This past summer I worked with Dr. Alexa Meara studying patient numeracy and its effects on the severity of systematic lupus erythematosus. I spent a lot of time shadowing Dr. Meara and learning about patient physician communication. I also assisted with analyzing and writing the manuscript for the paper to be published on our findings.
I learned quite a lot about my own personal interests during this project. I gained a new understanding of the complexities of clinical research as well as its applications. Being introduced to a new type of research changed how I viewed the research process and introduced me to different complications that can occur. I was also transformed in my view of the medical profession. I was exposed to a field that focused a lot on how the patient feels rather than finding a perfect cure. A lot of the diseases Dr. Meara worked with are chronic diseases so a lot of the treatment plans revolved around minimizing pain and maximizing patient comfort. I was able to see a different side of medicine that was not incredibly intense, but still very important. Seeing this area of medical field helped me to realize that I would like to go into a field similar to rheumatology such as allergy and immunology or dermatology.
Through my clinical research experience, I learned that research is a very extensive process. Not only is data collection on human patients subject to biases, but it is difficult to get a large trial pool. Furthermore, this type of research requires a lot of different forms of approval which take a long time. While the study results were interesting, I found the process involved a lot more waiting for approval and for data to come in rather than actual collection and analysis. I had previously done research in a wet lab which involved a lot more hands on work and results that were easier to replicate and control. Clinical research seemed a lot less direct and took a long time so in the moment it was not as rewarding as the wet lab. However, I was able to see very clearly the direct applications of clinical research. Wet lab research was a bit more abstract in its applications but clinical research offered clear cut solutions and improvements.
A valuable experience that I did have with clinical research was helping to write the manuscripts for our papers and reading medical literature when diagnosing the patients. I was able to become familiar with how medical literature was written and then how often it is used daily in medicine. I worked to edit Dr. Meara’s papers and in the process, I became familiar with the language used in medical research. This made it much easier to understand medical literature when we were using it in patient diagnosis. I also learned a lot about data analysis by working with the manuscripts and seeing how qualitative survey answers can be statistically analyzed. I also enjoyed the subject matter that we were studying. In addition to learning about lupus and other related diseases, I was able to see in practice and in the study how important patient education is for effective treatment.
I did not enjoy the research process as much as I expected, but I really learned a lot from my shadowing experience. I learned a lot about patient care in a clinical setting and how diseases are diagnosed based on various biological tests and external examinations. Shadowing Dr. Meara helped me to realize that I am very interested in the medical field especially in areas surrounding autoimmune diseases. I was able to visit patients with Dr. Meara which allowed me to observe patient physician communication. She was able to be professional and clear while still making sure the patient felt comfortable. I also enjoyed learning about the patients before and during their appointments. Through this process, I was able to observe how doctors come to their conclusions about the diagnosis of the disease and possible treatment options. I enjoyed putting together the various symptoms, existing conditions, and test results in order to figure out what the disease was.
Everything that I learned and experienced this summer has been very important for my own professional development. I discovered a field of medicine that I find interesting and I can see myself practicing. The shadowing experience was key in showing me the type of physician I would like to be someday in terms of my ability to communicate and develop strong relationships with my patients. This also spurred me to take a greater interest in the field of immunology (closely related to rheumatology). After observing rheumatology, I realized that this or a nearby field would be a good option for me professionally.