Kevin Contrera, 21, knew even before starting his undergraduate degree at Xavier University two years ago that his next step would be a white coat ceremony at a research-based medical school in Ohio.
“I completed three years of research first as an intern and then as an employee at the Cleveland Clinic,” says the biology major. “I think that research is such an important part of medicine. I knew that it is something I really wanted to do.”
But the type of medical research was still up in the air for Contrera.
“The majority of my research has been in anesthesiology, and I also took a trip to Nicaragua to assist with heart surgeries,” he says. “I was always focused on the operating room and surgery.”
This summer, Contrera tried a different kind of research with the help of the ROSE program at the UC College of Medicine.
The ROSE program—Research, Observation, Service and Education—is an internship, early acceptance to medical school and mentorship program all rolled into one.
It was created four years ago to provide research exposure to pre-medical college students by allowing them to design and conduct studies. The highly competitive internship is carried out for two consecutive summers during the student’s junior and senior years.
ROSE students begin their summer internships with an orientation designed to help them understand the difference between the various types of medical research. By the end of the second summer internship, participants are expected to produce a tangible product that represents their research.
This is the first year the program has coupled with UC’s department of family medicine to give students an idea of what it is like to do patient-centered, practice-based research.
Contrera, who had mostly surgical experiences, says this summer was truly an eye opener.
“When your focus is limited to a sterile, well-lit operating room, you tend to forget the diversity of patient needs in the real world,” he says.
Contrera worked with Doug Smucker, MD, on a hospice and palliative care study, looking at the stress factors hospice nurses and aides endure.
He was in charge of coordinating and developing aspects of the project as well as completing direct observation and face-to-face interviews with nurses and aides.
“I was able to help choose the angle of our study and guide the progress of the project,” he says.
Nikki Bibler, assistant director of student affairs and recruitment programs in the Office of Student Affairs and Admissions and director of the ROSE program, says this partnership was created to do for students just what Contrera said it did for him: increase exposure to medical research.
“This program was designed to create future physicians who understand the importance of incorporating medical research into everyday practice,” she says. “In the past, we’ve mostly provided students with basic research experiences. This partnership with the department of family medicine has allowed student participants an opportunity to explore patient-centered research.”
Nancy Elder, MD, director of research in the department of family medicine, and Shannon Bolon, MD, coordinator for the ROSE program in family medicine, say there is a great need for clinical researchers within the current health care field.
“The ROSE program can help these students grow an appreciation for practice-based research and use the knowledge gained to improve the quality of care in everyday practice,” Elder says. “Funding proportions for research have traditionally focused on phase I, or bench, research. But there is a great need for clinical research that can improve the patient’s well-being.”
Students involved in this partnership shadow doctors in four different family medicine settings in addition to working on their designated research projects.
“Giving them this opportunity to spend time early on with clinicians and patients allows them to see what really happens in primary care from day to day,” Bolon says. “Very few people truly understand what family medicine is, and this offers a preview. We want to catch these bright students early in their decision process to show them that there is more to academic medicine than test tubes and beakers and that primary care doctors make a difference where it counts.”
Bibler says that besides being Ohio residents, students accepted to the ROSE program must have a genuine interest in research-based medicine. A seat in the UC College of Medicine is reserved for each participating ROSE student, provided the students meet specific academic and MCAT requirements.
Contrera, who will come back to finish his research with Smucker next summer, says even though his mind isn’t completely made up about where he will attend medical school or what his specialty will be, UC’s family medicine program is definitely on the radar.
“It was so interesting to see this different perspective,” he says. “I’ve learned the importance of community outreach and was truly touched by my interactions with the underserved populations. I feel that this is so essential to my mission and the reason I want to become a physician.
“I am extremely grateful for the team at UC, who took the time to help me further understand what it means to be a primary care doctor.”