In Room D-1 on the sixth floor of Ben Taub hospital, a group of Baylor College of Medicine residents were emphatically buzzing.
With only a week before the annual American College of Physicians’ Doctor’s Dilemma on April 28, Drs. Nathan Spezia-Lindner, Ali El-Halwagi and Firas Bahdi needed to develop a solid team strategy.
Doctor’s Dilemma is a Jeopardy-style medical competition where doctors from across the country compete in five categories with questions ranging from 100-500 points.
In true Alex Trebek fashion, former team captain Dr. Christian Inchaustegui Castro read each question before the teams were allowed to buzz and a 15-second timer would start. Dr. Max Shannon, a fellow resident, was the team’s competition for the night.
After each question was answered correctly, Inchaustegui described the condition thoroughly; the strategy helps them compete better, but it also reinforces their medical training to be better doctors.
Spezia-Lindner, El-Halwagi and Bahdi took first place at the Texas American College of Physicians competition last fall, which qualified them for the national Doctor’s Dilemma. The Chicago competition will be in-person for the first time since 2019. Over three days, 50 teams will compete for a spot in finals, which will be on April 30.
In 2021, the team placed second at the Southern Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM) competition and fifth in the virtual national competition. Each year, there’s an effort to recruit new residents to Baylor’s Medical Jeopardy team by having in-person and virtual practice sessions.
“We want to ensure we continue to have these teams each year because we’re currently third years, and we’ll be finishing residency soon,” Bahdi said. “We remember being interns ourselves, and it’s always good to attract good incoming residents to pick this up. It’s a fun experience, and it’s a good way to gather socially with the rest of the residents.”
As a first-year resident, Spezia-Lindner wanted to see how his fresh medical knowledge stacked up against that of third-year residents. After his first practice session, the now-team captain knew he had found the sport for him.
Pre-pandemic, practice sessions were always right after residents signed out for the day. If there was no pressing need to get home, many would go to the conference room and have a friendly fact-filled competition. It’s a good way for busy medical professionals to make friends too, Spezia-Lindner said.
When everyone was forced to stop socializing in 2020, team member Dr. Syed Ali developed a way to practice virtually by using an app. Ali would design the questions and many residents logged on to play.
“It was just a lot of fun and it brought people back together like it was supposed to,” Ali said.
Now that it’s safer to socialize in person again, practice sessions are held every two months. All Baylor residents are invited, and one or two senior team members come up with difficult questions for the Jeopardy board. The categories can be traditional, like cardiology, or have a theme like alliteration.
“It’s not open book; you’re responsible for answering off the top of your head,” Spezia-Lindner said. “It’s a collaborative effort so you do get to discuss what you think the answer is with your team before presenting an answer. It is extremely like academic decathlon.”
Since the residents have played together for close to three years, they know their individual strengths and weaknesses and split up topics accordingly. That includes who the best speller is because spelling does matter, Ali said.
“It’s been very nice to grow with these three other gentlemen over the last few years,” El-Halwagi said.
As humbly as possible, the Baylor team said it has few rivals in Texas. But it is excited to meet doctors from other teaching institutions and hospitals at nationals.
When the team competition was held virtually last year, the ACP was able to open the Doctor’s Dilemma to medical professionals from across the world. Baylor went up against doctors from Japan, Sri Lanka and India, including a team from Delhi that operated like an encyclopedia of medical knowledge.
“Three words into the question, they would buzz in and give some textbook answer about some condition named after some person none of us had ever heard of,” Spezia-Lindner said. “They will forever live in infamy as the team that wiped the floor with us. No matter how well you think you do something, there’s someone else out there that does it much, much better than you.”
By Julie Garcia