Mayo Clinic wins as CHEST Challenge returns to the stage


From left, Mayo Clinic fellowship program director Darlene Nelson, MD, FCCP, and fellows Zhenmei Zhang, MD; Paige Marty, MD; and Amjad Kanj, MD, celebrate their victory in the 2022 CHEST Challenge Championship, Tuesday, October 18, in Nashville.

The 2022 CHEST Challenge Championship played the hits in the Music City, returning a select few rising stars of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine to the stage after years of virtual competitions.

Fellows from Brooke Army Medical Center, Mayo Clinic, and NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist navigated unconventional skills challenges and creative clinical trivia during the championship event, Tuesday, October 18, at Nashville’s Omni Hotel. During a lively evening that also featured special guest appearances, giveaways, and even a country music sing-along, the three-person team from Mayo Clinic held off their competitors to raise the trophy.

Mayo fellows, Amjad Kanj, MD; Paige Marty, MD; and Zhenmei Zhang, MD, answered their share of high-difficulty questions en route to the championship. They credited their success to the strength of the training program back home, as well as the support of friends and colleagues on-site, including Program Director, Darlene Nelson, MD, FCCP. The Mayo contingent organized a mock session for practice days before the championship, and on the day of, there was no shortage of supportive faces in the audience.

“We had fellows, attendings, and alumni all from Mayo in the crowd,” Dr. Kanj said. “The energy in the room was incredible, and the cheering was through the roof and kept us going.”

Team Mayo sprinted off to an early lead and distanced themselves on the scoreboard during the 21st annual championship event, which was the culmination of a rigorous national competition that began earlier in the year with a social media challenge and a timed qualifying quiz. The Jeopardy-style trivia game’s categories ranged from straightforward—“Asthmalogic,” for asthma-related answers, or “Under a Microscope,” for histopathology—to brain-bending. “Malicious Affairs” included answers related to malignancy, while “Iercur Defectum” covered liver disease. “Rhyme Time” twisted answers into rhyming phrases. And “The Music City” category emerged as a catch-all that included almost anything that could be linked to Nashville by history (eg, former US President James Polk died of cholera in Nashville) or even spelling (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, NASH).

Some answers were timed skills challenges in disguise. In “Bugs and Drugs,” one lucky team had to pick the fastest runner to sprint across the room and retrieve five unlabeled pathogen photographs one at a time before returning to the other team members, who matched each photo with the appropriate therapeutic agent, all in 35 seconds or less. Team Methodist aced the challenge.

Team Brooke had to “Trust a Friend” in their first skills challenge, where one team member successfully simulated a bronchoscopy blindfolded under the voice-only direction of the other two fellows. Team Brooke later found themselves in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab performing timed procedures on three different body parts while the masked monster himself—bearing a striking resemblance to Board of Regents member, Victor J. Test, MD, FCCP—cavorted and distracted them to audience cheers. That was enough to slow the first procedure, placing a catheter via ultrasound guidance. But other team members successfully donned mental blinders to complete exercises in airway rescue and pleural fluid aspiration despite their host’s best efforts to divert their attention.

Only the eventual champions stumbled in their skills challenge, “Sleeping Beauty.” Team Mayo was charged with physically arranging insomnia treatments—in this case, five sash-wearing past, present, and future CHEST Presidents—in order of shortest half-life to longest half-life. Although they ran out of time before finding the correct arrangement, Mayo team members say it was still a highlight of the experience.

“Our skills challenge was challenging! However, the format was super fun,” Dr. Zhang said. “I loved how our team worked together and supported each other.”

Once the Final Challenge wager came around and Master of Ceremonies, William Kelly, MD, FCCP, revealed the category of “Rare Inherited Pulmonary Diseases,” Team Mayo was safely in the lead. The answer presented to the contestants and audience, along with a visual aid, was “This disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait and is a variant in the SCL34A2 gene.”

The correct question was “What is alveolar microlithiasis.” Team Mayo’s response? “Thank you, CHEST,” and a wager of $22.

Mayo Clinic took home $5,000 for their training program in addition to the Rosen Cup, named in the memory of CHEST Challenge Founder, Mark J. Rosen, MD, Master FCCP. Runner-up Brooke Army Medical Center received $3,000, and NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist received $1,000.

The nine contestants in Nashville also received free registration to the CHEST 2022 Annual Meeting and free registration for a CHEST Board Review Course or access to a Board Review On Demand product.

Sharing the stage with so many other talented fellows was an honor, members of the Mayo Clinic team said, and the entire CHEST 2022 experience was one they won’t soon forget.

“I feel so lucky that I was able to be at an in-person CHEST meeting in my last year of fellowship,” Dr. Marty said. “I can’t wait to go back in the coming years.”

The CHEST Challenge Championship was sponsored by VIATRIS.