by Racquel Sohasky

Medicine requires the cumulative efforts of innumerable people, extending far beyond doctors’ offices and operating rooms. It happens in laboratories, in the hands of nurses, through the work of research assistants, and with the combined efforts of countless others. The collaborative efforts and divided responsibilities are what allow medicine to progress: people from many specialties and educational backgrounds come together to create medical advancements.

For the past two summers, I have conducted research at leading medical institutions. I learned about teamwork and leadership in new ways during these times. In the summer of 2015, I worked as a researcher at the University of Michigan Health System in the NeuroMuscular Laboratory. I analyzed histological data from muscles grafts used in a regenerative peripheral nerve interface (RPNI). In other words, I examined samples of muscle tissue underneath a microscope to approximate the health of the muscle samples. This information could be related to how well the muscle samples worked in our interface. The RPNI is a technological advancement used in upper limb neuroprostheses. This technology is a step towards allowing prosthetics to recognize external stimuli and send information back to the brain. In other words, it will allow for people with prosthetic arms and hands to regain their sense of touch.

The following summer, I worked in the Perioperative Clinical Research Institute at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. There I worked on clinical trials, testing a new monitor for its usability in the operating room and post-anesthesia care unit. Through these positions at Michigan and Vanderbilt I have witnessed the  importance of both men and women working in medicine. As in most career fields, it is crucial to get diverse perspectives on a variety of topics. It is also necessary to include people who can understand and relate to all demographics. In order to be effective, clinical research must reflect all the different populations it intends to help. Men and women have different physiological and cultural makeups and research needs to take this into consideration.

The time I spent in research over the past two years has shown me a wide variety of positions women can fill. My mentor for research at the University of Michigan, as well as the principal investigator of the study to which I contributed, was a woman. She was creative, driven, and encouraging. I admired her commitment to research and her ability to coordinate the efforts of many small studies for a common goal. The study I conducted throughout the summer was proposed by another woman who was in medical school. In the NeuroMuscular Laboratory, it was obvious women held significant power in determining the direction of research. At Vanderbilt I also saw the important contributions of women in research. Many of the nurses who carried out the research protocols were women. They were inspiring and their efforts were pushing medical progress forward. These women allowed for medical improvements and encouraged me to continue participating in research throughout my medical career.

Being a female medical researcher means having the ability to change the face of medicine. Even today, society tends to picture men as physicians and women as nurses. We see men at the frontline of research and women as their assistants. However, I see a change which has already begun and continues to grow. I see women proposing and leading research projects. I see women in all positions, from drawing blood samples to analyzing data to writing manuscripts. I see an area of medicine in which I want to be involved. Men and women in medical research work hand in hand to develop new technology which will improve the lives of everyone around us. While men still tend to hold higher and better paid positions in the medical field, this reality is being challenged all the time. The field of medical research is opening up to people of all demographics and I look forward to continuing down a path of becoming a female physician at the forefront of research.

About the Author: Racquel Sohasky was a 2016 STEM Scholar and interned with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Department of Anesthesiology. She currently studies biology and Spanish at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI, with plans of going to medical school after graduating. She ultimately hopes to become an anesthesiologist.

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