up to submit for publication. What do you think?’ I've never had anyone say no.”

She also added that simply asking faculty about research opportunities helps.

“A lot of the faculty are involved with their own research, and there's also the Office of Research at MSU,” she said. “Let's say you had an idea for a research project, and you wanted to get started or you need advice. There are people who can help you find a faculty advisor who can guide you through whatever you want to research.” 

The most important message Carrillo wants to share?

“I truly believe that people who struggle with mental illness and or drug dependence should be afforded the same dignity, respect and support as someone who struggles with any difficult issue.”