This past summer, the UAMS Department of Pediatrics/ACRI Summer Science Program provided 24 outstanding students the experience of a career in academic medicine—in both the clinical and the research aspects. These students spent June and July shadowing physicians, attending rounds and clinics, and touring different hospital units, as well as participating in mentored research projects involving children’s health. Faculty from various pediatric subspecialties taught basic science and clinical research techniques and helped the students gain exposure to clinical medicine. In addition, the Summer Science Program hosted a twice-a-week lecture series focusing on various aspects of academic medicine, graduate school, medical school, residency, research, and clinical medicine for its participants. At the end of the program, each student gave a scientific presentation on his or her mentored research project.
With her senior year of high school beginning this fall, Emma Grace Cooley is already exploring her plans for the future. This summer, she worked among the staff of the Spinal Cord Disorders Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) with her mentor, Laura Hobart-Porter, DO, of the Division of Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation.
In addition to observing the activity of the clinic, Emma Grace carried out a research project under the guidance of Dr. Hobart-Porter. She conducted a retrospective chart review analysis of approximately 250 spina bifida patients, 18 months to 21 years of age, to determine whether or not the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is greater in the pediatric spina bifida population compared to the typically developing pediatric population and to analyze the relationship between the two disorders.
As part of the research effort, Emma Grace analyzed the demographics and past medical history of the participants. Next, a physician reviewed MRI images for abnormal brain structures under blinded conditions, and a statistician then conducted analyses to compare the two populations to identify trends in the data. Ultimately, the results from this study will be used to determine if there is a connection between spina bifida and autism spectrum disorder that will hopefully improve the screening process for each condition in clinical settings.
“It is unique for a high school student to learn about the medical field through this type of program,” said Emma Grace, who plans to study chemistry and biology in college, “and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.” Emma Grace enjoyed meeting and shadowing physicians from various specialties and was captivated seeing how an entire healthcare team from across the hospital united to care for one patient. Among the highlights of her Summer Science Program experience was listening to the heartbeats of the smallest patients in the cardiovascular intensive care unit and observing open heart surgery in a hospital operating room.
“It is gratifying to watch the journey of the students that I mentor,” said Dr. Hobart-Porter. She noted, “Emma Grace has been the best…a perfectionist and super helpful.” Dr. Hobart-Porter is a valued mentor within the Summer Science Program and enjoys reliving the excitement of the field by watching people discover the clinical and research science aspects of pediatric rehabilitation. Her research program aims to improve the health and lives of her clinic’s patients and other children with spina bifida.
Dr. Hobart-Porter is Medical Director of the Spinal Cord Disorders Clinic at ACH. The clinic provides multidisciplinary care for children with spina bifida, spinal cord anomalies or acquired spinal cord injury by an expert team that includes neurosurgery, orthopedics, physical medicine, urology, physical and occupational therapy and other services. The clinic is an affiliate of the Spina Bifida Association (SBA) Clinic Care Partner program, an initiative that works to identify the needs of people with spina bifida, connect with health care providers, identify clinics with the best outcomes, and identify research priorities. As an SBA Clinic Care Partner, the Spinal Cord Disorders Clinic implements best practices so that people with spina bifida receive the best care possible in order to have fulfilling lives.