Friday, 17 February 2017

Beyond the Bunsen burner

Over the summer, Jacoba van Wees learned that research in medicine doesn’t just happen in a lab with a test tube and a Bunsen burner. With a research scholarship in biochemistry under her belt already, the Biomedical Science graduate, who started the graduate entry medicine course this year, applied for a summer research scholarship that was more medicine related.

Jacoba van Wees undertook a Summer Research Scholarship project before starting her medicine studies.
Milking the evidence: improving medicine information for lactating women about infant risk was supervised by Dr Adelle McArdle and Associate Professor Shane Bullock at Monash Rural Health Churchill. The project looked at what evidence is available about the safety of medications for women who are breastfeeding with the ultimate aim of making it easier to access information.

Collating evidence for an app

Jacoba worked on the project with another student, Yi Sien Koo, for five weeks. “Our job was to do a bit of the grunt work of going through the literature to work out what was important when you’re trying to prescribe a drug.”

With epidemiological evidence suggesting that people aren’t making good prescribing decisions, Jacoba didn’t expect to find much research on the effects of medications on infants who were being breastfed. “I was thought it was all going to be very quick, but what we actually found after hours and hours trawling through online databases is that there’s a lot of evidence out there.” The difficulty, she learned, is that it’s hard to find. “We found heaps and heaps of data but it took us hours and hours of work to find it, and that’s obviously going to impact clinical practice if clinicians can’t find the information that’s available.”

Shane thought a smart device application would make the information accessible faster and more easily than trawling through texts. So Jacoba and Yi Sien investigated how other medical related apps framed their data and presented information; how they kept it professional, but still user friendly. At this stage, Shane contacted a colleague in Mildura, Dr Naj Soomro, who had experience developing apps for use in medicine.

More like a researcher than an underling

With broad collaboration like this, Jacoba found this project a lot more “connected” than the first one she did. “I felt very official compared to my last experience as a research student. Here I was having a phone conference with someone who’s pretty much an expert in that field and actually being able to input ideas.”

Jacoba enjoyed working with Adelle and Shane. “It was really nice to feel that even though we’re students, we were able to put our own ideas in and have Adelle and Shane say: well we think you should include this. When you’re used to sitting in a lecture theatre with 400 other students being talked to for an hour, it was nice to feel a little bit more equal. That was probably one of the highlights – I felt more like an actual researcher than an underling.”

Getting research results to clinicians

Originally from Gippsland, Jacoba moved to Melbourne to complete a degree in Biomedical Science, but is moving back again to start her studies in medicine this year. She felt doing the scholarship project would be a good way to get to know Churchill where she’ll spend her first year.

She certainly knows her way around the Churchill campus now and the research project confirmed her passion for medicine. “It helped me think beyond assessments and learning to take patient histories. It’s more getting to look at the numerous ways that medicine and research can combine to improve health care.”

She’s also learned that improving how the results of research are delivered to clinicians is vitally important. “It was really nice to feel that the work we were doing had an end goal that was going to make an immediate impact. When we wrapped up the five-week project, we actually had an online template of what we hoped the app would look like with some sample data in there. The hope is that eventually that’ll get outsourced and become a fully-functional app.”

There really is a world beyond the Bunsen burner.

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