By Julie Engebretson
Baylor University undergraduates preparing for healthcare careers have access to some of the best research internship experiences available, thanks to longtime relationships forged with Texas-based hospitals and medical groups by Baylor’s Office of Prehealth Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.
In years gone by, completing an undergraduate internship on the way to a health career was considered a good “plus” –– but now, such professional internships are seen as critical factors in their future advancement.
“Students who have significant research experiences in their undergraduate career — especially medically related experiences — are far more competitive for Top 20 medical schools,” said Dr. Rich Sanker, director of prehealth science studies. “Although medical schools and medical centers such as MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas sponsor undergraduate research programs and internships, they are extremely competitive and nearly impossible to attain without prior research experience. The internship opportunities Baylor provides not only look good on medical school applications, they make our students more competitive for research programs at top medical centers.”
Baylor prehealth students fill close to 100 research internship spots every year, providing them with a competitive advantage and invaluable preparation for careers in biomedical research and the health professions.
Uniquely designed to expose Baylor undergraduates to hospital administration and leadership, as well as healthcare-related research, the Baylor Scott & White Health (BSWH) Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Summer Internship entails eight weeks in the greater Dallas area, working with senior executive leaders of BSWH-North Texas.
Paired with a member of the BSWH Chief Medical Officer Operations Council, interns gain a deeper understanding of executive decision-making and attending administrative and operational meetings. They’re also required to complete a research project whose conclusions are of tangible value to the CMO Operations Council.
Senior University Scholar major Chase Gottlich completed the BSWH CMO internship in the summer of 2017, and said the best part about it was the strong working relationship he formed with his mentor, Dr. Jeffrey Kerr, the CMO of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in McKinney.
“This internship addressed the intersection of medicine and solvency — the business side — and allowed me to have close, one-on-one interaction with a leader in the field,” Gottlich said. “CMOs are the highest-ranking physicians at a hospital, so that fact that you get to eat lunch with them, work in their office and complete a research project under their guidance is rare.”
The medical center in McKinney had recently upgraded their trauma level status, positioning the facility to take on increasingly critical emergency cases. Such a change in trauma level status comes with a host of new requirements, including 24-hour anesthesia care.
“My project involved researching optimal contract terms as the hospital was selecting an anesthesia group to work with,” Gottlich said. “So I reviewed other contracts and the experiences of other hospitals, and based on the research and metrics out there, I prepared a report for Dr. Kerr to use. I felt like part of the team. I felt important.”
Due to popular demand, the Baylor Office of Prehealth Studies recently launched the Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio CMO Internship, which is structured just like the BSWH CMO internship but currently accepts only one or two students.
“With the CMO internships, interns are looking at the healthcare industry itself as a research concern,” Sanker said. “They’re looking at questions like, ‘Is it effective to open up a clinic in this area? What kind of resources would we need? Are we able to take care of 90,000 people in this area?’ These programs are truly significant and students are working on real $2-$3 million contracts.”
Modeled after the CMO internships, the Genesis Physicians Group Summer Administrative Internship gives Baylor prehealth students the opportunity to work “inside” healthcare’s administrative infrastructure. Genesis is one of North Texas’ largest Independent Physician Associations with more than 1,385 independently practicing physicians, working in more than 600 locations across 60+ specialties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Baylor students who intern at Genesis develop a broad understanding of the market forces that are changing the landscape of healthcare delivery and financing. Recent Baylor prehealth graduate Olumide Sokunbi (BS ‘16) said the Genesis internship was almost like the clinical rotations he began at Baylor College of Medicine in January 2017 — a kind of “administrative rotation” where learning takes place on the job and a great deal of information has to be absorbed within a short period of time.
“I think it was really good for me to see the business side of medicine, to look at healthcare from a macro perspective,” Sokunbi said. “The thing I didn’t realize was how much focus is on improvement. In school, you just have an assignment, you do it, you get a grade, you move on. But in the workplace, there are so many meetings about performance and improvement.”
If they want to stay closer to campus, Baylor students may apply to one of five Central Texas internship programs –– in Waco at Providence Health Center, Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Hillcrest, the Doris Miller VA Medical Center and the Waco Family Health Center, and in Temple at the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center there.
The Providence Research Associates Program (PRAP) accepts about 10 Baylor undergraduate prehealth students each year. It provides them with an early experience in clinical research, writing study protocols, consulting with healthcare professionals, entering and analyzing data and presenting their research at showcases and competitions.
“This internship lasts a whole year and is clinically focused,” Sanker said. “Interns are assigned to ongoing projects and might work with a surgeon who is using a new procedure, so students are looking at the effects of this procedure, the efficacy, patient outcomes and so forth. Interns might work with cardiology in testing a new drug. It involves research on the clinical side, and students get facetime with real patients.”
Accepting around 15 student interns each year, the BSWH Hillcrest Clinical Leadership Practicum is a clinically focused, hands-on research experience like PRAP, but only lasts 10 to 12 weeks during the summer. Interns have the opportunity to design novel research projects with the help of clinical researchers, rather than being assigned to an ongoing project.
“At Hillcrest, researchers let the students drive the nature of the project,” Sanker said. “For instance, one student was a music major and created their own study looking at cancer patients who listen to music while they’re undergoing chemotherapy — how listening to music affected their overall wellness and perception of the treatment.”
Up to 20 Baylor student interns are accepted each year to research healthcare problems affecting U.S. military veterans at the Center of Excellence Research Program at Waco’s Doris Miller VA Medical Center. Sanker said this one-year internship is probably the most intense prehealth research program offered.
“Student interns are looking at post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other physiological problems that deployed veterans are coming back with,” Sanker said. “These are very serious scientists working on extremely challenging problems. They have a functional MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] machine and they work with veterans, using surveys and conducting large-scale physiological studies. And the VA has added new bio labs to look at genetic markers and the like for these types of conditions.”
The Waco Family Health Center accepts around 15 students each academic year to work on clinical and public health-focused studies. Students help design and administer surveys, conduct basic research and gather data from patients.
Through the comprehensive BSWH Undergraduate Research Program at BSWH Temple, Baylor students are able to observe their clinical research coordinator’s work with research subjects (such as recruiting trial participants and administering a new drug in trial) and may have the opportunity to publish their findings. Additionally, by shadowing an assigned physician mentor, students learn more about the practice of medicine in real time.
Senior neuroscience major Alexa Larsen was assigned to orthopedics at BSWH Temple for her clinical research and did work in the emergency department with a physician coordinator.
“My clinical research coordinator was a medic in the Air Force, and we did a simulation study looking at how best to administer emergency medicine in acute trauma cases resulting from combat,” Larsen said. “One of the only fractures that can be fatal is a pelvic fracture and, in the wild, special operations medics are taught to bind pelvic fractures by tying the victim’s pants around his hips. So, our study looked at whether that method was as effective as applying a more sophisticated pelvic binder that might be used in a clinical setting. It turns out that the pants work, but it’s easy to apply too much pressure, so you have to take caution.”
For Baylor undergraduates interested in global health issues, the National School of Tropical Medicine (NSTM) Summer Institute on the Baylor College of Medicine campus in Houston provides a thorough overview of the global health landscape, paying particular attention to neglected tropical diseases and the economic, cultural and geographic barriers to effective treatment.
“We’re developing a new internship opportunity with the NSTM so that selected students from the Summer Institute may conduct research with Dr. Peter Hotez [Dean of the NSTM] and his research group,” Sanker said. “Last year we tested the idea with five students.”