Decisions: From Beakers and Pipets to People and Policy
I was first bitten by the research bug as a freshman in college. While I had always enjoyed science, research had never entered my mind as a career nor even a hobby. I wanted to be a doctor, a pediatrician to be exact and to me that didn’t mean research, it meant helping people. But that all changed in the Spring of my freshmen year when I learned about the Howard Hughes Summer Research Experience. I was looking for a way to build my resume and a productive summer, but ended up finding an experience and path that would shape the rest of my career.
This summer introduced me to a world a possibility. Working in an experimental surgery lab, I learned lab techniques, the scientific method and how I might be able to expand my impact on medicine through research. I soon realized that not only did I like the science, but I liked the idea of doing more in medicine. This experience turned into a longitudinal experience throughout my undergraduate career. I soon learned that medicine and research are inseparable. To advance medicine, research is necessary; advancing the knowledge of the human body and disease is one the main drivers for research. However, the more I learned about the clinical impact our lab was trying to make, the more I was interested in being the one caring for those patients. The beakers and pipets did not satisfy my thirst for clinical knowledge and I moved on to medical school thinking I was leaving research behind, however I was mistaken.
In medical school, I was still plagued by the desire to explore more than what was contained in textbooks regarding my patients’ ailments. I applied to the Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP—Now the NIH Medical Research Scholars Program) following my 3rd year and was accepted! Through CRTP, I was immersed in clinical research that allowed me to expand my investigative skill set and introduced me to the direct impact that research could have for my patients. Through my work developing a clinical trial for an investigative drug for pediatric patients and also by participating in a collaborative effort to explore phenotypic differences in neurogenetic disorders in the Malian population, I unlocked a desire to use science to advocate for my patients. I returned to medical school intrigued by research, but not completely satisfied that conducting large disease based clinical trials would allow me to contribute to medicine in the way I wanted.
As a resident, I extended my commitment and interest in research by conducting a research project to improve the quality of care delivered to the children of our clinic. It was here that I found work that seemed to connect all my interests—answering questions to help my patients, improving service to those patients and helping to improve our health system and the delivery of medicine. Until this point, I had not connected that research could be a way not only to contribute to science, but to advocate for my patients. I was fortunate that I had a mentor that helped me make the connection—Health Services Research. This field allows me to study questions that interest me and to use my research to help my patients directly and to impact policies that affect them.
My journey through research has been long, but it isn’t over. I’ve learned many things along the path—I can contribute to the world, I can ask questions that can make the medicine we provide better and I can help people. Really, I guess it all goes back to the beginning – we each want to become doctors for different reasons, but in the end we all want to help people. Research is another way that doctors do that.