My Research Year Off

Cam Upchurch
January 15, 2016
Posted in Research

I love research. I struggled with the decision on whether to apply to the MSTP program before, and while already enrolled at Vandy. I did basic science research in undergrad, and came to Vandy and wanted to try some different things. I got involved in quality improvement, clinical, and translational research during first year to “scope things out.” I ultimately decided that MSTP was not for me (I didn’t think I was the right person to be practicing clinically and trying to run a lab—my mind couldn’t keep up with both well enough), and I went into my clinical rotations, not doing any research.

When we finished clinical rotations we (at some point) were required to do 3-6 months of research. I started working with an amazing mentor in emergency medicine on an appendicitis biomarker project which was interesting to me as it combined translational science with real clinical outcomes and decision-making. That project ended up not being revolutionary (haha) and we came up with an idea to look at two drugs, etomidate and ketamine, that are used to induce unconsciousness to emergently intubate trauma patients, and a bunch of clinical outcomes. There are positives and negatives to each drug (I’ll spare you the details), but basically people in emergency medicine/anesthesia/trauma/critical care world have strong opinions about which is better/safer, but no one really knows or has a ton of hard data on trauma patients. So I set out to look at a bunch of clinical outcomes (death, length-of-stay, infections, that sort of thing) associated with the use of each medicine. This is clinical outcomes research.

I really got into the literature review, writing the proposal, getting IRB approval, and was really excited about the idea. I knew that I loved doing research, and that I wanted that to be a component of my future professional career. But up until this point I was lacking the time to really dedicate to learning the basic framework for asking a great, sound, scientific question, how to design a study well, and a firm understanding of biostatistics (hard to learn these things on the side while doing research during first year). So I set out to take a year off to commit to doing research (mainly this project) and to, really, have the time to learn study design/epidemiology/biostats. I did it through the Vanderbilt Medical Scholars Program (our internally funded year-off research program for Vandy med students).

I have been working hard on my project for half-a-year now, taken online classes in epidemiology and biostats, worked my way through epidemiology and biostats textbooks, and have really, with the help of my amazing mentor, built a strong foundation in working with data, basic statistics, doing my own analyses, and statistical modeling. This has been invaluable so far just in this year, but I also know will continue to be in the future. I have such a better understanding of how to ask a great research question, how to properly design a study, and well, and how to ask questions in ways that statistics can help answer or shed light. It has cemented my desire to be involved in clinical outcomes research going forward, and has grown my excitement to continue learning and hopefully master study design and my understanding of biostatistics.

In the future, I’d love to build off of this and be involved in designing clinical trials and changing the way we practice emergency medicine/critical care, for the better. While I feel like I have forgotten a lot already from the clinical world, taking care of patients, I still work shifts in the emergency department and work at Shade Tree to try to stay fresh. This year off though, I will say, while great, has made me super excited to get back to the clinical world again and master that all the while conducting research with my newly attained toolset.