Summer school

Meharry Medical College students gain hands-on experience

Summer Research Program at Washington University School of Medicine
Robert Boston

Lawrence M. Lewis, MD, professor of emergency medicine, studies a sonogram in the emergency room with Amanda Fletcher, a student from Meharry Medical College.

BY Beth Miller

A unique summer research program is providing 11 students who attend Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., with invaluable experience at the School of Medicine.

The program, coordinated by the Office of Medical Student Research, is funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a WUSTL Diversity and Inclusion Grant from the Office of the Provost and the Dean’s Fellowship. It is one of several Summer Research Programs at the School of Medicine. This year, there are 103 students in all of the School of Medicine’s Summer Research Programs.

Meharry Medical College requires all of its medical students to conduct research. In the summer of 2011, five students from Meharry met that requirement at the School of Medicine. Additional grants obtained this year allowed the program to more than double that number.

Each student is paired with a faculty mentor, and each received a stipend and housing at Olin Residence Hall for two months.

“Our Summer Research Program offers the Meharry students the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research with the School of Medicine’s renowned physicians and scientists,” says Koong-Nah Chung, PhD, associate dean for medical student research, director of the Office of Medical Student Research and assistant dean for admissions and student affairs. “The Meharry students are developing long-term connections with our faculty.”

The Summer Research Program allows students to make connections, build relationships and enhance their careers.

In addition, Chung says, the students are in the pipeline for the school’s residency programs and for NIH training grants that seek additional diversity among trainees.

Rosalyn Robinson, program coordinator, says the students have been welcomed into the School of Medicine community.

“Dr. (Ed) Dodson has had them to his home, and Dr. (Will) Ross opened his home for the July 4th holiday,” she says. “Our current students in the Summer Research Program for rising second-year medical students have also welcomed them and included them in their activities.

“This experience is allowing these students to make connections, build relationships and enhance their careers,” Robinson says.

The Meharry students have toured the Clinical Simulation Center, where they observed several scenarios, and The Genome Institute. They are also participating in a research lecture series about evidence-based research. At the end of the two-month program, each of the Meharry students is asked to write and present a paper based on his or her research.

Amanda Fletcher, one of the Meharry students participating in the program, is studying whether higher health literacy correlates with better self-management of hypertension.

Fletcher has a personal interest in her summer research.

“Hypertension is prevalent in my family and in the African-American community,” she says. “Learning more about this is one way I could give back to the community.”

Fletcher’s research project involves interviewing patients in the emergency room at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Not only is she learning how to conduct research, but about how to develop relationships as well. Larry Lewis, MD, professor of emergency medicine, is Fletcher’s mentor for the summer. Fletcher has been shadowing him in the emergency room

“Dr. Lewis is so good with his patients, and all of the residents and physicians have been so nice and welcoming, and I have gained so much knowledge from them,” she says. “It would be awesome to get a residency here.

“Meharry is a family atmosphere, and so is Washington University, even though it’s bigger,” Fletcher says.

Michael Osunsanmi, another Meharry student, is working with Varun Puri, MD, assistant professor of surgery. His research project investigates whether age plays a role in the survival of patients with cystic fibrosis following lung transplants.

While at the School of Medicine, Osunsanmi has been getting a taste of academic medicine.

“We go to research meetings and learn how to write a study protocol, how to seek IRB approval, how to gather data and use statistics,” Osunsanmi says. “We’ve been able to go to the clinic and observe the surgeons talking to patients to see how they advise them about their disease and their operations.”

Osunsanmi has observed three surgeries, each lasting seven to eight hours. The surgeons, including Puri and Traves Crabtree, MD, assistant professor of surgery, explained what they were doing as they were doing it.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’ve gotten to see a lot of things that I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise,” Osunsanmi says.

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