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Published: April 15, 2022

UT Student Researchers Work Alongside BayCare

Under the supervision of Rebecca Olsen, associate professor of health sciences and human performance, Maria Velazquez-Santiago ’22, a public health major, is working alongside five other UT students (Mihir Waykar, Danusia Mryczko, Peyton Whaler, Zachary Esch and Katelyn Scioli) to conduct research with St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Steinbrenner Emergency/Trauma Center.

The students were broken up into two research groups: one focusing on head trauma in children after motor vehicle collisions, and the other researching the association of opioid and illicit substance abuse in pediatric trauma.

Screenshot of a Zoom meeting with the research teamThe students spent the fall semester conducting literature reviews on their research topic, as well as gathering as much data as possible. Though the students spent the semester primarily remote, that did not stop their determination of holding weekly meetings, like this one on Zoom. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Olsen

The research was made possible through funding from a BayCare Grant valued at nearly $152,000 with annual renewal of up to three years.

The students spent the fall semester conducting literature reviews on their research topic, as well as gathering as much data as possible.

Though the students spent the semester primarily remote, that did not stop their determination of holding weekly meetings. The students used Google Scholar, National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and PubMed to read 15-20 studies that met the criteria of their research and then formulated a retrospective study analysis on what was found. 

“Now that we fully understand the research question, we can move onto our original assignment, which is going to BayCare,” said Waykar ’22, molecular biology major and chemistry minor. “We are in a computer lab looking at electronic medical records (EMRs) and databases, extracting information for each patient.”

The students are looking at different factors for each patient, including their age, race and ethnicity, and why they were taken to the pediatric trauma center. The group will then create a ‘codebook,’ a document used for gathering and storing data to analyze what they found and write up a study, making note of any correlations discovered.

With the data received, including where a patient lives, where a patient goes to school, and if he or she is insured, the study’s goal is to help develop quality improvement initiatives and injury prevention initiatives within the community. For instance, they can ensure that the patient being cared for does not come back with unhealed injuries the month following their discharge, which would otherwise indicate the patient was not being properly cared for.

Future studies potentially include focusing on the following:

  • The most prevalent injuries per neighborhood
  • The connection between mental health screenings and health outcomes
  • Characterizing physical trauma in children and youth with special healthcare needs
  • The association of social determinants of health and non-accidental trauma
  • Baseline of pediatric injury trends and changes as a result of COVID-19 and differences among neighborhoods

Olsen, who recruited the students conducting the research, is excited to see her students get involved in the real world of medical care and public health. Before they graduate, the students and Olsen expect that they will have presented and published their material in various venues. 

“It’s one thing to talk about something, but it’s another thing to actually do it,” said Olsen. “You can make up a fictitious codebook in class, but it is nothing compared to taking a real-life data set that means something and developing it from scratch yourself.”

Waykar, from Orlando, FL, and Velazquez-Santiago, from Puerto Rico, both agreed that working with their teams has been one of the best parts of their research process. Although they all started out as strangers, the students now have new networking and teamwork opportunities under their belts. 

“In the first meeting, I really questioned where I would fit in being in public health and health education [among so many pre-med and biology majors],” said Velazquez-Santiago. “But, it actually allowed me to give such a different perspective within the group.”

While the students continue through the semester and build their research analysis, their comfort and confidence in the field is evident, according to Olsen. As the grant continues throughout the next few years, new students will take on further research and data collection with BayCare to better improve the health care initiatives in Tampa Bay. 

“This [experience] has skyrocketed me,” said Velazquez-Santiago. “There are not a lot of opportunities that you get [in college] to finish with a publication before graduating. It is everything I have ever wanted.”

Story by Kayla Lupedee '22, journalism major and writing minor

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