Jan. 11, 2017 | It was “Arkansas vs. The World” – and for a moment, it seemed like all was lost.

The aptly named team of nephrology fellows from UAMS went toe-to-toe with top programs from across the United States in a Jeopardy-style test of their knowledge before an international audience of their peers.

“The name ‘Arkansas vs. The World’ turned out to be accurate,” said Nithin Karakala, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology, Department of Internal Medicine in the College of Medicine. “And when I say ‘underdogs,’ we probably need a new name for it. People did not know who we were and weren’t expecting us to win. In fact, when they announced us, I heard chuckles in the crowd and someone say ‘and who are they?’ But by the end of the weekend, many people were coming up to congratulate us.”

It all came down to the final Jeopardy question for second-year fellows Gerren Hobby, M.D.; Ahmed Daoud, M.D.; and Mohammed Siddiqui, M.D.; as well as third-year research fellow Elwaleed Elnagar, M.D. After answering a variety of challenging – but predictable – questions about dialysis, transplants and clinical decision-making and finding themselves in the lead, the final Jeopardy question was less-than-predictable.

And Arkansas vs. The World had bet it all on the category of “Renal Disease in Famous People.”

“This friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and author of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ and ‘The Screwtape Letters’ famously died of renal failure.”

Book lovers may be able to quickly call to mind the correct answer, C.S. Lewis, but Karakala couldn’t recall the author and was afraid the fellows wouldn’t be able to either. After all, the fellows had spent many years memorizing facts and figures related to medicine, not literature.

So in the audience, Karakala held his breath. On stage, Siddiqui experienced a moment of despair. Daoud and Elnagar didn’t know the answer either.

But one of the fellows – Hobby – had read books by the author and came up with the right answer. In telling the story afterward, he said with a shrug that it was just one of those things he happened to know.

“If you think about it, it’s kind of funny that we’re even doing something like this,” Hobby said. “So much of what we do can have a pretty serious tone, and we’ve been intensely studying medicine for years. But testing ourselves in this way really is fun and makes the information stick.”

Karakala said the incident reminded him that the fellowship program brings together people from all walks of life, meaning they have a variety of perspectives. Sometimes, that can seem as insignificant as having read different books. But often, it means an enriched educational experience in which peers also learn from each other and become better doctors.

“We are multicultural, multinational,” Karakala said. “Our fellows come from a variety of backgrounds, and exercises like this show that everyone can bond together and work together.”

In the end, the UAMS team scored 9,200 points, more than double that of the runner up at 3,100, Karakala said.

There were 13,000 people at the conference, the American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week 2016, from Nov. 15-20 in Chicago, and organizers estimated there were about 231 people in the audience for the quiz. The Fellows-in-Training Bowl is an annual tradition at the conference, but it was the first time in recent memory that a UAMS team has participated. The other teams included fellows from Stanford University, the Mayo Clinic, University of Pittsburg and Tufts University.

“It was a nice feeling to beat the big boys,” Siddiqui said.

Karakala said that in addition to providing the team with a sense of pride in their accomplishments, the win allowed them to act as ambassadors for the UAMS nephrology program. He called it an “opportunity to shine.”

“I think it shows that we have a strong program,” Karakala said. “We have all the infrastructure, all the tools here at UAMS to produce fellows who can compete with and even beat the so-called top schools. The bottom line is that we have good fellows and a good program with a wide patient exposure.”

Karakala attributed the win to the group’s energy, enthusiasm and teamwork, in addition to the program leadership. Siddiqui also said the team are more than fellows – they are friends – and that played a role in their success.

“We greatly appreciate the help of Arkana Laboratories and Dr. Shreegopal Sharma for the education they provide for our fellows,” Karakala said. “And we have to thank Dr. Manisha Singh for encouraging the follows to participate.”

As for the team, the win is inspiring them to train for a repeat performance at next year’s conference.

“We’re definitely going to do it again next year,” Hobby said. “These are really good questions and a great way to practice for our exams.”

The American Society of Nephrology website states that educational games are included in the conference because they have been shown to enhance medical knowledge, learning and retention. Karakala said that any resident interested in participating in quiz-style games to practice their medical knowledge can contact him.