This summer, I am a research assistant for Dr. Amy Yule in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. Dr. Yule works with youth ages 14 to 26, alongside their families, with substance use disorders and co-occurring psychiatric illness. Apart from clinical care, she is also involved in clinical research. I chose to work with her this summer because I am interested in learning about conducting research in a clinical setting and because the work that I am doing is related to substance use disorders. As of now, I am working on various projects, including identifying which screening tools and questionnaires have been translated into Spanish and Haitian Creole, assisting with Spanish translation. My work will improve screening for substance use disorders in behavioral health.
The screening tools are also part of the National Institute of Health HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) initiative. This is an effort led by the NIH to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis. I am also working on a systematic literature search focused on screening for substance use in behavioral health clinics and assisting with a systematic review of substance use disorder treatment outcomes among adolescent girls.
Boston Medical Center is driven by a commitment to care for everyone by providing traditional medical care and offering programs that enhance overall health. This supports the mission of the hospital, which is to provide exceptional care. Physicians know that research is crucial not only for the information they learn about what treatments work better than others, but also for what they can learn about risk factors, long-term effects of treatment, populations trends, and outcomes. This all ties in with work that I am doing this summer.
The hospital has many Spanish and Haitian Creole patients who may go untreated or misdiagnosed because they don’t speak English and are not able to fill out screening tools that are not available in their language. As a result, they don’t have access to health care like English speakers do. It is the main reason why we’re working to decrease health disparities between non-English speakers and English speakers. Additionally, there is no gender-specific treatment that explores options for adolescent girls. Since this is an area in the field that is lacking, we are trying to dive into the literature and find ways to bridge this gap. By translating screening tools and questionnaires into Spanish, we will be able to diagnose and treat more patients.
There are many small steps we are taking that will lead to bigger steps. For example, by translating the screening tools–part of the systematic process of validating the tools–into Spanish, other researchers will be able to use them after we are finished with our ongoing HEAL project. We are currently working on a systematic review that we will use to get a better sense of what is out there, which will inform future research that may eventually lead to the discovery of better gender-specific treatments. With these efforts, the Department of Public Health will also be able to make more informed decisions in terms of policies for medication management in residential treatment programs.
For us, progress will be having other people give us feedback on the screening tools and, once they are validated, using them to treat more patients.
– Maria Estevez