Research equips students for health professions

pre-health professions

ACU students are accepted into medical and dental schools at a rate nearly twice the national average. And that's far from accidental. Programs such as Body & Soul and an emphasis on undergraduate research help these students gain insight into the underpinnings of health care long before they enter professional schools.

"Undergraduate students have the opportunity to participate in research at ACU in areas that are often only open to graduate students at larger schools," says Dr. Cynthia Powell, assistant professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. "Working directly with faculty mentors, students gain valuable experience that can be a springboard into a future career.

"When students work alongside a faculty member doing basic research, they learn valuable lessons about how to collect, process and interpret data," says Powell. "Pre-health professions students are learning to be scientists who plan to practice medicine. Research experience heightens their awareness of how medical knowledge is expanded, and many of our students express interest in continuing to participate in research as they move into their professional careers."

Benefits of real-world research

Undergraduate students who work alongside professors on real-world research recognize the benefits.

Undergraduate students have the opportunity to participate in research at ACU in areas that are often only open to graduate students at larger schools.

"As a pre-health student, I not only wanted to learn the medical and clinical aspect of helping people but I wanted to delve into and understand the science behind the current methods and treatments," says biology major and pre-medical student Evan Jones. Evan has conducted research in genetics under the direction of Dr. Qiang Xu, working on the epigenetic mechanisms of insecticide resistance in house flies. Last summer Evan extended his research experience at the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical Center as part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program where he was able to study adult neural stem cells.

Joseph Lowe, a biochemistry major and pre-dental student, has worked in Dr. Greg Powell's inorganic chemistry lab at ACU for almost two years. They've completed numerous projects, primarily centered on the synthesis of organometallic clusters, some of which have shown anti-cancer activity. Joseph believes the time spent in a research lab has broadened his understanding of the process of learning and has prepared him well for dental school in the fall.

"I think the single most important thing I have learned from my research experience is not the techniques and methods of research, but the patience that comes with doing research," he says. "It has taught me to be focused on my goal, and as long as I can persevere, finishing dental school will be worth all the time and effort."

Considering ethics in medical research

Though most pre-health students involved in research do their work in biology, biochemistry or chemistry laboratories, biochemistry major and pre-medical student Eunice Lara went another direction. She paired with ACU communication professor Dr. John Camp to investigate issues of bioethics and communication with medical research volunteers in El Salvador.

"Many times the families and kids [in El Salvador] just participate in the [medical] research thinking that there is a cure. …There was mention in the transcripts of using the kids as 'books' or as guinea pigs of sorts. There are also risks that the families are not really aware of," she notes. Eunice's findings call for an implementation of stricter protocol and increased communication among ethics committees in El Salvador. "This research gave me a greater understanding of the challenges that are present in the healthcare field, not only in a foreign country, but in practice in general.

"This is invaluable to me and will help me have solid information to share with my peers on how to be an ethical healthcare provider to a different kind of people with different types of mindsets, beliefs, lifestyles."

Integration of science and faith

While ACU pre-health professions students learn much about science and its applications through their research mentorships, they also learn about faith. Evan Jones expressed the sentiment of many when he observed that he has acquired valuable research skills, but that he has also gained a greater appreciation of the greatness of God through these research experiences.

"I have learned and recognized how great it is to see and understand God through working with His creation whether it is at a clinical setting or at a lab bench."

This is a lesson, Dr. Powell says, "we hope all of our alumni take with them into their professional school education." 


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