Encouraging Underrepresented Groups to Pursue Health Sciences

My group was assigned the Texas Women’s Histories archive. In that archive are a variety of different interviews from women at the Texas Medical Center who are or have been nurses, doctors, or scientists of some sort. For our particular project, my group chose to focus on two particular women, with the goal of highlighting the need for diversity in medicine. The interviewees we chose were Dr. Lu Ann Aday, a Ph. D. who focuses on sociology and public health, and Dr. Ritsu Komaki, a radiation oncologist working at MD Anderson who originates from Japan. With the interviews of these two extraordinary women, we hope to illuminate how their gender and different ethnic, cultural, and social backgrounds have contributed to their view of medicine and public health, and how this difference could be applied elsewhere. Continue reading

Artificial Heart: Balancing Ethics, Policy, and Medical Research

Our archive is a collection of newspaper and magazine photographs and articles describing the development and first transplant of the artificial heart by Dr. Denton Cooley. We hope to focus on the aspect of following institutional and governmental rules and regulations in regards to conducting clinical trials and performing experimental procedures.

We have chosen to target our project at students studying public health policy. For example, Rice has a program of studies dedicated to public health management, which can be found here. We believe our archive would benefit these students by providing information about the multifaceted nature of public health policy. We hope our archive can reveal different perspectives on how to balance ethics, policy, and research to provide the most supportive environment for producing advancements in medicine.

Intersection of medicine and law (cambridgemedicine.wordpress.com)

Our project is important because the government and medical institutions play a large role in deciding what types of medical research should be funded and what types of medical research should be discontinued or hindered. Dr. Denton Cooley was able to successfully perform the first artificial heart transplant by disregarding federal regulations and hiding his research from his colleagues at the Baylor College of Medicine. Did his success justify his disregard for protocol? Were his actions ethical from a philosophical perspective? How can the government make policy that ensures ethical practice but does not hinder important medical research that can be used to improve public health practices? These are questions that our archive provides perspective into and can hopefully inspire policy studies majors.

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Medical World News article about Dr. Cooley’s unauthorized transplant (Image taken at McGovern Historical Center)

We chose to present our archive in the form of an informative website because students will be able to have direct access to primary sources taking the form of videos, photographs, and articles. A website is the most accessible for students and allows students to reference the material easily during their studies.

We will need to conduct further research into the atmosphere of government regulation of medical research during the time that Dr. Cooley performed his transplant, by analyzing the material in our archive. We can also research how government regulation either protects public health or hinders medical research today by consulting with medical practitioners and professors and finding journal articles written about the topic. We can research how our archive can fit into the curriculum of policy studies majors by talking to current majors and professors.

 

Texas Women’s History: What Does Diversity Mean to the Medical Field?

Our project is based on materials from Texas Women’s History archive, which includes interviews of women medical practitioners in Texas Medical Center. The two female doctors we have chosen to research more deeply upon are Dr. Lu Ann Aday, an epidemiologist and an expert in health policy born and raised in Texas, and Dr. Ritsu Komaki, a Japanese woman who now works as a radiation oncologist in MD Anderson. We are studying what benefit diversity in ethnicity and background can bring to the medical field, and how access to healthcare in terms of education and treatments varies across national borders.

 

 

Our targeted audiences are admission officers of medical schools, college administrators, and minority undergraduates who want to pursue a medical career. Our research in the benefit minority groups brings to healthcare appeals to our audience in different ways: medical schools need to know the positive impact of having doctors with different backgrounds; college administrators can have more insights in providing more opportunities for underrepresented student groups; the minority pre-med students can have a better understanding of the distinct value in their international perspectives and unique personal experiences and the fact that they can be as competitive and successful as any others in medicine. Moreover, our analysis on Dr. Lu Ann Aday’s research in healthcare access and Dr. Ritsu Komaki’s international background in medicine carries weight because these are the problems that the future doctors need to address, and they are the answer to why we need a diversity of medical personnel. Both medical schools and pre-med students care about the career outlook and how doctors from different backgrounds can contribute.

In order to effectively reach our audience and achieve our goals of informing them the impact of diversity in healthcare, we will build a website which is most accessible to our audience and centralizes all resources and our findings. We will put up a video on the homepage, which features our takeaways from this research project – Ariana and I are planning on entering the healthcare field, and we both fit the bill of minorities in this industry: she is Hispanic and I’m an international student. We will basically summarize the whole project and talk about how it inspires us, and the visitors can reach the core of this research through the video very quickly. We will also create three different types of flyers that focus on the questions that different audience groups care most about, and lead them to the right location of the website where they can find the answer.

women-in-science-3-e1430588224659To make this project more comprehensive and effective, we will firstly conduct research on how are different genders and ethnic groups represented in the US medical field currently, gathering data such as medical school admission statistics. This will help us better understand the current situation and reach more accurate conclusions. Additionally, we will reach out to Rice administrators and ask about how they see the importance of diversity in STEM subjects or healthcare, and we will conduct a survey on how confident Rice pre-meds feel as a medical school applicant in terms of their gender, ethnicity, and background. Ultimately, our project is aimed to raise awareness of the importance of diversity in medical practitioners and its positive effect on healthcare and to better inform and inspire our audience.

My First Hands-on Interaction With Medicinal History

As someone who had never been to an archive before, I thought that an archive would be an extremely formal, museum-like place full of old materials. Because of my preconceived notion of what I thought an archive would be, I merely expected an informational tour around the archives with not much interaction with the works that were being stored there. However, through our guide, archivist Sandra Yates, I learned that an archive is a place that stores and preserves unpublished works that can be easily accessed and interacted with. Even though there still is a formal attitude that must be maintained in order to respect the works in the archives, the atmosphere of the archives was a little more informal in the sense that the works there could be touched.

During my visit to the archives, I was most surprised at the fact that the items at the archives could be touched. This interesting characteristic of the McGovern Historical Center gave me my first opportunity to touch real surgical instruments, even if they were outdated. At the archives, we were able to pick up and observe each instrument in a surgical kit that was used from 1850-1880 before the germ theory of disease existed. Instead of stainless steel or any kind of metal for the handles, the surgical instruments’ handles in this kit were made out of wood. As a result, blood often seeped into the handles of the instruments, creating a home for infection and unsanitary buildup. Another work that caught my eye was the article from the Medical World News that was published on October 4, 1968. The article’s elaboration on Cooley’s step-by-step transplant film was enthralling because I was able to see pictures and read about the procedure in such detail. Also, after asking Sandra more about the transplant surgery, I learned that the McGovern Historical Center has the actual footage of the surgery itself, which was an even bigger surprise.

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Surgical Kit used from 1850-1880 (photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center)

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Article from Medical World News about Cooley’s step-by-step heart transplant (photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center)

Being able to see works from centuries ago all the way up to modern day confined into one big space was fascinating. Through our class visit to the McGovern Historical Center, I was able to see how medicine and its history have changed over the years due to improving technology and constant research by scientists- an example being the surgical kit. Now, I know that archives are more than just a library full of information that can only be accessed from afar. Instead, I know that archives serve as an interactive exhibit for observers to be able to learn more as they interact with the different works that are stored in the archives.

Journey into an Ancient Dimension

The bus pulled up to what seemed to be a desolate parking lot, and looking around, I remember thinking, “Oh, of course. This is it.” A California native, I was still adjusting to the “empty zones” of Texas – the space between buildings and streets into which one could gaze for a moment and not be disturbed by the nuances of city life, as in the Bay Area. The Historical Center seemed to be located in one of these “empty zones,” and so I indifferently followed my peers through a glass door, having similar expectations for the inside.

I soon discovered these expectations had been extraordinarily low. Laid on a table surrounded by endless stacks of journals and volumes were instruments, texts, and visuals from another era of medicine. The anatomy-loving, intricacy-seeking geek within me jumped to life. I picked up the “amputation devices” of past centuries and reveled in their rusty glow. The idea of touching an object from another time and place was exciting beyond measure. The instrument in my hand, I realized, was a representation of how far science had come. Doctors no longer believed in mysticism, bled out their patients, and used saws as amputation devices in the twenty-first century. Just like our bodies, we had evolved. Science had evolved. And the documents on this table in this archive center were a testament to that evolution.

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The texts and collections in the archive center were not just a static collection of irrelevant facts. They were a part of ongoing studies of issues still relevant today. Looking through the Psychiatry Bulletin, words such as “psychosis,” “anorexia,” and “retardation” caught my attention because of their prominence today. I realized the Bulletin was a reflection of the norms, stereotypes, and views of another era, so not only was I learning facts by glancing through the documents, I was also learning history. And by conducting research on these topics and connecting it with issues today, I was becoming a part of the history and the quest of furthering knowledge that extended through time and space.

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I walked away from the archive excited to begin my research on The Psychiatry Bulletin and explore the opinions of another era and in awe of the mystery, discovery, and dynamism characteristic of the McGovern Historical Center.

First Step into an Archive

Prior to this visit at the McGovern Historical Center, I had never visited an archive and had very limited information on its function. I often thought of archives as an unnecessary cross between libraries and museums. However, moments after arriving to the Center, I was taken aback by the accessibility of the archive. I pictured researchers coming to the archive to access materials and the expertise of the archivists. The archivists tag everything in their collection in their database, making it much easier to access when needed. This separates it from both museums and libraries, where the information is either locked up or hidden beneath mountains of other texts. Another aspect of the archive that was interesting and surprising was that all the materials in the archive were one of a kind: originals that did not exist elsewhere. I flipped through magazines dating  back to the 1960s and witnessed medical tools that predate Germ Theory, and I realized both how much we had progressed as a society and how much information was stored within each page and tool.

L0012386 Surgical instruments of the 16th and 17th centuries.

16th Century Surgical Tools (http://www.iflscience.com)

Some items that were most interesting were the magazine articles that advertised various products and services relating to betterment of quality of life. These articles provide an outlet for me to transport myself back into the time period that these authors and researchers were in. Using the information and tools they had in their time, I am able to understand some of the history behind the science that exists today. Understanding the history gives me greater insight to the reasons behind all of these medical practices. I believe that these original, unpublished works at archives can provide important sources of conversation when crafting modern policy in medicine and other fields. The context that this provides can augment our understanding of our past and can give us better judgement for the future.

Learning from the Past

From the introduction that Sandra Yates (one of the archivists) gave, I learned that an archive is defined as unpublished material, and that archivists take pictures of the items before doing inventory. Ms. Yates then led us into the technology room, where archivists digitize the information on floppy disks to make the contents more accessible.

We eventually moved to the stacks, which consisted of shelves that were filled with books and other files. In the stacks, we had the opportunity to work with material relating to our archive topics. The material ranged from 1969 articles on Dr. Cooley’s artificial heart to surgical tools from the 1800s (pictures taken at the McGovern Historical Center below).

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Surgical kit, circa 1850-1880 (photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center)

The material turned out to be more accessible that I had thought—I figured it was a “look, but don’t touch” situation—because we could actually touch and interact with the material. Ms. Yates soon told us that it is sometimes safer to handle archival material without gloves, because this way, we can actually feel what we are holding (and not accidentally rip or break anything).

During our time there, I gravitated toward the articles on the artificial heart to learn more about the context of the experiment. The articles were intriguing because they explored the role of federal guidelines in medicine, as well as this ongoing question: how closely must a physician follow these guidelines when conducting clinical trials of a new discovery? I also found the Psychiatric Bulletin compelling due to its focus on mental illness, which this artwork (below) exemplifies. It is aptly titled Lost Cry—although we can see that the individual is in anguish, we cannot actually hear the individual’s cry through the artwork; this reflects how mental illness is often internalized.

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“Lost Cry” (1952), photo taken at the McGovern Historical Center

Before visiting the McGovern Historical Center, I did not have a clear idea of what sort of materials or resources it would have, but figured it would be full of antiques, such as old records and books with yellowing pages. Other than that, I did not expect anything specific in terms of archive topics. The archive focuses on material from the Texas Medical Center, but its scope continues to develop due to the far-reaching implications of medicine and public health. My visit has shown me why archives are important: they have the ability to preserve moments and topics in the past for further analysis and research.

Note: 

Something else that surprised me was the zombie outbreak map and the logo for the zombie outbreak team on the walls of the technology room. After our visit to the archive, I looked up the zombie outbreak map and found out that World War Z inspired the researchers behind the map (http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2015/03/20/researchers-create-online-simulator-for-ways-to-avoid-zombie-outbreak.html). Although a zombie outbreak is fictional, mapping this event can actually help gauge how people would respond if something similar (like a pandemic) ever happened.

Resources:

  • FoxNews.com. “Cornell Researchers Create Online Simulator to Map Zombie Outbreak | Fox News.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.

Archives: Great for Explorative Research

Before last Thursday I had some idea of how an archive might function. In my mind an archive functioned much like a museum of documents: a place to observe ancient written documents from behind a glass cover. Don’t get me wrong, museums can be exciting. But they’re also inaccessible. Preserved material culture can’t be engaged as in a discussion.

What surprised me about my visit to the McGovern Historical Center, and something I learned about archives in general, is that the material at an archive is meant to be engaged. We were free to carefully flip through and discover on our own (information was less presented than made available for exploration). Another thing that differentiates this archive from a museum is that important new interpretations and discoveries can happen at an archive. The archivists expect and encourage visitors to use and expand upon documents in the collection.

President Obama visits Hiroshima (Image from http://www.cnn.com)

The McGovern Center holds a large collection from the Texas Medical Center documenting the intersection of public health with other areas of study including ethics, technology, and the practice of medicine. The archivist mentioned in passing that many documents from the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission are stored at the center. The commission studied the effects of radiation from the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan during World War 2.

I’ve always been interested in learning more about these bombings than the surface-level discussion provided in my high school history class. I followed up with the archivist, who referred me to a US doctor’s journal documenting his experiences interviewing radiation survivors. The supplementary material exposes important insights on ethics in medicine and institutional pressures that may limit conscientious behavior.

Overall I was very surprised by how engaged I was at the archive, which I found accessible and intriguing. I found the material very pertinent to my interests in ethics and medicine, expanding my resource list for their study.

City of Hiroshima in aftermath of bombing (Image from http://www.dailymail.co.uk)