A.T. Still University-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA) student Irasema Fonseca González, OMS II, recently completed the Visiting Research Internship Program (VRIP) through Harvard Medical School’s Office for Diversity Inclusion & Community Partnership.
VRIP is an eight-week mentored, summer research program designed to enrich medical students’ interest in research and health-related careers, with a focus on clinical and transitional research careers. Students participate in weekly seminars with Harvard faculty and have opportunities to participate in offerings of other Harvard Medical School programs.
“My research project was OBGYN based, focusing on the extent of the relationship between total lifetime breastfeeding duration (BFD) and midlife hand grip strength (HGS) in a prospective cohort study of 2,000 women, known as Project Viva,” Fonseca González said.
“Sarcopenia is defined as a progressive and general loss of muscle mass and muscle function, usually associated with aging. HGS is a validated method of analyzing muscle strength and mobility, particularly in aging populations. Therefore, we used HGS as a way to examine the relationship BFD has on muscle mass later in life.”
Fonseca González said she had limited prior research experience, and the program provided her with tools and mentors to assist with the process. She gained experience in both oral and poster presentations, and in serving as lead author on an article which will be submitted to the Journal of Women’s Health.
“We met with Harvard staff and faculty on a weekly basis, including residency directors. Everyone I came across was kind, responsive, and incredibly supportive,” Fonseca González said. “The relationships I built with my lab, co-interns, and mentors will also extend beyond my time in this program.
“After completing this program, I know without a doubt I want to be involved in research throughout my future career as a physician. It’s also made me think about the ethics behind research. It’s important that participants reap the benefits of the research projects they dedicate their time to. There is a lot of mistrust between marginalized communities and the medical community, so it’s important to increase the diversity in research fields to mitigate these issues.”
She also believes the program will help her contribute to the quality improvement plan at El Rio Health, a community health center in Tucson, Arizona, where Fonseca Gonzalez is performing her clinical rotation.
VRIP is open to first- and second-year medical students at accredited U.S. medical schools, particularly individuals from groups underrepresented in medicine and/or disadvantaged individuals. The paid program provides financial means to cover travel, housing, and living expenses.
Fonseca González called the experience a “dream come true” and encouraged other ATSU students to apply.
“I was raised by a single immigrant mother in south Tucson. I never thought I would graduate college. To have the opportunity to do research at Harvard Medical School and be an osteopathic medical student is a dream come true,” she said. “The first day of the program, Dr. Joan Reede, dean for diversity and community partnership, said the words ‘lift as you climb.’ I have been given this opportunity because the individuals behind this program believe physicians from diverse backgrounds deserve a seat at the table.
“This is now my opportunity to ‘lift as I climb,’ and I encourage more ATSU-SOMA students to apply.”
The deadline to apply is December and interviews begin in January.
For more information about the program, visit dicp.hms.harvard.edu/dcp-programs/medicalgraduate/visiting-research-internship-program.