Learner Perspectives: MD/PhD Candidate Kara Ruicci on the connection between the arts, research and medicine

In her sixth year of the MD/PhD program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Kara Ruicci is at an exciting point in her training. As she looks toward residency, she draws inspiration from the artistic process – a unique combination of vision, intuition, critical thinking and collaboration.

What type of art do you create?

Working to make a painting as life-like as possible is something that I greatly enjoy. I most enjoy acrylic on canvas painting, and I often paint animals, as I like the challenge of trying to capture their expression and posture. I have done animal portraits for a number of friends, mentors and colleagues. 

What connections do you find between art and science/medicine?  

Part of the reason that I enjoy painting as a hobby is because it demands the ability to project an end goal, the ability to disassemble that ideal, and ultimately, the commitment to put it together piece by piece.

Similarly in medicine, I think there is a significance to being able to anticipate challenges and possible outcomes that may occur down the road while caring for a patient. Although we cannot account for every possibility in medicine, as I advance farther into my training the value in anticipation and interval adjustments in care has become increasingly apparent. 

Why did you decide to pursue an MD/PhD degree?

During my undergraduate studies here at Western University, I had the unique opportunity to be directly involved with basic science research and I was fortunate to work with several passionate mentors. Managing my own project and trying to answer a question that was yet unanswered captivated me. Along with my longstanding interest in clinical medicine, this ultimately led me to the combined MD/PhD program.

My hope is that my future clinical practice will inform my motivations as a researcher, and that my research training will enable me to address questions that may ultimately benefit patients.

What is your research focused on?

I am currently completing my sixth year of the MD/PhD program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. I completed my PhD within the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine under the supervision of Dr. Anthony Nichols. My thesis work focused on understanding molecular mechanisms of drug resistance to targeted anti-cancer therapies for patients with head/neck squamous cell cancers. We employed a multifaceted approach to identify biomarkers of response and mediators of resistance to phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) inhibition and were able to characterize several key effector proteins. Collectively, our findings provide a mechanistic basis to help guide the design of combination therapies and the stratification of patients for targeted treatments.

What are your career goals as a clinician-scientist?

I am at an exciting point in my training looking toward residency. At this point I certainly see myself pursuing a career that allows me to care for oncology patients. It would be a privilege to play a role in the care of patient’s facing cancer diagnoses.

I am also looking forward to applying my research training to clinically oriented questions as I enter residency. There are so many possibilities that I am very excited about.