PA Students Present Medical Research and Education Master’s Projects

The 2011 graduating class in the M.S. in Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program presented their master’s projects in The Kanbar Center Performance Space on May 26, representing months of research and community education efforts on pressing medical issues.

Students completing their year of clinical rotations can opt to complete a research or community outreach project, using their knowledge to analyze and present their conclusions or spend time educating patients on important health care topics, while others pursue medical education or medical writing.

Rachel Rowan M’11 focused her project on Type II Diabetes education in northeast Philadelphia at the Esperanza Health Center in Kensington. The health center serves a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood, and sees a large number of patients that suffer from diabetes.

“A variety of factors, hereditary and social, make the disease especially prevalent in that area,” Rowan said. “Poverty, lack of proper medical education and access to healthy foods or places to exercise contribute to the problem.”

Rowan taught a series of three classes at the health center about diabetes, its impact and proper treatment. Fluent in Spanish as a second-language, Rowan gave her lectures in the native language of the patients?, and organized detailed lessons plans focusing on three main topics related to diabetes.

She taught patients about the effect of diabetes on their kidneys and eyes, as well as the importance of aerobic exercise in fighting the disease. A diagnostic test given at the start and end of the sessions showed that her patients increased their knowledge of the disease from a failing grade, with participants answering basic questions correctly about half the time before the class, to scoring in the mid-80s out of 100 on the diagnostic after the session.

She said that the experience helped her understand how important it is to get to know her patients, not just on a demographic level, but personally as well. She expected to experience language barriers with patients, but she also had to adjust her lessons quickly for those patients who were unable to read and who struggled to pay attention.

“The classes were an exhausting two-hours,” she said, “but well worth it.”

Laura Seczech M’11 focused her master’s project on a research-based approach, creating a survey evaluating behaviors and knowledge relating to artificial tanning and skin cancer.

“Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America,” Seczech said. Caused by UV radiation that can damage the DNA in skin cells, skin cancer has been linked to artificial tanning in tanning beds, which exposes skin to UV radiation 10.4 times greater than that of the sun. Seczech wanted to find out how much people knew about the disease and the potentially dangerous side effects of tanning.

After receiving more than 175 responses to the survey, Seczech collaborated with faculty in the psychology program to analyze the results. “I found that tanning is still popular among all ages, with 18-25 year olds being the highest users of tanning beds,” she said. Most respondents were aware of the potential dangers, but did not know about the standard medical recommendation to have their skin checked yearly.

Some received yearly check-ups regardless, while others avoided preventative medicine, even with a history of skin cancer in their families. Several other students presented their projects at the exhibit, ranging from original research to community awareness-focused writing projects.

Other students class presented their medical writing projects, which focused on an evidence-based review of a pertinent medical topic and was prepared with the goal of publication in a medical journal. Other students interested in becoming educators during their PA careers presented clinical medicine lectures and assisted their junior year colleagues in hands-on instruction during the recently completed academic year.

“This day is one that is always looked upon with great anticipation and pride,” said Lawrence Carey, PharmD, director of the M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies Program. “These students conclude a year’s worth of hard work with their presentations. It is also wonderful to have the University community share this day with us, both to assist the PA faculty in reviewing the projects and to give students an opportunity to showcase their high-quality work.”

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