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insider - College of Medicine News Resource - University of Florida

A summer of discovery

Share: By MELANIE STAWICKI AZAM and JESSICA JINAH SONG
Published: July 24th, 2012 • Category: Students

(From left to right) UF College of Medicine students Derek Lee and Tamara Lin Smith conducted research on prostate cancer at the UF Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville as part of the college’s Medical Student Research Program. Their faculty mentors were Nancy Mendenhall, M.D., a professor and associate chair of radiation oncology and medical director of the PTI, and Bradford Hoppe, M.D., an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville. Photo provided by Tamra Lin Smith

For first-year UF College of Medicine student Tamara Lin Smith, her research work at the UF Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville this summer is an especially meaningful experience.

Smith’s father died from liver cancer when she was 7, and she imagines how modern technologies, like radiation therapy, may have helped him.

“Had radiation been an option for my father, maybe we could have spent more time with him,” said Smith, who is interested in pursuing radiation oncology. “Medicine’s progressed so much. I want to make a contribution while I can to advance medicine and improve patients’ lives.”

Smith is one of over 80 first-year medical students participating in the college’s Medical Student Research Program summer research fellowship program.

The program has grown in popularity in the past several years, jumping from 68 students supported in 2010 to 82 in 2012. Students perform 10-week research projects with UF Health Science Center faculty on both the Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses.

Research may be in basic science, clinical science, translational or epidemiological studies and a poster of the student’s research is presented during the college’s annual Medical Student Research Day.

“We’re trying to move away from the concept that the only real discovery and research you do is in the lab,” said Gregory Schultz, Ph.D., MSRP program director and UF Research Foundation professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

For example, Smith’s classmate Andrew Abbott, who has a master’s degree in public health, is working on research examining the impact of health disparities and rotavirus vaccination in Nigeria. Analyzing survey data, his goal is to identify effective ways to distribute vaccinations to at-risk populations.

Iain Elliott became interested in global medicine and research following a previous experience with the Medical Student Research Program. Now a rising fourth-year UF medical student, Elliott will spend the next year as a research fellow at the Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology at the University of California, San Francisco. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

“I’ve never done public health research,” Abbott said. “It’s an opportunity to learn about something I’m interested in and expand on things I wouldn’t necessarily get in a classroom.”

The MSRP not only gives medical students the opportunity to learn one-on-one with faculty mentors, it helps make them more competitive when applying for residencies, Schultz said. It also encourages them to be lifelong learners and allows them to better understand how to interpret and apply evidence-based research published in journals in their clinical practices, he said.

Past MSRP participants said the program benefited them in a variety of ways.

Iain Elliott, a rising fourth-year medical student, spent the summer after his first year of medical school conducting research on wound care through the MSRP’s International Summer Research Program in Peru. Each summer, 10 students spend four weeks in Cuzco, designing, developing and conducting a clinical research study at a local clinic.

“One of the big things I took away from the program was how to do medical and clinical research in an international setting,” he said. “It certainly piqued my interest.”

In fact, he is delaying his graduation from medical school until 2014 to spend the next year performing research at the Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology at the University of California, San Francisco. As a research fellow supported by the Institute, he will be able to combine his interest in orthopaedics and global medicine.

Meanwhile, Lauren Page Black’s MSRP experience led to her authoring a paper that was published in a leading obstetrics/gynecology journal and presenting her research at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists conference in San Diego in May.

Lauren Page Black’s summer research experience led to her authoring a paper that was published in a leading obstetrics/gynecology journal. As a rising third-year student, she presented her research at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists conference in San Diego in May. Photo provided by Black

Black, a rising third-year medical student, had conducted lab research before, but ultimately wanted clinical research experience that was  “closer on the edge of impacting patient care.”

“I really like the intersection of sociology and medicine,” Black said.

With an interest in maternal and fetal medicine, she chose to work with Patrick Duff, M.D., on a project studying the treatment and complication rates of chorioamnionitis, a bacterial infection affecting some pregnant women.

“It was really exciting,” Black said. “It just broadens you perspective on what you can do inside of medicine.”