What is clinical research?
Many people think of lab work when they hear the word research, but clinical research involves human subjects instead of test tubes. Clinical research can be used to test drugs and medical devices intended for human use. I work on a SmartWatch clinical trial with Dr. Jennifer Langer in the UVA Adolescent Epilepsy Clinic. We enroll adolescent patients in the study with parental consent and provide them with SmartWatch technology that detects convulsive movements. The purpose of the study is to test if the medical device improves the quality of life of these patients.
Clinical research is a great opportunity for a student looking to get clinical and research experience in one.
What made you decide to engage in this clinical opportunity?
After my first year I was in search of a research opportunity focused on epilepsy because I have a family member with the disease. At the time, I was not aware of clinical research; I just thought I would be working at a bench. When Dr. Langer responded to one of my many emails seeking a research position, I was happy to learn I would have an opportunity to connect with patients and explore an area of research I was unfamiliar with. And as someone interested in neurology, I saw it as a chance to learn about the medical science behind epilepsy including types of seizures and treatment options.
How did this opportunity help you prepare for your next step?
My clinical research opportunity was a significant stepping-stone for my present and future epilepsy-related clinical and volunteering endeavors. During my second-year my experiences with epilepsy patients inspired me to start an organization at UVA that raises epilepsy awareness in the UVA/ Charlottesville community and fundraises for epilepsy research, education, and treatment. Dr. Langer connected me with the Executive Director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia (EFVA) so that my organization, Spreading Epilepsy Awareness (SEA), can partner with EFVA to carry out our efforts. Through my work with SEA and EFVA I got connected with CareEpilepsy, a non-profit based in the UK that aims to improve the lives of epilepsy patients in African countries. I hosted a fundraiser for CareEpilepsy and raised over $3,000, leading to my role as their US ambassador. I am now planning to travel to one of their project sites, Ethiopia, in the summer of 2017 to design a youth support program for children and young adults with epilepsy. I still continue to work with Dr. Langer on our SmartWatch trial, with a plan to get published next year and I am very grateful for the doors this opportunity has opened for me.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I recommend that all pre-health students should find an area they are passionate about and expand their experiences around that central topic of interest. That’s the most rewarding way to fulfill clinical, research, and volunteering requirements for medical school.
Meheret Kinfe is a 3rd year pre-med student in the College majoring in Cognitive Science and minoring in Social Entrepreneurship. She is the founder of the Virginia Alpha PhiDE Chapter and a member of the Pre-Health Student Leadership Advisory Board.