Class-wide exercise builds research skills

Jennifer Bickel, M.D. ’01, one of the professors who designed the research exercise last year, judged posters again this year.

One mark of a good experiment is that its results can be replicated. By that standard, a required research project for third-year School of Medicine students appears to be a success.

The research exercise was introduced a year ago in the medical neuroscience course and drew positive comments from the students and the faculty members who judged their projects. The reactions were much the same for the assignment’s second go-round, the results of which were presented Dec. 4 in the school lobby.

“We wanted to give students an early research experience, to raise the bar of their baseline research knowledge,” said Jennifer Bickel, M.D. ’01, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Comprehensive Headache Clinic at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Whether or not conducting research becomes a part of their careers, Bickel said, it’s vital for all physicians to know how to use research.

“All research has some weakness, and without understanding of the process, you can’t properly interpret results,” she said.

In the exercise, teams of four students used data from the Cerner HealthFacts database, a nationwide compilation of data made available by Cerner Corp., one of the largest health care software companies in the world. The student teams, with the help of a faculty mentor and a supporting biostatistician, answered a unique question they identified related to a serious medical condition. The databases used this year covered such conditions as dystonia, migraines, catatonia, stroke and seizures.

After analyzing the data and drawing conclusions, each team made a poster displaying its question and hypothesis, telling how the team members went about testing their hypothesis, explaining their findings, and identifying questions for further study.

Agostino Molteni, M.D., Ph.D., is a research leader at the school and was one of the contest judges.

For many students it was their first medical research, and several of them said the assignment was helpful in many ways. Some said that before the exercise they were worried about how difficult it would be to do research, but now they looked forward to being able to do more.

“There was a first-time learning curve,” said one student, Michele Yang. “It was a good challenge to organize our information and narrow the focus of our project.”

One of her teammates, Courtney Dorris, said she was motivated to do more research and was looking into other opportunities with faculty.

“It was a good change of pace from the classroom to have real patient data and think about how to apply it,” she said.

Other students said they found value in learning more about how to use statistics; about the need for teamwork in research; about how to present data and frame conclusions; and how to think about research that could follow up on their projects.

The exercise was devised in 2017 by Bickel; Julie Banderas, Pharm.D., BCPS, professor of pharmacology in the Department of Internal Medicine and assistant dean for Graduate Studies and Allied Health; and Paula Monaghan-Nichols, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and associate dean for research.

The teams were judged for poster content, clarity, appearance and organization; their oral presentations; and demonstration of critical thinking. The top three teams and their mentors and research titles:

1st place – Group 22 – Michael Brancato, Madhavi Murali, Anna Davis, Varoon Kumar; Dr. Tyler Allison; “Relationship Between Payer Status and Length of Hospital Stay in Patients with Catatonia: Analysis of a Nationwide Sample.” 

 2nd place – Group 12 – Megan Schoelch, Eshwar Kishore, John Lin, Laraib Sani; Dr. Keith Coffman; “How Age Affects Length of Stay in Stereotactic Implantation.” 

3rd place – Group 26 – Laura Mann, Christy Nwankwo, Dakota Owens, Ethan Williamson; Dr. Jennifer Goldman; “Herpes Simplex Virus 2 Distribution Among Urban and Rural Communities.”