Mentorship can play an important role in career development, so many physicians take the time out of their hectic schedules to give back and mentor undergraduate students.
One such mentoring opportunity is through the Rice-Baylor College of Medicine Health, Humanism and Society Scholars Program, in which Baylor faculty are paired with Rice students majoring in humanities and social sciences. The students earn three to six hours of course credit while assisting Baylor faculty members on their research or formal scholarship projects. The program begin in 2010 under the co-direction of Dr. Aanand Naik, associate professor of medicine in the section of health services research and health policy, and Dr. Baruch Brody, professor of medical ethics and health policy.
More than 50 Rice undergraduates have completed the program, which is now directed by Dr. Naik at the Houston Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness, and Safety and Dr. Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby in the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, both at Baylor.
A new perspective
“The program provides Rice students a different perspective on research and scholarship in medicine and healthcare that is highly relevant given the changing landscape of healthcare,” said Naik.
Dr. Monisha Arya, assistant professor of medicine in the section of infectious diseases and section of health services research at Baylor, has served as a research mentor with the program every year since its inception.
Over the years, Arya has mentored five Rice University undergraduates through the Rice-BCM HHASS program. She currently is the mentor for three Rice-Baylor Scholars: Disha Kumar, Sajani Patel and Ashley Phillips.
Being a research mentor for Rice University undergraduates, many of whom are pre-med students, gives Arya the opportunity to show undergraduates that not all “doctors” see patients eight hours a day, five days a week; some contribute to patient care with broader strokes by researching how to help patients at the community level
Arya’s research focuses on improving the communities she serves. Her current NIH-funded research program aims to develop media campaigns to improve HIV testing in the Harris Health System, the fifth largest publically funded healthcare system in the country.
Arya’s undergraduate students have played significant roles in the design and implementation of the research efforts. Over the years, her students have reviewed the literature on both patient and physician barriers to HIV testing in the healthcare setting, developed surveys for both patients and physicians to learn themes and preferences for media campaigns to improve HIV testing, recruited physicians and patients in the healthcare setting and administered the survey to them, and helped create theoretical models to guide the research efforts. Arya’s current scholars are working with her to develop an innovative mobile health campaign that will reach traditionally underserved patient populations with health reminder messages and prompts to improve patient-physician communication.
“The Rice University undergraduates are a delight to mentor,” said Arya. “They are bright, mature, engaged students that bring fresh ideas to my research program and team. It has been thrilling to teach them and watch them learn how to critically review the peer-reviewed published literature in medicine and public health, how to develop survey instruments, how to maintain research data, and the importance of sharing our research with the medical and public health communities through publication in the peer-reviewed literature.”
This year, all of her students gave poster presentations at the Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium.
The symposium gives Rice University students the opportunity to showcase their research efforts in a formal way. The students learn how to prepare an academic poster presentation and, importantly, how to communicate the key elements of their research in both writing and during oral presentation to judges at the symposium.
Disha Kumar is a rising senior at Rice who has worked with Arya’s team for the past year.
“I’ve had the opportunity to help analyze data from a physician survey on HIV testing and develop a survey for patients about which HIV testing media campaigns they would prefer,” said Kumar. “Through this program, I have been involved in meaningful experiences upon which I can base my career. Beyond the research, I have developed important research and professional skills such as learning how to work in teams, collaborating with others, writing and publishing manuscripts, writing grants and translating theory-based research to applications in the clinic.”
Kumar plans to continue working with Arya this summer and during her senior year at Rice.
“I hope I can inspire some students to consider a career in public health and public health research,” said Arya. “While I enjoy my one-on-one interactions with patients and the intellectual stimulation patient care presents, my passion is in developing solutions to improve the health of our communities.”