3- Reflecting on My Summer With GPRP

Over the summer, I definitely feel like I was able to fulfill the goal of gaining experience in clinical research. I never really considered a career in this field and am still not sure if it is the path for me, but it has been a great opportunity to learn from so many people at the Geriatric Psychiatry Research Program (GPRP) who have such diverse jobs and experiences. 

I think my time at GPRP has definitely clarified my career interests. I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of clinical research, even if it isn’t necessarily a career field I would want to pursue. Instead, I’ve grown more interested in gaining experience in neuroscience wet lab research or more computational and statistical work as it relates to neuroscience. Additionally, my internship has solidified my interest in working with people and patients so it has sparked a potential interest in pursuing a clinically-related career, such as becoming a therapist.

While working at GPRP, I’ve learned a lot about myself professionally. I’ve learned that I can multitask on a variety of projects and enjoy the flexibility and diversity that this brings to my work days. Additionally, I’ve grown more comfortable advocating for myself and pursuing different opportunities in terms of projects and mentorship from members of the lab.

For students interested in an internship at GPRP and McLean, I would recommend talking to coworkers and other staff members under the division you work in since everyone has such unique educational and personal experiences that they bring. One of the most valuable experiences has been talking to the research assistants at GPRP since they are all within a couple of years out of undergrad so they can act as great mentors for lab-related work and they offer insight into different educational paths people take in the psychiatric field as they apply to different graduate and Ph.D. programs. 

For undergrads interested in science research, I would say having an openness to a variety of different jobs and careers is really beneficial since there are so many options someone might not know of or consider if they’re focused on one specific area during college. I never thought of pursuing a career in psychiatry, especially working with geriatric populations, until my time at GPRP. 

Overall, I would say I’m most proud of adapting to a new workplace environment in a field I didn’t know much about or considered pursuing before this summer. It has also been impactful to be a part of research studies and clinical care that is benefiting the geriatric community, especially as it relates to dementia.  

I am very grateful to the WOW Fellowship for allowing me to explore a career in geriatric psychiatry and clinical research this summer. I’m excited to expand on the skills I’ve gained from WOW while I continue my time at GPRP this fall semester and in future jobs!

2- Exploring Psychiatric Clinical Research and Related Fields at GPRP

Over the past few weeks, I have continued to learn more about the ins and outs of clinical research at the Geriatric Psychiatry Research Program (GPRP) while also getting to interact with professionals of all different fields at McLean Hospital. Going into this summer, I knew I had an interest in neuroscience research, but didn’t really know what that looked like in practice. This internship at GPRP has taught me that clinical research can be a slow, obstacle-filled process, but nonetheless, the research studies that are going on are making a positive impact on the older adult community. It is a really exciting time to be involved in psychiatric research among older adults, especially since the disease-modifying drug for Alzheimer’s called Lecanemab (brand name Leqembi) has just received FDA approval this past week. Hopefully soon, the use of this drug can go beyond research studies like Clarity-AD at GPRP to the general population. 

The World of Work has differed from my university and academic life as my internship allows me to apply many of the things I have learned in the classroom to my work. For example, topics like amyloid and tau are often brought up in classroom discussions surrounding Alzheimer’s Disease, and now I get to hear how beneficial clinical trials have been in targeting these components of the brain and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s as I shadow support groups for people with the disease. Additionally, WOW has given me the chance to learn from so many staff members at GPRP and across McLean Hospital who graciously offer their time and energy in guiding me and the other interns. One of my favorite parts of this internship has been learning from research assistants in the lab, medical doctors, psychologists, nurses, therapists, and social workers who offer us a glimpse of what their work is like and provide valuable mentorship. 

Conducting a literature review on sleep in the older adult population as well as depression and bipolar disorder

Some of the skills I am building include being able to multitask on a variety of different projects and strengthening my interpersonal skills. In the past few weeks, I have been assisting with internal and external recruitment efforts to enroll more participants in studies, organizing our online drive and regulatory binders so that everything is accessible and filed correctly, and conducting a literature review for an upcoming paper the lab is developing. I will definitely utilize my multitasking skills in college to stay on task with assignments for my classes and I’m sure the same will apply to future jobs in the research or medical field where I will have to handle multiple projects or see many patients. It has also been great getting to interact with staff at McLean and research participants as it puts the research we’re doing in context and makes it feel more meaningful. Though it can feel stressful at times to meet so many new people, this experience has made me more comfortable working with the community. 

I am looking forward to my last month at GPRP and continuing to be involved with projects surrounding geriatric psychiatric health! 

What does outreach really mean?

Outreach materials in Spanish
Outreach materials in Spanish

I have been working at the Alzheimer’s Association for a couple of months now, and I have learned that work comes in waves. Some days, I am stuffing packets and calling churches from the second I get there to the second I leave, and other days, there is a lull in the office. As I mentioned in my first post, I am working at the Watertown office, which is the headquarters for all operations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This means that although the office is huge, it can feel really empty when people are out and about all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

A huge part of what I am doing this summer is outreach. During the past couple of months, I have really gotten a feel for what that word really means. In my case, working with the Hispanic/Latino population in the Boston area, it means calling churches to send informational packets and set up education programs, training volunteers in the community to educate their congregations about Alzheimer’s disease, and generally getting the word out about all of the resources offered by the Association.

I think the most valuable thing I have learned so far about outreach though, is that information alone is not enough; it really has to be put in cultural context. Most of the people I’ve been working with are either immigrants to the United States, or children of immigrants from Latin American countries. The way that they experience and understand disease can be different from my own. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, many Latin American countries have considered the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s (such as memory loss and confusion) to be a normal part of aging, and the medicalization of Alzheimer’s is just beginning to reach some parts of the world.

So we can’t just go into communities and say “hey, there’s something wrong with you!” which could incite fear and mistrust. There is already a pretty widespread aversion among the Latino/Hispanic community to drugs and other resources related to Alzheimer’s disease; which is understandable considering some people don’t even believe that AD is real. This is why cultural competency is so important in medicine. There are small steps that can be taken in terms of outreach to mediate this transition and make the process of diagnosis and treatment of symptoms much less stressful for everyone. These steps include things such as involving family members in decision-making, having professional translators trained in more than one dialect, and focusing outreach efforts on researching different customs and practices. Most importantly, we can find out what people want by actually asking them.

At this mid-way point in my internship, I think the most important lesson I have learned is this: outreach means more than just sitting at a table handing out packets – it means tailoring discussions to the communities you’re working with and learning from within the community; after all, they know their needs. I’m looking forward to continuing with this work and also continuing research for my upcoming thesis.

Leah Levine ’17