Research, I Missed It — Also Known as Funding Summer

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So, I get to approach patients from a different perspective, this summer I will work with patients for research purposes. I imagine this is coming for most medical students. During the summer, we aren’t funded — as far as financial aid is considered, we just disappear off the face of the earth, then we reappear out of the blue in the fall (to their credit, this is totally feasible at a quantum level). Thus, we do things during the summer to make ends meet. Some just have pared expenses, and have enough to scrape by for the summer. Others, they return to their home state or stay with nearby relatives because it works out budget wise. Many do research projects, paid (CNA) nursing exposure program, others traveled to foreign countries on stipends, and some give an extra hand as a student doctor at satellite community clinics.

The very fortunate, they do a well deserved nothing. If you’re one of those people, please, party a little harder in my honor as I live vicariously through you. 

For myself, I think I’ve mentioned it before that I’ll start working on a cardiology project. I wanted to avoid the stress of trying to find a summer project, so I contacted the doctor I’m working with now early in the fall quarter. This may sound sort of ridiculous, but I did it early because I knew that most of the deadlines for scholarships come in February. And, it’s a lot easier to accomplish research related stuff like funding, required medical human research training (a lot of online modules and quizzes), writing a proposal etc. I’m a lazy person, so I knew I had to space these tasks out or I’d feel overwhelmed. Most projects involving people or animals will involve those steps, with the only big modification being the level or type of online ethics training they’ll need to do. There are different ethics training you can do, NIH, CITI, depending on the place you’re at. However, that CITI one is usually considered gold currency between institutions. The reason why I’m saying all of this is because I was fortunate to have a lot of my old ones roll over, because I had to do a lot of them for work before (you always use the same account for ethics training, it’s ethical!).

To back things up a bit, and to make a point, I think you should make it a point to do research only if:

1) You found/know where to find money.

Finding money is a big deal in research, no matter the purity of intent, plenty of great ideas go unfunded. Also, unless you’re helping the unfortunate, you shouldn’t be afraid to not want to eat Cup Noodles ever again when trying to raise money for the summer. In undergrad, I did a lot of free research work/labor, sometimes paid usually not. Admittedly, it was a lot of the unpaid portions that probably help catapult me into medical school. Therefore, I can entertain the argument that there’s more to research than your stipend. Indeed. And, if you can find a landlord that accepts “good spirit” as a form of payment and I’m with you. But, life is unpredictable and you can’t determine when you’ll have a random expense you didn’t see coming (in my situation, just found out my landlord is selling the house so it’s time to hit the market, again 😞.

2) The subject/purpose really matters to you.

A seminal event for me, was the death of my grandmother. She was a second mother to me. Her death was untimely. But,  who’s death is timely? She died of a pulmonary embolism during surgery to remove a stent, secondary to the stent that had built up plaque on it — in fact, these stents come with huge contraindications. Understanding that my grandmother, who grew up physically cripple and illiterate but full of spirit and love, essentially drowned in her own fluids until her heart finally failed never sat right with me. It was also the lynch pin event that sealed me to sign my soul away into medicine. For myself, I wondered what life would have been if I were a physician in training instead of chasing my curiosity. I suppose, now I feel the answer lies somewhere in between. So, I’m doing research in cardiology.

Started training and sat in several meetings to prepare for the project.

For the project, last week I had a required session for electronic health records training, the system we use is called EPIC. This is just a computer system for patient charts/hospital records, physician notes, prescriptions, surgical histories, labs etc. — part of my project involves going through a lot of charts. Boston has the most physicians per capita in the US, number two I believe is New York, and so we have a lot of hospitals and clinics. Beyond that, a lot of large hospitals have interconnected health records. So, when I’m at the community clinic I see primary care physicians using EPIC; they use it to chart and look up patient medical histories after (while) interviewing. Even while shadowing at the main hospital, EPIC is also used at the hospitals where I shadow. In other words, I will have to learn how to use it, might as well do it now.

Part of my project, or rather part of my grant, involves co-mentoring and running journal clubs for 10 undergraduates who were invited to Boston University (with free housing and a research stipend). I just saw the schedule, apparently we have a journal club meeting every week, and we’ll take them out on the town several times to seduce them into science. The rest of my days will be spent doing my project.

I won’t bore you too much with the details of my research, other than saying it’s a project in atrial fibrillation (AF). I’ll be recruiting patients, and possibly analyzing (preliminary results) extensive ECG records. So, to prepare for that the principal investigator (cardiologist) and with my research partner (fellow classmate/friend) and I, spent most of the early morning discussing AF: epidemiology, socioeconomic factors, statistics, etiology, genomics, physiology, and finally the impact on patients as people. He gave us a tour of the parts of the hospital we’ll be working. Our hospital is a medical complex, so there’s several buildings, and many floors and buildings built later than others. As such, it’s like maneuvering through a catacomb, underground dungeon included. We met several physicians, nurses, spoke to several coordinators, and many other friendly faces.

Tomorrow, I’ll help the undergraduates move into their dorms. I so rarely go to the undergraduate campus, so it’ll be an adventure. But, before that I’ll meet with my research partner and we’ll practice running the research consents past each other. We figured if we stammered through it with each other we’d better feign competence when working with patients. This weekend we’ll be spent reading the eight research papers our PI just sent us, and of course making sure to take time out for a beer.

To summarize, or distill something useful from this post:

1. If you know what you want to do have things lined up so that you may apply for grants and scholarships (scholar programs) early, it’ll remove a lot of the last minute scramble. Keep in mind that a lot of deadlines come in February of the year you start medical school, so it’s easy to miss these if you’re not aware of them.

2. Don’t be afraid of the occasional double booking of plans, as long as you don’t commit it’s okay, because some plans fall through (PI ran out of funding, or something like that). Don’t try to double dip, but do make a plan A and B. My plan A was this opportunity, my plan B was an amyloid cardiology project. I was honest with my plan B, I told them that I had plan A, and they told me to come to them if plan A fell through.

3. Don’t be afraid to apply for outside funding as well, especially since institutional money (usually as spread out as possible) won’t be given to everyone who applies. Also, I enjoyed feeling removed from the competitive pool when people were wondering who got funding and who didn’t. I applied for several scholarships and didn’t hear anything back from any (including a Tylenol grant). But, applying to medical school means being rejected by a lot of places and hopefully gaining acceptance somewhere. So, it didn’t feel that bad to hold out for help since I wasn’t facing any real deadlines yet about earning money. In the end, I received a NIH partnered with American Heart Association grant/scholar program. It’s important to say that I didn’t just solo mission, I also used the resources given to us by our school and followed tips about who to talk to when I got the chance.

So, even though I have a lot of work ahead of me, some coursework, meetings on meetings, patient screenings, and data splurges, I’m just happy I have money for both rent (including enough to search for a new place) and security that I can fly to see my parents and friends this year.

Thanks for reading!


One thought on “Research, I Missed It — Also Known as Funding Summer

    […] second year starts this Wednesday. My summer is coming to a close. I spent most of my summer at an ambulatory cardiovascular clinic, with occasional visits to various inpatient cardiology […]

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