- My STEP Signature Project consisted of a summer conducting undergraduate research in the Pediatric and Rehabilitation Laboratory at Ohio State. I worked on a project to determine the optimal dosage of physical therapy for infants and children with cerebral palsy (CP). Along with physical therapists and other research assistants, I spent the summer collecting data through tests of gross motor function in study participants and entering it into a database called REDcap.
- While completing my STEP signature project, I was consistently surrounded by children with developmental disabilities and their families. This changed my understanding of myself and the world. I had never worked in close contact with children with CP before. Through weekly testing sessions I worked closely with these children and it allowed me to see how much parents sacrifice for their children. These parents are coming to our lab once a week along with attending PT sessions multiple times a week. Some of these families drive over 2 hours because their pediatrician told them about this study at Ohio State and they wanted to give their child the best care possible. In addition, this experience made me realize how resilient children can be. Lastly, my interaction with the Principal Investigator (PI) of the lab made me realize how every member of the lab team is valued for their contribution.
- There were a couple of key interactions and relationships during my STEP signature project that led to these changes in my world view. The first one being with a mother of one of our participants. She is a single mother of 3 children who also works full time as an ICU nurse. She had just driven 1.5 hours to our lab, after working a 10 hour shift. She had all 3 children with her and seemed completely burnt out. However, she was completely engaged in her son’s session while also entertaining her other kids. She provided us with detailed notes on her son’s progress at home during the last week and asked questions about what else she could be doing to help him improve his motor skills. Her dedication was inspiring. It reminded me that whenever I may be tired or coming into my lab after a long day, that it is important to leave all of that at the door and focus completely and enthusiastically about my work in the lab while I am there. It was a privilege to be working there this summer and should not be taken for granted.
Another interaction I had was with one of our participants (let’s call him Alex). When I first met Alex, he was 25 months old and had just arrived for his baseline assessment. He had very limited control of motor function and was very shy. He seemed comfortable with me and was encouraged to complete a task when I was guiding him through it. There is nothing more gratifying than watching Alex master a goal, such as being able to climb up the stairs by himself, after months of patience and hard work. I have watched Alex fall down hundreds of times, but he never fails to get back up and try again. He is an inspiration to myself and motivates me to never give up.
Lastly, my interactions with my PI throughout the summer led me to see how every member of the lab is responsible for contributing to the project. I met with her bi-weekly one on one and we also had monthly lab meetings with all of the members of the lab. She set clear expectations for what was expected of lab members and was thorough with checking in. She stressed the importance of working together because science is a “team sport”. I had always thought that the PI was the most important person in the lab and that everyone should do exactly as they say. My PI explained that she is not all-knowing and encouraged dialogue and collaboration between the lab team. She welcomed constructive criticism and listened to everyone’s ideas, from undergraduates such as myself, to PhD students and physical therapists. She said that she’s not in the lab and working in close proximity with the patients all week long, so she doesn’t always know everything that the people working in the lab 50 hours a week know. I really appreciated this team-focused style of leadership. It encouraged me to share my ideas and ask questions in an environment conducive to learning.
- This personal development has helped me tremendously in regards to my future plans. I aspire to be a physician assistant (PA). I am currently applying to PA school and I will take the lessons I learned while completing my STEP signature project on with me to PA school and the workforce after school. The lessons I have learned from the single mother about dedication to her son regardless of whatever else is going on in her life is something that will be important to me as a practicing PA. There will be days when I will be distracted by personal problems, however as a PA it is vital that I forget these issues while seeing patients in order to give them my full attention and the best healthcare possible. Next, my interaction with Alex taught me the importance of perseverance in the face of formidable circumstances. PA school is challenging and completely demanding. I will remember working with Alex when I feel like quitting due to the difficulty of my classes. I will remember the bigger picture and that I will work hard to get through the rigorous courses in PA school in order to be able to provide healthcare to children like Alex. Lastly, my relationship with my PI and lab mates is extremely important because it taught me the importance of working in a team to provide the best experience for our study participants. Working as a PA is all about working with a team. I will have to work under an attending physician for the entirety of my career, and I will also be working with nurses, medical assistants, doctors, students, and other PAs. I will take the lessons I learned about team-based leadership and every member of the lab being valued for their contribution to PA school and to my practice after school. I believe this will allow me to become the best healthcare provider that I can be.