Outstanding Graduate's Understanding, Compassion Deepened through Her Work with Abuse Victims

06/03/02    Portland, Ore.

Helping battered women, researching brain injuries, researching patient selection criteria for better outcomes in surgery, conducting thoracic research, getting a master's degree from Harvard University, and running a major charity auction are just some of the activities Rebecca Prince has undertaken while studying for her medical degree at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine.

Prince, 29, will be graduating in OHSU's 2002 Commencement on June 7 at Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. She will be receiving the American Medical Women's Association Janet Glasgow Memorial Achievement Citation for being among the top 10 percent of women academically in the class and she'll also receive the Krippaehne Surgery Award for outstanding scholarship, dedication and humanism demonstrated by a medical graduate entering postgraduate training in surgery.

As part of her research during her third year, she devised a computerized method to help trauma surgeons quickly determine if a patient is at risk for continued cerebral bleeding without waiting for the results of blood tests. This can help surgeons provide treatment more quickly and prevent the injury from expanding.

She also headed the auction for Alpha Omega Alpha, a national medical honor society, to benefit free health clinics in the Portland area.

"Rebecca is an excellent student and a top-notch person. She is distinguished by the degree of scholarly research she conducted and by her academic accomplishments. She is a truly outstanding graduate," said Edward Keenan, Ph.D., associate dean for medical education, OHSU School of Medicine.

However, as outstanding as Prince has been in her research and her medical studies, it was her work with domestic abuse patients in a Boston emergency room that helped her better understand the serious and pressing societal issues people in our communities face.

After her second year of medical school she took off a year to earn a master's degree in public health from Harvard to better help her as a researcher. While there she volunteered at Boston Medical Center helping abused patients in the emergency department. She helped to provide better strategies for their lives and helped prepare them for legal issues.

"It was a rude awakening in a sad way. It was devastating to see so many women who were victims of violence," she said.

When she returned to OHSU for her third year, she did a six-week primary care rotation in John Day, Ore. There again she learned the magnitude of domestic violence that happens even in rural communities. She estimated that 40 percent of the family medical practice involved domestic abuse victims.

"It's a much bigger problem than anyone realizes. I was surprised at who the women were who were being abused. It crosses all lines: we had educated women, young, old, different ethnic backgrounds, even gay women. These women didn't talk about it. They thought it was the usual state of life. And some had been beaten almost to death," Prince said.

She knows her work with abused patients will make her a better physician.

"It's something physicians can easily recognize if they know what to look for. It has made me more sensitive, and it will help me with diagnosis. I'll be more aware as a surgeon. I had tended to think in black and white. Now I know things are often a much larger issue. It's not just a physical symptom. We need more community outreach programs. We need to say, 'It's not OK.'"

That's what she hopes for in her career. She wants to be involved in bigger societal issues.

This summer she starts her six-year surgical residency and two years of research at Duke University Medical Center. She hopes to focus her research on lung cancer.

"Research is really important in helping me become more aware and in making a difference," she said.

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