Nearly a dozen medical students from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee are spending the summer conducting medical research at Washington University in St. Louis.
Koong-Nah Chung, Ph.D., associate dean and director of the Office Medical Student Research and Roz Robinson, program coordinator in the office at Washington University School of Medicine received a $30,000 WUSTL diversity and inclusion grant that is being used to pay each student a stipend for their work and provide campus housing while participating in the Washington University School of Medicine Summer Research Program.
“It’s two to two-and-a-half months of full-time research,” Chung said. “They are getting a stipend at the exact same rate as a graduate student – all the summer students. They are getting like $4,500 for two months, and they get free room.”
The grant allowed Chung and Robinson to expand the number of participants from five in the inaugural year to 11 in this second year of the program. Additional funding for the project comes from various WUSTL and NIH training grants.
The visiting students were able to choose their own research topics, and they work alongside one of more than 2,000 WUSM physicians and scientists.
“It could be very basic science all the way to clinical research,” Chung explained. “It could be bench research with test tubes all the way to clinical trials and the final stages of drug development for example, and then there is the whole gamut.”
That breadth of topics could include projects in engineering, anthropology, psychology, chemistry, physics – anything relevant to health care, health policy, public health, international health, she added.
Researching health literacy
Second year medical students Solita Jones of Tampa, Florida and Kristen Crittle from Jackson, Mississippi both selected obstetrics and gynecology as their research interest.
Jones is researching health literacy in the emergency department and patient compliance with discharge instructions with Dr. Richard T. Griffey.
“That study intrigued me because, I feel it was something that you could use in any field of medicine, which is most important – and that is communication,” Jones said.
The Health Literacy Project allows researchers to form correlations between health literacy and patients’ ability to adhere to discharge instructions in the emergency department.
“You’d be very surprised a lot of people don’t even understand what their diagnosis is,” Jones said. “It also involves medication instructions, the actual treatment they are actually going through in the emergency department as well as any return instructions – reasons to return into the emergency department.”
In a broader view, Jones said health literacy impacts health care costs in general.
“People who have limited health literacy use the emergency department more frequently, so it causes an increasing cost,” she said. “I think this will help our current situation so that’s what helped me decide to do this.”
It was the personal visit to Meharry by Chung and Robinson that intrigued Crittle come to Wash. U. Crittle is conducting clinical research on contraceptive health with Dr. Jeffrey Peipert.
“The Choice Project is a cohort study involving 9,250 women who are given free contraception and they are in the study from two to three years,” Crittle said. “We just monitor what type of contraceptive did they choose, why did they choose it.”
Not following standards
Within the study, Crittle is conducting a sub-study of women who report having pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) while in the Choice Project.
“I’m looking at PID, how doctors treat it and how they diagnose it in comparison to the CDC guidelines,” Crittle explained. “And in research and quality of care studies like the one I am doing, only about 30 percent of physicians actually follow the CDC guidelines.”
She said the “gold standard” should be about 80 percent.
“I am going through charts and constantly looking at what doctors write, and it’s surprising to see that most of the time they either do not know the CDC standard, or they just choose not to follow it because they believe the way they are treating is more appropriate than the CDC – even though CDC standard is based on research-based medicine.”
Crittle describes Peipert as “a great physician but an even greater mentor,” who is encouraging her to consider OBGYN as her career choice.
“I see how he is devoted to helping women and making strides in research that will one day, hopefully be the practice that we do, rather than the practice that we are taught in medical school,” Crittle added.
Not following the standard could lead to medical advances, but Crittle said in the case of PID, if it is not treated properly, women can become sterile.
“Women are walking around thinking they are being treated and they haven’t and they could be treated very easy with a shot and some antibiotics,” said Crittle.
Both schools find benefit from the summer program.
“We want the Meharry students to get a great introduction to research here,” Chung said. “But we also, of course, have our own interests, and that is to increase and enhance diversity on campus.”
“After coming here, it has broadened my experiences and really made me think about making Wash. U a place to do residency and practice, just because of the experience I am gaining from this program,” Jones said.
It sparked in Crittle hunger for more advanced training.
“It has certainly given me a foundation and I am more willing to go out and see what else is out there,” Crittle said.
“I want to go and experience more, and hopefully I can do that through conferences and just visiting other schools and staff. If I can see more places like this, then I think I’ll be more intrigued to be here or another great research place.”