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Students Make an Impact on Patients Through Research

Medical students don't have to wait until they become practicing physicians to make a positive impact on the community.


There are numerous opportunities for students in the MD Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health to get involved, from community service programs to student organizations.


Another way to make a difference is through research.


Medical Student Research ForumThe UW School of Medicine and Public Health offers summer research opportunities for students between their first and second years, offering valuable experience in the fundamentals of research.


The results are put on display at the annual Medical Student Research Forum, which was held January 19 at the Health Sciences Learning Center. More than 80 presentations covered the full spectrum of research, from basic science to public health studies.


Erika Mikulec's study focused on using technology to promote fitness among adolescents. Working with faculty from the Department of Pediatrics - including Dr. Megan Moreno,  Dr. Aaron Carrel and Dr. David B. Allen - Mikulec recruited participants from a general pediatric clinic and found that their technological proficiency opened up the possibility of using tools such as a GPS device to track their activity.


"This is an area of great interest, and there's a lot that can be done and looked at further for health promotion through technology," said Mikulec, of Hartland, Wisconsin. She added that she learned how meaningful these types of research projects can be for communities.


Faculty Mentors Play a Key Role in Medical Student Research


Students conduct summer research under the guidance of faculty mentors. Dr. Herbert Chen, vice chair of research in the Department of Surgery and chair of the Student Research Committee at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said many students enter medical school having done some biological or chemistry research, which may not directly relate to patient care.


When students have the opportunity to participate in translational studies, and see the impact their work can have on patients, it may spur greater interest in research.


"As a mentor, you want to show them how doing research and asking the type of questions we do can help a patient down the road, or maybe directly help a patient right now," said Chen, professor of general surgery and chief of the section of endocrine surgery.


Many of the students' projects involved patient interactions or observations.


Aistis Tumas' project focused on the effect of child and parent factors on participation in pediatric chronic care visits. Working with Dr. Elizabeth Cox, assistant professor of pediatrics, Tumas was able to sit in on patient encounters, participate in data collection and analyze the results.


"It was a pretty nice comprehensive experience, and a good way to get some experience in public health, which is an area that I'm interested in," said Tumas, of Ripon, Wisconsin.


Chen, who moderated a session of oral presentations, said he was impressed by the way the students were able to eloquently present the results of their research in a manner that was understandable even to those outside their field of study. He noted that one measure of the program's success was that there was a significant amount of question-and-answer time, with many questions coming from fellow students.


Summer Research Enhances Medical Education


According to Dr. Patrick McBride, the UW School of Medicine and Public Health leads the nation in the number of students who do research, which he attributes to funding from the Herman and Gwendolyn Shapiro Foundation and the willingness of faculty and staff to work with medical students.


In 2008, the Shapiro Foundation contributed $150,000 to summer research. As a result of the Shapiro Summer Research Program, student participation has increased from 30 percent in 2001 to 50 percent in 2008.


There are numerous benefits to participating in summer research. In addition to providing a basic understanding of research, McBride said in many cases the students' projects lead to abstracts and publications that are presented nationally. Research also can enhance students' ability to be competitive for many specialties.


"Many academic careers are fostered by the experience students have with their summer research," he said. "For many students, this is their first experience with a significant research project and it helps teach them the many critical steps that are required to succeed in research."


Both Tumas and Mikulec noted how their experiences opened their eyes to the broad scope of research conducted at UW-Madison, and they both agreed that participating in research adds value to their medical education.


"It makes medicine feel more interactive," Tumas said.


View Photos from the Medical Student Research Forum



Photos by Todd Brown/Media Solutions

Date Published: 02/04/2010

News tag(s):  md programeducationresearchstudent life

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Students Make an Impact on Patients Through Research

Last updated: 10/19/2015
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