My internship with Dr. Salmoirago-Blotcher and her research team has been such a wonderful and rewarding experience where I have gained invaluable skills that I will use in my future pursuit toward medical school and a career in medicine. Through the guidance of WOW, I set goals for my internship which I have been able to achieve in a number of ways. My first goal was to gain an understanding of the fundamentals of clinical research which I have achieved through weekly meetings with the research team and mentorship meetings with the PI. I have also been trained in Good Clinical Practice and Basic Human Subjects Protection where I learned the importance of safety measures, standard operating procedures, and consent documents when working with human study participants. My second goal was to gain an understanding of the principles of data abstraction and analysis which are crucial to know how to do in the field of research. I have done so by learning data abstraction, how to use REDCap, and analyzing data for a retrospective analysis. My final goal was to form lasting connections with the members of the research team and to stay connected even after my internship has ended. I am proud to announce that I have been extended an offer to apply for the student research assistant position for their lab beginning in September.
My internship has opened my eyes to the field of clinical research and affirmed my interest in going into the field of medicine. I learned that I really enjoy problem-solving and I have also discovered that when I put my mind to it, I can accomplish most tasks that are thrown my way, even if I have not attempted them before. This internship has also solidified my interest in gaining clinical experience with patients, as I hope to begin working with participants in the study in the coming months as the research assistant. Some advice that I would give to students interested in pursuing an internship in a similar environment to myself is to do your best to make those connections that will help you to stand out. It is quite difficult to find internships in the medical field and so it is extremely important to make a good first impression. In addition, it is good to try things that push you out of your comfort zone, as you will gain experiences that you may have never tried. For example, I was worried about doing data analysis and abstraction, however, I now have experience working with data and can use that in future assignments.
Upon concluding my internship, I am proud of many achievements that I have accomplished working with the research team at the Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. However, if I had to choose, I would have to say that I am most proud of coauthoring an abstract submission investigating if the incidence of Takotsubo cases has increased during the pandemic period (March 2020 – February 2021) compared to the year prior (March 2019 – February 2020). We will not know if the abstract is accepted until the end of August or the beginning of September, but I am hopeful that more research will come out of this exploration.
Prior to the pandemic, my summers were filled with will long days in the sun, instructing and corralling small children, and were 99% offline. Many things have changed from my time as a camp counselor to my position as an undergraduate research intern. These changes include no longer working with children, but rather learning from a team of experienced and skilled researchers. However, as you may recognize, one of the largest changes this summer is I am working fully remote, inside, and on my screen for my position. This change took some adjusting, as I was no longer assuming the camp counselor role, one that I enjoyed for many years. However, to my surprise, it only took a little bit of time to get used to the new working environment as it was very similar to balancing my schedule during the semester with my courses. Working virtually this summer has thankfully been quite easy, as all of the team members are respectful, engaging, and proficient at using zoom. The virtual environment has its setbacks, as we are not able to be together in person for collaborations as we normally would. However, this has created a working environment where I have been able to learn from my supervisors and colleagues and easily engage with members of the study team that I may not otherwise be able to talk to due to distance.
The World of Work has differed from my university and academic life as I am working with researchers who are devoted to their specific field of study. Specifically, I am engaging with professionals that are extremely driven and care deeply about the work that they are studying. Working with the research team has given me exposure to a specialty area of research that is different from that of my academic career thus far. At Brandeis, we are exposed to a breadth of academics, and within the sciences, we are given the broad scope of a given topic i.e. genetics, epidemiology, biology laboratory, etc. This being said, through my thorough academic background from Brandeis I felt prepared to engage in a level of work with the researchers where I am able to actively communicate about the research topics and aid the researchers. Through this internship, I have and continue to gain a deeper understanding of cardiovascular research and Takotsubo Syndrome.
Through my internship this summer, I have gained certifications for Basic Human Protection as well as Good Clinical Practice useful for any future research aspirations. Such certifications enable me to engage with the work that the research team is doing like data analysis, and patient records, and if I were to work with human participants, I am certified to do so. In addition, to the certifications for good research practices, I have accumulated more experience reading and authoring scientific articles and data abstraction and analysis. I have also gained an understanding of recruitment strategies and learned the importance of standard operating procedures when running a research study. All of these skills will prove useful as I continue on my path to medicine.
This summer, I am grateful to be working as an Undergraduate Research Intern for the Mind and Heart Lab at The Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital located in Providence, Rhode Island. I am working with the research team under the supervision of the Principal Investigator Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, MD, Ph.D., FAHA. The team consists of the Principal Investigator, Project Manager, Research Assistant, Data Systems Analyst, Study Psychologist, and one other Undergraduate Research Intern in addition to myself. The research team is focused on studying the processes by which the mind can affect cardiovascular physiology and health. In the past, they have focused on exploring the role of mindfulness training for medicine adherence for heart failure outpatients.
Currently, the team is working on the Broken Heart Study II which is focused on exploring the triggers responsible for Takotsubo syndrome. Takotsubo syndrome (TS), also known as Broken Heart Syndrome, is characterized by acute, reversible systolic heart failure which affects primarily older, postmenopausal women. Takotsubo is not particularly fatal, however, there can be long-term effects on the left ventricle function. There are gaps in the information that is known about the causes and triggers of Takotsubo for many of the patients affected by this disease. It is thought that emotional and physical triggers are likely causes of Takotsubo, but there is still much to be understood. In addition to this study, I have been able to contribute to an abstract submission investigating if the incidence of Takotsubo cases has increased during the pandemic period (March 2020 – February 2021) compared to the year prior (March 2019 – February 2020). We hypothesized that due to the increased stressors of the pandemic, the incidence of Takotsubo would be higher during the pandemic year compared to the non-pandemic year. We discovered that there were increased cases of TS during the pandemic year even with a large decrease in all-cause admissions to the Rhode Island Hospital System. This trend is something that we wish to continue to explore across a larger area to see if these trends are similar along the East Coast.
My goals for this summer include gaining an understanding of the fundamentals of clinical research and experience working with a research team by taking part in meeting weekly with the entire research team as well as meeting biweekly for mentorship meetings (lab meetings) with Dr. Salmoirago-Blotcher. I wish to gain invaluable research experience which I believe will prepare me for graduation, future work, and applying to medical school. I hope to gain the basic principles of data abstraction and analysis which are crucial in epidemiology research. In addition, I hope to become more confident in my statistics and epidemiology skills and become an impactful part of the research team. I would like to form lasting connections with the members of the research team through our meetings and project partnerships. Finally, I will try to stay connected with the research team members even after my summer internship ends.