On one Monday evening in April, had you passed by the board room inside Faraday Hall you might’ve noticed nothing unusual. Students hunched over, click clacking away on their computer keyboards. Homework, right?
Wrong. These pre-health majors were working, inputting medical data from paper charts belonging to patients from a nearby free medical clinic.
Students from writing professor Brenton Faber’s clinical analytics lab have been volunteering since 2017 when he arranged for them to engage in this combination of classroom learning with hands-on experience. The work is funded by Dimensional Insight, a Burlington, Mass.-based healthcare technology company.
“Part of being a pre-health student is taking the prerequisite coursework," says Elizabeth Jacoby, associate director of Academic Advising. "But equally important is partaking in activities that allow for exploration of the field to develop a real-world context for classroom learning.”
In addition to converting the paper charts to electronic medical records, the students also analyze the data to help the clinic better understand the quality of care it provides and patient demographics, Faber says. “They’re reporting various metrics to the clinicians such as number and types of diseases seen, consistency of treatments for various conditions, types of labs drawn and prescriptions provided, and changes in patients’ health status across appointments.”
They cited many positives to volunteering outside the classroom. “This project is an excellent way to get more real-world research experience,” says Sahil Nawab '20.
Stephen Foley ’19 plans to apply to medical school this summer. “I definitely feel like the hands-on work at the clinic strongly complements classroom learning at WPI," he says. "For instance, I am learning about the structure of different antibodies and receptors in my Immunology class, which directly influences how I view and examine blood tests and antibody screens at the clinic.”
Faber says volunteering at the clinic is just one example of the hands-on experience pre-health students are exposed to.
“The strength of WPI's project-based education," he says, "is that pre-health students get to practice what they learn in biomedical engineering projects, hands-on lab work in the life sciences, humanities seminars on medical ethics, and epidemiology projects at places like Worcester's free clinics."
And the students take that experience with them. “Our students’ success is reflected in acceptances at medical schools and other health professions programs," Faber adds, "at schools like BU, Dartmouth, Columbia, UMass, Tufts, and SUNY Upstate."
-By Lauren Borsa-Curran