Understanding Health Systems in Pittsburgh

Luisa Fernandez, COL ’23, Philadelphia, PA

This summer I spent eight weeks working as a Research Assistant at Magee Womens Research Institute (MWRI) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was part of their Student Summer Internship Program and was one of 8 college students selected to work on various women’s health research projects with a researcher at the institute. I was paired with Dr. John Harris, an OB/GYN at Magee Womens Hospital, and an assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh’s school of medicine. His research focuses on understanding how the healthcare system can provide better treatment for women with obesity, disability, and severe illnesses.

The project I worked on this summer was titled “Resource Barriers to Providing Care for People with Severe Obesity in Nursing Homes: A Qualitative Study.” Dr. Harris had previously collected dozens of interviews from varying staff in nursing homes, including but not limited to nursing aides, directors of nursing, and financial officers. These interviews were already coded and transcribed by the time I began my work. Thus, my job summer involved the analysis of this qualitative data, and the writing of a formal paper describing this project. In addition to this, at the end of the summer I presented my paper in front of my peers and other MWRI researchers. The paper will go through additional revisions and then be submitted to the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-term Care Medicine (JAMDA).

Dr. Harris provided me valuable guidance through each step of this process. While much of my analysis and writing were done remotely, we met weekly for in-person meetings at his office in Magee Womens Hospital. These regular meetings allowed me to address questions as they came up, and continuously adapt and improve my analysis and writing methods. Through these in-person meetings with Dr. Harris, I was also able to learn more about the field of medicine. We discussed what day-to-day life is like as a doctor, how the medical school process and residency works, and the plethora of other health-care related careers available. I was also able to shadow while he saw patients as an OB/GYN providing care for people with genetic and intellectual disabilities. Twice a week MWRI organized “Lunch and Learns” where participants of the summer program could hear about a researcher’s projects and career, and thus build both a better understanding of opportunities in women’s health and get to know leading researchers in the field.

Overall, this summer experience was extremely formative for me. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, my previous two summer research internships were completely virtual. Being able to communicate with my mentors and colleagues in-person was an immense positive change for me, which allowed me to become more involved in my research than ever before. This experience differed from my previous ones because it revolved around qualitative research, which I knew very little about, but which I realized I enjoy very much. Finally, being able to explore an amazing city like Pittsburgh was an additional bonus.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services