UC Program Takes Med Student From Ohio to Africa
Published November 2007
How many women show up at trauma centers with assault-related gunshot wounds and stabbing injuries? How many never make it there?
Who are these women? Why are they being assaulted? Who is assaulting them?
Second-year medical student Heather Finlay-Morreale wanted answers to these questions.
So she’s been collecting data—nine years worth.
“The majority of assaulted patients coming into the emergency room are men,” says Finlay-Morreale. “No one has really studied women at trauma centers and the circumstances surrounding their assault-related hospital admissions.”
But that wasn’t the only reason Finlay-Morreale wanted answers.
“I’m personally driven to speak up for those who I feel don’t have a voice,” she says. “Women and girls injured by shootings and stabbings, well, I felt they had no voice.”
Gathering such data is important to understanding risk factors for assault, she says, and for designing interventions to prevent assaults from happening.
Finlay-Morreale received her bachelor’s from Northeastern University. She then worked in basic and clinical research, most recently at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
It was at UCSF that she was drawn to clinical research, focusing on critical care.
The abundance of research opportunities drove Finlay-Morreale to apply for medical school at UC. The university’s Medical Student Summer Research Program gave her a forum for learning more about female assault victims.
During the program, Finlay-Morreale gathered medical records from University Hospital and homicide data from the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office. But the medical student went beyond the numbers. She spent nights in the hospital’s trauma bay observing and interviewing clinicians, police officers and patients.
In addition to interviews, she searched newspapers and court records to learn more about specific cases, then classified the relationship of the assailant to each assault victim she saw in the hospital or located in the coroner’s office.
Finlay-Morreale gathered some interesting results.
“Many people assume nearly all assaults against women are committed by intimate partners,” she says. “While this is often the case, it is not always true. I also found that assaults by intimate partners—particularly when a gun is involved—were usually lethal.
“In other words,” she says, “the data we gather from injured patients in the hospital doesn’t give us the whole picture. To really understand the scope of the problem, we have to look beyond hospital admissions and gather information about the women who go straight to the coroner’s office.
“Really, what I saw is that if a women is shot by an intimate partner, she rarely makes it to the emergency room,” says Finlay-Morreale.
She presented her findings at the tri-annual meeting of the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA), which was held in August in Accra, Ghana.
There, Finlay-Morreale gave a voice to another group—medical students seeking membership in MWIA.
The organization has long denied full membership to students, but before the meeting wrapped up, MWIA members voted in favor of allowing students to join.
Finlay-Morreale also spent time at the Medical College of Ghana’s Korle-Bu Hospital in Accra, learning about the country’s “brain drain” of medical providers.
She gained first-hand knowledge of the state of trauma and critical care in an African teaching hospital, and the link between poverty and quality of health care.
Finlay-Morreale is currently writing a paper on firearm injury and will present an abstract on her assault research at the Western Trauma Association annual meeting in February.
Working for Human Rights in Cincinnati
Second-year medical student Heather Finlay-Morreale is trying to form a group at UC to perform exams as part of the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network.
The network is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that conducts mental and physical evaluations for people from around the world who have suffered physical or psychological abuse or torture in their own country and who are seeking asylum in the United States.
Interested clinicians—including internists, psychiatrists, gynecologists, family practitioners, interpreters, psychologists, social workers and sexual assault nurse examiners—should contact Finlay-Morreale at email@example.com or visit physiciansforhumanrights.org/asylum.