By Enzo Plaitano (CAS’21)
CCD: Tell us about your experience. What were your responsibilities?
A traumatic injury can happen to anyone at any time. For most of us, it’s not something that we plan for or expect, but violent injuries, in particular, disproportionately affect members of our society. I work at Boston Medical Center (BMC), the teaching hospital for Boston University School of Medicine and New England’s busiest trauma center, receiving the majority of violent injuries within the city. As a Surgical Research Assistant in the Department of Surgery, Section of Trauma, I evaluate measures to prevent these violent injuries from occurring in the first place. I firmly believe that the best way to treat trauma is to help prevent it.
I started this extended internship during my Freshman year at BU and still work on the team today. Throughout the years, I have assisted with several different research projects, receiving funding from BU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and academic credits from numerous Faculty-Mentored Directed Studies within the College of Arts and Sciences.
For my first project, I worked on a multi-center study with the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, focused on pediatric gun violence. During this project, I met with parents in BMC’s Pediatric Emergency Department to evaluate their child’s interactions with firearms, risk of self-harm, and if the parents are willing to discuss firearm safety with their child’s physician. The study was implemented to help evaluate a number of different topics, including parents’ perceptions of the age they feel their child can be trusted with a firearm, suicide risk, and whether or not parents would be willing to engage in a discussion regarding firearm safety. This study involved meeting with patients and families directly regarding these important topics.
Currently, I am completing a study examining BMC’s Community Violence Response Team (CVRT). The CVRT provides both survivors of violence and family members
affected by violence with counseling services and additional social support. The CVRT integrates these ongoing services into a violence prevention framework. This study will analyze seven years of data to identify overall trends in outcomes and patient experience. We will be able to determine whether the program is effective in reducing violent re-injury and to discern which components of the program are associated with positive outcomes. Study information can assist in program enhancement of positive aspects as well as filling gaps in the coverage. With oversight from my research team, I perform study planning and data-point identification, data collection and organization, and have also assisted in portions of manuscript writing.
CCD: How did you get the opportunity? What resources at BU or elsewhere did you use?
Honestly, I was able to get this experience through a little luck and a pure show of interest! I have a strong passion for Trauma Surgery and desire to pursue this specialty in my future career. I wanted more experience, so I found the contact information for all of the trauma surgeons, including Dr. Peter Burke, Chief of Trauma Surgery at BMC and BUSM Professor of Surgery, in the Boston University School of Medicine online directory. I sent them all emails expressing my interests, past experience, and connection to Boston University. I just wanted to show that I was passionate about the field and interested in helping!
Dr. Burke, and Dr. Sabrina Sanchez, one of the other trauma surgeons, connected me to the rest of the trauma research team, and they invited me in for a meeting. When I met with them, I was blown away by the program and the research projects, and knew that this was the place for me. I attribute my status as a BU undergraduate student, the public medical school directory, and the fantastic collaboration within the BU community for allowing me to gain this opportunity. If you are interested in an opportunity, even one that doesn’t necessarily “exist” on an application, don’t be afraid to send an email and express your interest – who knows what it may lead to! I am currently and have been previously funded for my research through UROP and the Faculty-Mentored Directed Study Program. These are great programs to receive payment or academic credit for your research as a BU undergraduate!
CCD: What was the best thing about the experience? What was the worst?
Professionally, I have worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for five years, including for Boston University EMS. In my practice, I see the effect of recurrent trauma, as well as mental health and substance use disorders in the trauma patients that I treat. I absolutely love working as both a medical provider and researcher, as the trauma patients that I treat often drive my research back to the lab, pushing me forward to find applicable answers and solutions. It is truly amazing to see how research and programs
positively impact patients in real-time. It is exciting to think that my involvement with this team may one day shape the psychosocial management and care of violent trauma patients both at BMC and worldwide.
However, in the nature of medicine, especially Trauma Surgery, there can’t always be a positive outcome. Sometimes, patients do not have access to these important services or receive them just a little too late. It’s quite disheartening to see a patient shot for the second time in three months, and know that something could be done to help prevent these repeat injuries. We can’t just bandage wounds and celebrate this as some sort of accomplishment. We have to consider the psychosocial aspects after a traumatic injury, and provide a continuum of care that patients so desperately need. This is what drives me to help better the care that we provide in the future.
CCD: What was the most memorable moment of your experience?
During my time with this group, I have had the opportunity to observe the Trauma Service, which is the medical team that responds to trauma activations in the Emergency Department. This allowed me to gain a first-hand perspective of the incredible services, programs, and treatments that we offer to our patients at BMC. Through my direct research, I have had the opportunity to speak with pediatric patients and their families about the importance of firearm safety, security, and education within our Pediatric Emergency Department. During this time, I had some heartfelt conversations with Boston citizens and learned about the issues and worries that they experience on a daily basis surrounding gun violence. There’s nothing quite like connecting with people and hopefully making a difference in their lives. Many of these conversations have impacted me quite personally in return.
CCD: What advice would you give to another student about making the most of an internship, job, or other career-related experience?
I have a few recommendations for this, particularly for premedical students!
First, it all starts with doing something that you are truly passionate about. Medicine can be difficult, so find an internship that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and really get to work. Choose a lab or medical research group that truly interests you, and this may even help shape a future career. Even if you believe that an opportunity doesn’t exist, reach out to the team and ask to join. If you find or create an opportunity that you really enjoy, the rest will come quite naturally.
Second, make sure that you are present. Don’t just help with research, but become an integral part of the research team and ensure that you are well educated about the subject. Go to the department’s “Medical Grand Rounds” in the mornings to learn more about the specialty that you research. Observe the medical team on their service. It’s wonderful to see the medical interventions or programs utilized in real-time and the impact that it has on patients. Let your team know that you are interested in learning as much as possible and take part in all opportunities.
Third, don’t be afraid to ask for things. If you want to assist with more projects, help write for a publication, or do any of the experiences that I outlined earlier, just ask your team leaders! It is much easier said-than-done, but you would be amazed at all the doors that open once you put yourself out there and express interest in being a full member of the team. Also, don’t be afraid to apply for UROP funding or academic credits through the Faculty-Mentored Directed Study Program. While research is a fantastic experience in general, it is also great to receive some form of compensation for your hard work.
I am happy to answer any questions related to medicine or research, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org!