DescriptionAs a freshman coming into a research intensive university, I was excited to take advantage of the extensive research opportunities available to undergraduate students. As I was pre-med, I wanted to be part of a research project that would help me experience the medical field as much as possible. After exploring several different options, I became part of a research team that worked in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) looking at the prevalence of blood stream infections caused by central venous catheters.
Infection rates were determined by analyzing data gathered from patient charts and history. It was my job to record these numbers and enter them into local and national databases. This required me to visit the PICU, read patient charts, and collect relevant information. The number of infections was then compared to a series of answers gathered from surveys given to nurses on the unit. These surveys gathered information regarding compliance to hospital protocol and procedure. The project was attempting to find a correlation between low protocol compliance rates and high infection rates.
My position allowed me to spend a great deal of time on the unit and to fully appreciate the atmosphere of a hospital setting. I was able to shadow doctors on rounds, interview medical professors and use the time to determine if the medical setting was really something that I was interested in. This opportunity taught me a great deal about working in a hospital and about myself. This position allowed me to determine that a career in medicine was not the best path for me to follow, and to explore my other interests further.
Blood stream infections (BSI’s) caused by central venous catheters are a major source of mortality and morbidity in a hospital setting. These infections are caused when hospital staff forget or ignore vital procedures that help retain a clean and sterile environment. Research into the prevalence of BSI’s in comparison to procedural compliance rates is critical to drastically lowering the infection incidences caused by human error.
Confidence – Being required to work in a busy hospital unit was intimidating and overwhelming at first. There was always constant activity. In order to do my job, I needed to collect information from patients’ charts which were often surrounded by doctors or nurses. Confidence to navigate through the unit and around patients’ rooms was absolutely necessary to complete what I was required. I was slowly able to build this skill through my interactions with the unit staff.
Attention to Detail – The importance and sensitivity of the project required absolute attention to detail when gathering and entering data. Any deviance from the true values could skew the results of the project and can cause inaccurate conclusions to be drawn. Since it was my job to gather and enter this data, I had to learn to be cautious and precise in order to ensure the most accurate results.
Learning to Take Direction – As I had very little experience in a hospital atmosphere or knowledge in our field of research, I had to rely very highly on my sponsor for instruction and guidance, especially with new tasks and information. I learned to ask questions when I didn’t understand something or to clarify what was expected of me. I learned to trust my sponsors to guide me in the correct direction and to teach me what I needed to know.
Independence – Despite having to rely on my sponsors for guidance, the position offered me the opportunity to become more independent. After the first few weeks of training I was expected to be able to perform my duties independently, with the exception of being trained in new procedures or updates to the process. At times this meant having to schedule my own hours, make my own work plans and ensure that everything that was required of me was completed. This allowed me to develop my organization skills as well as a sense of pride in the position I held.
Lessons LearnedMy time as a research assistant granted me insight into the constant activity of a pediatric intensive care unit as well as insight into myself. The opportunities that I gained while in this position were incredible, both from what I was able to learn about the field of medicine and in relation to myself. My time working on the unit showed me that it was not the atmosphere that I could see myself thriving in and my conversations with physicians offered me new perspectives into the career path. Despite my overall enjoyment of what I was doing, I came to the understanding that medicine was not where I would succeed. The constant knowledge that doctors and nurses and other members of staff were making life-altering decisions for patients was not a burden I could see myself thriving under. While I had always held respect for those working in a hospital setting, I gained a greater insight into the daily life of a member of hospital staff and how difficult many of the days could be.
Even though I held a very minor part of the overall research project, I hold pride in what I did. Even if it was only a very small amount, I was able to help push our hospital toward better practices and higher compliance with those practices. Being able to see how our efforts were making changes, not only in the Mott Children’s Hospital, but in hospitals around the country was an incredible opportunity that I will never forget. Even though I am no longer part of the research team and am no longer planning on pursuing the medical field, this is an experience that will be with me for years.
For more information on the University of Michigan's research into blood stream infections rates please follow the link below.