Med students fill UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Third-year medical student Sahaja Alturi explains the details of her research poster at the annual UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit.

Sahaja Atluri, a third-year medical student at the UMKC School of Medicine, was just 11 years old when she saw her grandfather die of lung cancer. It was then that she decided to become the first doctor in her family.

“That was when I realized, maybe if we’d detected the signs and symptoms earlier, there would have been something we could have done for my grandfather,” Atluri said.

Now, her passion is orthopaedic surgery and providing orthopaedic care for people in poor and underdeveloped areas of the world.

Atluri conducted an exploratory study of the accessibility of orthopaedic care and the disparities of care in impoverished areas. She put her findings on display in a poster presentation on April 18 at the annual UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit.

She said her study showed a great need for orthopaedic medicine in underserved populations worldwide. It also pointed out that people in those parts of the world run a higher risk of suffering acute traumatic injuries.

“I’m one who likes to see the result of my work and I think orthopaedics is a practice where you can see those results immediately,” Atluri said. “For me, it’s about being able to improve your quality of life rather than your quantity of life. I saw my grandfather suffer, and while I can’t impact that directly, I’d like to make an impact in the long run by saying, ‘Let’s improve your quality of life.’”

Alturi was among the 50 medical students who participated in this year’s research summit at the UMKC Student Union. Med students presented 45 of the event’s 87 posters. Students from the health sciences schools of dentistry, nursing and health studies, and pharmacy, as well as  and the School of Biological Sciences also presented posters.

View medical student posters from the 2018 UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Mark Hecker, director of research administration at the School of Medicine, said a growing number of SOM students this year participated as co-presenters of research posters that they had worked on together.

Sixth-year medical students Cassidy Onukwuli and Juliet Gatiba collaborated to gather data for a survey looking at preventive health screenings conducted in African-American churches. Onukwuli said it began with serving as volunteers on a larger project by Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., associate professor of Biomedical and Health Informatics. That program, called “Taking it to the Pews” (TIPs), is actually taking health education and screenings to African-American church congregations.

“We got involved as volunteers with the TIPs project and were intrigued. That led us to this research project,” Onukwuli said. “We were both interested in prevention.”

Gathi said that having a classmate working beside her on the research made the work less daunting.

“Because I hadn’t done research before, it was easier to bounce ideas off of each other and help each other out,” Gathi said. “When (Onukwuli) was busy, I had free time to work on it and when I was busy, she would have free time. So, it worked out well.”

Second-year student Josh Hill stood in front of his poster that explored two different surgical procedures to treat a bleeding Meckel’s diverticulum. The research sought to highlight which procedure led to fewer complications.

Hill said his role was to read through 249 case files of patients from 2002 through 2017, seeing if they were included in the study. He documented those that were, listing any complications such as bleeding, small bowel obstruction or perforations during the surgery.

As a data collector, Hill said he took his time studying the cases.

“I did this during the summer between my first and second year of medical school,” he said. “All I really knew was general anatomy at that point, so I was reading and not only learning about different procedures but learning what all these abbreviations are. I had Google up and was learning how doctors write notes and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really interesting.’”

With plans of becoming a surgeon, Hill said he knows that having a research background will give him leg up when Match Day rolls around for his class in four years.

“To get into a good residency, I realize that doing research and having good connections is important,” Hill said. “By the end of my first semester, I was looking into research opportunities. I e-mailed Children’s Mercy Hospital, Truman Medical Center and UMKC to see if I could get on a project. Children’s Mercy had an opportunity doing data collection, so I hopped on.”

Hill said he is already collecting data as part of a new research project.