Lena Elizabeth Trager (2017) The “A Fib Intern”: A Premed’s MHIF Research Internship Journey. Journal of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation: January 2017, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 89-90.
Lena Elizabeth Trager, BA
Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Minneapolis, MN
Address for correspondence:
Lena Elizabeth Trager, BA
Minneapolis Heart Institute
920 E 28th Street #620
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55407
Acronyms flew by with an overwhelming speed during my first week as a research intern at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF): LBBB, HCM, WPW, CRT. Little did I know, these acronyms would soon become part of the daily medical vernacular research interns are expected to quickly grasp. Besides gaining a wealth of specialized cardiology knowledge during the MHIF clinical research internship, premedical students also develop several indispensable soft-skills that are difficult to learn outside of a clinical setting. Very few summer internships provide premedical undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students with clinical research opportunities, as most programs focus on bench or biomedical research. The benefits of a clinically relevant internship program are endless: research physicians can propose new ideas for research studies or quality improvement initiatives, and interns significantly contribute to data collection, manuscript preparation, and conference presentations, while also having the opportunity to observe mentors practice medicine in the clinic or perform procedures. Participating in such an internship can confirm one’s desire to pursue medicine, and even jumpstart a new career direction as a research physician. Here are some important skills and lessons learned from key experiences during my first summer internship at MHIF and subsequent second summer as lead intern.
FIRST SUMMER INTERNSHIP
During my first summer internship in 2015, I gained a new perspective of research that I had not previously embraced:Research is a labor of love and hard work.
It is sometimes difficult to realize and understand the value and impact that a small research study can have on future improvements in patient care. Long study timelines, slow data pulls, and tedious data entry can be taken for granted. While keeping the end goal in mind—a publication, a new discovery, or process improvements—one is able to stay motivated and eager to prove or disprove hypotheses. I quickly learned that research productivity is often dependent on how much one is willing to work. During our internship orientation, Dr. Sullivan explained to us that for physicians whose primary careers are more clinical and less research, new study ideas and publications often are a result of “working on nights and weekends.” This came as a surprise to some of the interns, and humbled most of us as we had not yet fully met our 3 best friends, PubMed, Microsoft Excel, and EPIC.Hands-on observation and experience sparks passion.
As the summer progressed, I frequently observed my mentors Dr. Moore and Dr. Sengupta, along with other electrophysiologists (EPs), in clinic and the EP lab. Observing several atrial fibrillation ablations while also researching the therapy helped me understand the importance of our research team’s questions. Somewhat embarrassingly, I became known as the “a fib intern” because I was fascinated (and yes, a little obsessed) by the arrhythmia and its nonpharmacologic therapies. In fact, I now have a long-term career goal to cure atrial fibrillation. Understanding how even the smallest contribution can shed light on future research was an important aspect of this internship for me. With ample opportunities to shadow and observe, interns realize that research efforts of today are for the patient care of tomorrow. This realization changed my perspective and helped me see value in all types of clinical research projects. I became involved in quality improvement initiatives, retrospective studies, abstract and manuscript writing, and even presented a poster at the 2016 American College of Cardiology Scientific Session. It was an incredible experience to be able to take a small research study from start to finish with guidance from expert cardiologists and present it at a national cardiology research conference.Teamwork in medicine is critical.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from this internship was the importance of being able to work as part of an effective medical team. In competitive premedical classrooms, it’s sometimes challenging to understand that teamwork is inherent to contemporary medical practice. I frequently observed team-based medicine in action at MHIF in the clinic, lab, simulation center, and operating room. Learning about the many teams of medicine and being part of one is an experience not often found at other summer research internship programs. During my first summer, I collaborated with other interns, MHIF staff, nurse practitioners, nurses, and physicians while working on my projects. Constantly being immersed in the team-based model of health care was an unexpected benefit. I enjoyed seeing everyone work in harmony to deliver the best patient care possible. Furthermore, as one of 14 interns that summer, we worked together to help one another progress on our individual projects. I believe this team-based phenomenon is rarely seen in other scientific research internship programs which typically thrive on competition. We all looked out for each other and were inspired to foster healthy competition that could motivate us during the 12-week summer.
In 2016, I returned to MHIF as the lead intern. I was eager to continue working with the same mentors on the same projects, building on my past experiences and hoping to expand our studies or come to new conclusions. The lead intern role involves less shadowing and research, and more administration and guidance of others. It was a fabulous learning opportunity as I broadened my communication skills and leadership with institutional review board staff, planned events with professional education specialists, and coordinated studies with staff mentors and primary investigators. Without a doubt, this experience prepared me well for my current position as research coordinator at MHIF. More importantly, I was also a leader of 12 new research interns who were in the same role I was a year ago. I had to learn how to serve the other interns and make their internship experience as unique and worthwhile as possible. I often recalled instances of observing leadership in the hospital that helped me through the process of learning how to lead colleagues while also maintaining close friendships. I was also responsible for a new research poster session to highlight each intern’s research results. While such an event isn’t clinical whatsoever, this experience allowed me to develop my communication, leadership, and teamwork skills that will be useful in my future medical career.
NOW, A RESEARCH COORDINATOR
The summer research internship at MHIF fueled my passion for cardiology, introduced me to the world of clinical research, and led to a greater understanding of the connection between research and patient care. I have now joined the MHIF EP research team as a research coordinator for a 12-month period between my undergraduate degree and medical school. I am enjoying the transition from investigator-initiated studies to prospective clinical trials.
The research internship program at MHIF is quite unique and has had a huge impact on my future medical career. I decided upon medicine a long time ago, but after my second summer at MHIF, I am now committed to pursuing clinical research along the way. I am eternally grateful to have worked with 2 phenomenal physicians at MHIF, Dr. Moore and Dr. Sengupta, whose guidance and mentorship have inspired me and many other interns to challenge our current thinking and search for novel innovations in cardiovascular care.
I would like to thank Dr. Moore, Dr. Sengupta, Jolene Bell Makowesky, Eva Kovacs Zewdie, Melissa Buescher, and Ross Garberich for providing interns with incredible research experiences year after year. Additionally, I would like to acknowledge the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation for its ongoing support of research and the MHIF Internship Program.