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Physician, Educator, Researcher: Medical Students Do It All

Idaho WWAMI’s Research Symposium Shines a Light on Super-star Medical Students

Medical school is hard. Students eat, sleep and breathe the medical industry, their education and all things healthcare.

Physicians aren’t limited to doctors providing clinical care. They’re researchers and educators making a difference in the lives of their patients, and their patients’ loved ones.

As a part of the Independent Investigative Inquiry research component of the curriculum at Idaho WWAMI, students are required to complete a summer research project, typically researching a clinical question, or completing a literature review. They present their findings during a public poster session.

Idaho WWAMI’s annual research symposium provides an opportunity for their medical students to highlight their summer research and illustrate how the findings matter in a clinical and community setting.

Christina Nolde, who was selected as the awardee of the Outstanding Scholarship of Discovery Oral Presentation and received Honorable Mention in the Outstanding Scholarship of Discovery poster category, spent her summer studying autoimmune disease and the association with adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Nolde and her team did a retrospective study, looking at women who’d delivered children within the University of Washington system from 2003 to 2023. From there, they assessed women who were taking biologic medications — medications made from biological sources instead of chemically synthesized — and those who weren’t. They investigated the effect of those medications — in this case, medications used to combat autoimmune diseases — on adverse pregnancy outcomes.

WWAMI student in white coat presenting her research project.
Idaho WWAMI student presenting her research project.

“Something that was really exciting, that I was not expecting, was that there was actually no difference in adverse pregnancy outcomes between women taking biologic medications and those who weren’t,” Nolde said. “Which is great news because a lot of women who are pregnant or going through pregnancy episodes will stop their medications because we really don’t know what those medications do in terms of pregnancy outcomes.”

Nolde said that she hopes that her research can be put into clinical practice and provide real-life education for women.

As Idaho WWAMI continues to grow and students continue to perform research with real-life impacts, the Idaho Office of Underserved and Rural Medical Research (IOURMR), Idaho WWAMI’s research office, continues to grow alongside it.

In recent years, IOURMR has expanded the research opportunities available to students, now providing them the opportunity to do an additional, completely optional, research project during the traditional academic year and over the course of the summer.

One of the options pioneered at the University of Idaho is the hybrid Scholarship of Discovery Rural Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP) experience. If students elect to take on the additional hybrid RUOP research opportunity, they will spend several weeks in a medically underserved community in Idaho while working with the IOURMR team to complete an original Scholarship of Discovery research project relevant to Idaho’s rural communities. 

Christina Nolde presents her project to other students.
Christina Nolde (right) presenting her award-winning project to other students.

This program was piloted two years ago with a single Idaho WWAMI student in Orofino. In 2023, 17 students chose to do the extra work to complete this hybrid research option in addition to completing their four-week immersive clinical experience in an Idaho community as part of the RUOP.

“Medical school is hard,” said Dr. Russell Baker, IOURMR Director of Medical Research. “Students are here all the time training to become physicians. For them to sacrifice their limited free time to participate in non-required research projects to become better physicians, researchers and stewards of our knowledge so that they can serve others, how selfless was that decision?”

The Research Symposium is a chance for Idaho WWAMI students to get recognition for taking on more than what was expected of them, and to show off what they learned about the needs of the state they will be serving down the line.

“Those of you who are here in the white coats, it is an honor, truly, to work with you,” Baker said. “To know that I come to work every day to work with you to have a small benefit on who you are as you prepare to spend 40 years serving others in our state, one day taking care of my children and my grandchildren, thank you.”

Zoomed in photo of WWAMI white coat logo
Idaho WWAMI white coat student at the 2023 research symposium.

Article by Emma Zado, Idaho WWAMI Medical Education Program.

Photography by Melissa Hartley, University Visual Production.

Published December 2023.

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