Research Day renamed to honor Holcomb’s legacy

In recognition of his leadership and legacy in developing and maintaining a scholarly focus for the healthcare professions at Baylor College of Medicine, the School of Allied Health Science’s annual Student Research Day will be renamed in honor of Dr. David Holcomb, dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences at Baylor.

The newly minted J. David Holcomb Student Research Day takes places each December a few days prior to the School’s commencement ceremony and includes a scientific poster competition for the graduating students.

“Naming the Research Day in his honor spotlights Dr. Holcomb’s ambition to integrate education of healthcare disciplines across the College,” said Dr. Robert McLaughlin, assistant dean and associate professor in the School of Allied Health Sciences. “Our students’ research, development and capstone projects allow faculty across Baylor and our affiliates to mentor our students and serve as judges in our poster competition to view the breadth of study that our students undertake.”

Dr. David Holcomb

Dr. David Holcomb

Upon learning that his name will be associated with the Allied Heath Student Research Day, Holcomb said, “this event has become a special learning experience for our students. It has evolved over the past nine years into an annual event involving 35 to 40 PA students, 25 to 38 faculty members who serve as judges and cash awards for the winners of the competition. I am very pleased to have been involved in developing the polices for operations, solving logistical issues, and scheduling the reviewers, and I marvel at the outstanding results our students produced. I am very honored to have my name associated with the event and look forward to further participation in such a worthy component of an outstanding academic program.”

Holcomb’s commitment to research in the allied health professions precedes the research day traditions. Since Holcomb’s arrival to Baylor College of Medicine in the 1970s, he has focused on developing young faculty along the route to professorships, and that involved research and publications.

“He is an absolutely tremendous mentor,” said Carl Fasser, professor and director of the Physician Assistant Program at Baylor.

With Holcomb’s guidance, the PA program went from a certificate program to a bachelor’s program and then to a master’s program in 1989. When the master’s program was introduced, it was decided that there would be a thesis or research component. At that time, no other PA program in the country had that type of requirement.

“Our decision was that if we’re going to do this, let’s be serious about it and truly develop the critical thinking skills of our students,” said Fasser. “The master’s paper required original research, and Dr. Holcomb shepherded that piece.”

Holcomb worked with younger faculty to ensure that they continued to develop their research capabilities and critical reasoning ability so that they could perpetuate the master’s paper requirement and research activities, said Fasser.

What started out as a paper requirement has evolved into a formal research requirement in the PA program, and the faculty decided that it was important to showcase research that the students do as well as include a formal review process and prizes. This turned into the annual research day.

The research component has also found its way into the two other programs within the School of Allied Health Sciences – the nurse anesthesia and orthotics and prosthetics programs.

“He really has championed the scholarship of education and research within the allied health profession in a tremendous way,” said Fasser. “It’s very appropriate for the research day to be named in his honor.”

The research component has been sustained since 1990 and has continued to develop and evolve. Fasser notes that the secondary benefit of this is that it has helped faculty in the program continue to expand their research skills in order to serve as mentors to the students.

Student research projects encompass classic bench research along with applied clinical research and health services research.

According to Fasser, there are two dimensions of competence in clinical practice for PAs: practiced based learning and improvement, which involves analyzing and improving one’s practice, and systems based practice, which involves improving managing populations of patients, such as diabetics. This requires an evidence-based approach to practice.

“We use these research projects which are shaped in their area of interest to develop the needed critical thinking skills. The students look at a problem, figure out how to analyze it, collect and interpret the data, and figure out what their next step is. Practice-based learning and system-based practice forces them to take all of those things and apply them in a very focused way. A secondary benefit of the research process it that they can also review articles in clinical journals and understand qualities of studies that are published and understand what statistics means in the articles,” said Fasser.

About 20 percent of the papers are published in peer-reviewed academic or research journals each year.

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