Works and Days

McGill Lawrence: Trauma Research at the Oregon University of Health and Sciences

To me they look like tiny robots from a futuristic film made in the seventies. But these are the TEG machines, diagnostic instruments that help analyse bleeding and thrombotic risks through a whole blood assessment. It measures for example, how long blood takes to clot, how strong the clot is and how long the clot stays for. TEG machines are invaluable in the ICU because it helps the doctors and caregivers know whether a person is prone to too much blood clotting or thinning and will give them the necessary medication to counteract the condition.

For two months now, I have been participating in the Trauma Research Associates Program (T-RAP). The program is part of the Trauma Research Institute at the Oregon Health and Sciences University, OHSU, and is a yearlong commitment. I first heard about the program from my Chemistry professor Arthur Glasfeld, who mentioned that other students he had recommended for the program had found it a very good preparatory program for careers in the healthcare field.  I am interested in public health, nursing, and environmental health and I hoped by participating, I would gain obtain valuable insights about these three fields and hopefully narrow down to one field that I can follow in Graduate school.

The research I am involved in focuses on traumas, people get seriously injured in car accidents, falls, or by gunshots etc. and are brought to the Emergency Department and ICU. These patients are at an increased risk of developing infections, blood clots, post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) among others, these on top of very severe injuries or diseases that brought them into the hospital. We obtain information about their stay, and that will allow the team to determine factors that place people at higher risk for developing complications. For example in the PTSD study, we are investigating proteins involved in triggering the development of PTSD after an injury rendering some people more at risk than others.

There are people of diverse background in the team, ranging from chemistry to former art majors to salespeople.  Thus besides the research opportunity, I was very excited to start because I knew that not only is the team involved in groundbreaking clinical research, they also have nurtured many individuals like me who have gone on to become medical students, nurses and other health professionals. I felt that I was going to be in a good environment to be tutored, and could not wait to be exposed to both the hospital floor and the research front. My expectations were far more exceeded by what I actually experienced at OHSU.

When I arrived for my first day, my brain was primed for the type of research I was accustomed to at Reed - pouring over academic texts and dealing with experiments that were more removed from reality. I quickly realized that what I thought of as research would not apply so easily at TRAP. The trauma team quickly switched me out of my Reedie lab clothes and ushered me to the emergency room. Studying human subjects was quite a scary experience for me during those first days. No case is ever the same, and the visuals are not very appealing either; but I was quickly reassured by the calm but swift way with which the doctors receive and treat patients. Meeting with the research team, I learned a great deal about the studies taking place this summer and also getting to know the researchers involved.

Having real-life clinical access has been enlightening, to say the least. I have so far shadowed Trauma Research Coordinators, doctors, and nurses for numerous hours both in the hospital and in the lab. I observe when traumas come in, during ICU rounds, briefly in the operating room and I attend Trauma meetings and follow up visits on the subjects among other things. For each study we screen and enroll subjects, obtain their consent, and follow up with them during and after the study. I especially liked consenting patients. Even though most of them are in unimaginable pain, they are willing to take part in the studies so that others may benefit from their experiences. I have enjoyed having conversations with the patients during our rounds. I had an amazing moment one time with a guy who got injured a few days before his wedding so almost got married in his room had he not been discharged that afternoon.

OHSU Trauma Research Team, Summer 2016

OHSU Trauma Research Team, Summer 2016

I have personally gained confidence under the kind supervision of the Coordinators, the Lab manager, and my fellow T-RAP participants. I cherish working with people and being among people who care deeply for the welfare of others as well is unimaginably inspiring. With the team, I have found common pleasure in the fruit market on Tuesdays, and finding surprise goodies that pop up in the lab. Even though I am not sure yet about my future career, for now I am content in growing as a researcher as well as being in the wonderful presence of people who are masters in their professions but take time to nurture not only me but scores of other college kids  who come into their hands. As we wind up the summer and prepare for the fall term, I cannot help but revel in the promise of this coming year. I am continuing work with Trauma Research, and with the bright hope that it will be a complement to my Reed studies.

Tags: mcgill lawrence, ohsu