Research by the day

In this place, every week is Research Week.

May is always an exciting month for graduate students because it is in May that OHSU Research Week annually falls. The modern manifestation of what was once called the Student Research Forum, Research Week is a time to see what other people on campus are doing, learn new things, lend support to fellow students participating in the 3 Minute Thesis, and hear from interesting keynote speakers. Despite my excitement for it my first and second year, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I approached this year with apathy. I made  a poster, I had a list of workshops I wanted to attend, speakers I wanted to see, but I felt settled – my project is running and experiments are competing for my attention. Was it really worth hiking all the way up from School of Dentistry just to see some poster topics with which my own has nothing in common?

But tomorrow is, of course, another day, and Tuesday proved a big one indeed. Student Day has been a favorite of mine every year because it is the day by students, for students. On a campus where the graduate student population is a dispersed force, Student Day has had a unifying effect in the past. This year, I was honored to eat with and introduce the Student Day Keynote Jeff Lichtman, PhD MD.  Lichtman is a pioneer of the emerging field called Connectomics, the study of comprehensive maps of connections within an organism’s nervous system. He is an innovator and one of the most approachable scientists I have ever met. I first saw him speak at Cold Spring Harbor, where he politely told the students in the Drosophila Neurobiology class that our research was pointless, that the invertebrate systems are done. A blazing example of scientific snobbery? One could argue so. An oversight of the fact that approximately 70% of proteins associated with disease have functional homologs in Drosophila? Glaringly so. An opinion akin to the cavemen saying “This wheel thing? Like that will ever be useful!” Truly so.

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The balm of presence

Some days are rush, rush, rush and then some days are like this one. I had set aside school for this one day so that stress never raised its head. I took time to visit with family I had not personally seen in a while. I took time with several people, being present and feeling their aura.

Reflecting on the type of day, it is hard to put a label on it that is adequate. I spent a little time with hubby before I had to set out on a day that had certain mile points but no real definitive pattern. That time with my significant piece of my heart was filled with humor, warmth and even after all these years, a continuing increase in the bounds of our boundless love for one another. This always amazes me but is a common, expected and joyful part of my days that always, always makes me smile. If you see a smile on my face for seemingly no reason, if you were to ask, don’t be surprised if I tell you of a moment of something whispered in my ear, a touch, a look, a shared aspiration or just another smile and the statement, “just a piece of my heart.”

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What do you think she meant?

On Monday morning, I was sick. I also had an immunology exam at 8am. Bristling from the cruel irony, I stopped at a Starbucks near the highway in yoga pants, a T-shirt, and my OHSU badge at about 7:30am. Red-faced from sneezing all night and baggy-eyed from attempting to study in that condition, I ordered a black coffee and waited miserably while my cup was filled. As I stood there, pathetic, a well-dressed, middle-aged woman approached me.

“What do you do at OHSU?” she asked, standing so close to me that I was acutely worried about spreading my germs. I told her that I was a medical student, and that I had an exam in just twenty minutes. She wished me luck. The barista handed me my coffee and I smiled politely and turned to leave, but the woman stopped me.

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Temoignage

This year I took “Conversations in Global Health” as one of my electives for the Graduate Programs in Human Nutrition. If you have not heard of this class, I highly recommend you take the 1 credit and attend. It is held once a week and there are incredible speakers who engage and excite you about their work in the global community. Dr. Kravitz also has pizza for the first 20 or so people, just in case you needed another bonus beyond the presentations. You can visit the OHSU webpage to find the latest calendar and recorded lectures.

As we wind down this year, we were asked to write a reflection about our experience and what we are inspired to do to help those in need. I thought I would share with you my experience in listening to Dr. Martin Smilkstein’s talk on his experience in war-torn Sierra Leone. I hope you too will find inspiration and think about your place and the tremendous impact you can have on the world.

Temoignage 

To  bear  witness

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Bearers of bad news

When your time consists mainly of recycling facts, it becomes surprisingly easy to transition into a binary state – either you’re learning, or you’re sleeping. While that operative mode allows us medical students increased efficiency, it also behooves us to reconnect with our more human sides.

Thankfully, once a week, we participate in a course called Principles of Clinical Medicine (PCM), or, as I like to call it, “How To Be a Good Doctor 101.” From week one, PCM guides us through the bigger picture of medicine, patient care, and how we, as future health care providers, can optimally function in it.

Recently, PCM tackled one of the more challenging topics for physicians – death.

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The safety net

As students we get to experience opportunities inside a safety net. This safety net allows us the comfort to expand our horizons and experience to better utilize the knowledge and skills we are building to go to work in the “real” world. Being recognized as students gives us room to make mistakes that are part of the learning process.

“It’s okay. They’re a student. They’re still practicing; they’re still learning.”

As we validate our competencies, consolidate our skills and knowledge, the safety net begins to peel back, exposing us more to the real world.

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Embracing difference

OHSU StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from Pooja Saini, a student in the Accelerated Bachelor’s to Master’s program in the School of Nursing. 

Of all the things I imagined nursing school would teach me, diversity was not on that list. After all, I am a young woman of East Indian heritage, born and raised in a place where I often looked different from many of the people surrounding me. My upbringing involved an amalgamation of both my cultures, American and East Indian, resulting in a unique mosaic of beliefs, values, and traditions that continues to define my identity. Shouldn’t I, of all people, understand what diversity is and all that it encompasses? My presumption, as it turns out, was flawed. Enter nursing school, day one-hundred-something, when I come to the realization that there is much more to understanding diversity than meets the eye.

I have no doubt that cultural constructs – race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender identity, sexuality, disability, and beyond – can be highly influential determinants of both the health of individuals as well as their respective health care needs. In the least, my own personal experiences can attest to this. I can easily recall several doctors’ visits during which wearing a paper gown compromised the modesty I grew up with in ways that caused me profuse embarrassment and discomfort. Perhaps there was even a time in my life when I experienced a great deal of anxiety and sadness, but didn’t feel that it was acceptable to give this a name or a voice. The myriad of ways that culture shapes my life, and as a result my health, are undeniable. I am strongly inclined to believe that health care provided within a sound cultural context would only lead to improved health outcomes for people from all backgrounds.

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Nursing students take a trip back East

Zee and Tiffany attending AACN

OHSU StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from two OHSU senior nursing students. 

Spring break this year was a little cold (27 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact). However it was one of the most inspirational and rewarding breaks I’ve had in my long college career (8+ years). I traveled to Washington DC with my classmate Zee Bakhtiar to get a crash course in politics at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Student Policy Summit.

Here’s a “top 10” of what we learned…

10. Wear layers. The weather seems even more temperamental than Oregon.

9. Comfortable shoes are very important. We walked over 12,000 steps our lobbying day on Capitol Hill.

8. Be proactive. The nurses we met in high caliber positions in Washington, D.C, all got to where they are by paving their own trail. In order for nurses to have a seat at the table sometimes they need to squeeze their way in.

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Giving health a voice

OHSU StudentSpeak is pleased to share this post, reprinted with permission from Carla’s blog, Healthvoicepdx.

My name is Carla. When I was 5 years old, I remember going out to dinner with my parents in San Francisco. I had lead a pretty sheltered life up until that point and things like homelessness, poverty, and hunger weren’t really on my radar. As my family and I left the restaurant, I saw a man, disheveled, eyes cast down, sitting in a dirty San Francisco alcove. He wasn’t asking for food or money; he was simply watching the world pass him by. I’m not sure what made me think of giving him my food, but I looked up at my mom and shyly asked if I could. You see, to my 5 year old eyes, he looked hungry and tired. While I couldn’t do much about the tired part, I could offer him a meal. I don’t want to sound presumptuous or like someone’s savior or even like a person with some sort of omnipotent complex, I simply had a gut feeling and decided to act on it. What happened next has stuck with me over the last 27 years.

I quietly offered him a box of food and he looked up at me and said, “Thank you missus.” It was the first time any adult had ever thanked me earnestly and with genuinely. Sure my family thanked me for things, but they thanked me as a 5 year old little girl. This gentlemen saw me as a person, not just a 5 year old. In that moment, I recognized the importance of truly seeing others, and I’ve never forgotten that man.

More than two decades later, I am entering the healthcare field. More than anything, I hope to retain my ability to actually see a person and thus my project is born. My plan is to photograph people and find out their opinions about healthcare. I’ve worked with an amazing photographer, Brian Fischer, and we have collected some beautiful stories thus far. I’d like to invite you to share in this journey to see healthcare through Portland’s eyes. All stories are unedited and rewritten with the permission of the people pictured.

My journey

As a volunteer Referral Coordinator at a local community health clinic, I was reminded daily that one does not need to travel far to find disparities in healthcare. Without the help of the clinic, many homeless, minority and uninsured clients would be forced to choose between basic necessities and healthcare; a choice no one should have to make.

I will never forget my conversation with a homeless woman who refused to schedule a necessary radiology exam. She could not bear the thought of accruing additional medical expenses. The woman declined my efforts to connect her with financial resources stating she was more afraid of debt than death. It is her story and countless others like it that fuel my passion to work as a Physician Assistant (PA) with marginalized populations in rural and underserved communities. 

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StudentSpeak

StudentSpeak

Ever wondered what life is like as a student at OHSU? What does it take to become a researcher? Just how gross is gross anatomy? Welcome to the blog that answers these – and many other – questions. It’s students writing first-hand about their commitment to careers in science and health care. It’s honest about the challenges as well as the joys. It’s not always pretty. But it is our story. Thank you for sharing it with us. And please, let us know what you think.

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