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News | Jan. 24, 2024

Allergy/Immunology fellows from Walter Reed come out on top in FIT Bowl

By Bernard Little, WRNMMC, Office of Command Communications

The FIT Bowl is one the most anticipated events every year during the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting. During the most recent bowl, which celebrated its 32nd anniversary, fellows from Walter Reed walked away with the first-place trophy in the fast-paced, fun “College Bowl” style game contested before a live, enthusiastic audience.

Army Capts. (Drs.) Andrew Weskamp and Jeremy McMurray, from the National Capital Consortium (NCC) Allergy and Immunology Fellowship program, finished first in the competition among fellows-in-training (FIT) held in Anaheim, California on Nov. 11. The NCC includes graduate medical education (GME) programs at Walter Reed, Uniformed Services University, Alexander T. Augusta Military Medical Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and other military health-care training program in the region.

Teams from training programs around the country competed in the FIT Bowl, going head-to-head to correctly answer the most question concerning a variety of questions related to allergy and immunology posed by an expert medical panel. More than 25 teams from allergy and immunology fellowship programs faced off in the recent competition, each attempting the win the coveted FIT Bowl trophy. When the dust settled, the duo of Weskamp and McMurray held the champion trophy in victory.

In addition to competing against fellowship programs from across the country, the recent competition included an international program, Weskamp shared.

“Four teams faced off during each round,” he added. “There are three rounds with the top two teams advancing until the final four teams competed in the championship rounds.”

He explained questions concerned “anything and everything from the field of allergy and immunology, with some questions related to the city that hosted the conference, Anaheim.” An example of a question posed to competitors during the contest said Weskamp was, “Which president pictured suffered from childhood asthma and credits overcoming this to his success later in life?” The correct answer – Theodore Roosevelt.
Another question asked was, “Which is the major allergenic component of the item pictured (egg)?” The correct answer – Gal d 1 or ovomucoid. “This won the competition,” Weskamp added.

“Our program’s emphasis on academics strongly prepared us,” he said. “We read the gold-standard in immunology textbooks in its entirety by the end of [our] first year, and again the next,” said the PGY (postgraduate year) 5 allergy/immunology fellow. We also studied from the ACAAI board review book early in our fellowship and attended a board review course at the end of our first year.”

“Having dedicated, protected time for academics not only prepared us well for this competition but sets us up to be the best possible allergists,” said Weskamp. “This is reflected in our high board pass rate and performance on the annual in-training exam,” he added.

A native of Nixa, Missouri, Weskamp shared that he became interested in allergy and immunology because his aunt was a research director in the Allergy/Immunology program at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado during the 1990s. “Her work there in one of the most distinguished allergy programs in the country strongly influenced my decision to pursue allergy/immunology,” said Weskamp.

He enthusiastically added that he finds “helping people” the most rewarding aspect of his career.

“We treat many people with complex and life-threatening medical conditions, like inborn errors of immunity and asthma, that have profound impacts on the lives of those affected. Owing to dramatic improvements in therapeutic options in our field over the last 20 years, such as biologics, among others, allergists now can make these frightening medical issues less of a burden on patients, which is extremely rewarding.”

Weskamp added that allergy/immunology is an “intellectually challenging specialty.” “We are not only allergists, but also immunologists, which requires an expert-level of knowledge of a difficult scientific discipline. This is challenging to learn, especially during fellowship when we have many other responsibilities, but is also very rewarding.”

McMurray shared similar sentiments.

An allergy/immunology fellow PGY-5, as well, McMurray hails from Eureka, Missouri. “One of the most rewarding aspects [of our field] is seeing the positive impact we can make for our patients,” he shared. “As the specialty of allergy/immunology has rapidly grown over the last decade, seeing the impact targeted biologics have on the management of conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, asthma, and various others, has been very rewarding.”

He explained that his interest in the field was sparked during his last year of medical school.

“During my allergy rotation and after working with my closest mentor, Dr. Cecilia Mikita, an allergy/immunology physician, her work along with the impact she made for so many patients, inspired me to join this amazing field,” McMurray shared.

“The most challenging aspect is learning about and clinically applying the rapidly evolving new immunologic and targeted therapies. Although this is challenging, it is also rewarding seeing the positive impact and minimal side effects these targeted therapies have on patients,” McMurray added.
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