Studying the Human Heart as a Summer Research Fellow

uvmmedicine blogger Anita Li '19
uvmmedicine blogger Anita Li ’19

This is the fifth and final post in a series of blog posts written by UVM College of Medicine 2016 Summer Research Fellows.

I spent my “last summer” as a medical student in a research team at the Cardiovascular Research Institute of Vermont. I looked specifically at whether the dimension of the heart can predict how well a patient can exercise, an important question as we continue to learn more about how important physical activity is to health and well-being.

My experience this past summer wasn’t the first time I’ve spent studying the human heart. When I was in high school I shadowed a cardiologist specialized in echocardiography, although at that time I was tucked behind the operation room window, far away from “the real action.” All I could see were the images from the computer screen and the upper bodies of a dozen of people in scrubs and radiation plates moving around the patient. Still, it was a priceless opportunity for a high school student. I didn’t know then that I would attend medical school and be part of “the real action” once more, in a variety of different ways.

That high school shadowing experience not only fostered my decision to undertake a career in medicine, but also sparked my interest in echocardiography.  Echocardiogram is a non-invasive technique that images the heart using ultrasound. While observing stress echocardiograph there, I observed that many pediatric patients were afraid of the echocardiogram equipment, especially when the nurse attempted to attach the numerous electrodes to their bodies. With the help of my mentor, I created a children-friendly brochure about stress echocardiogram in the hospital’s waiting room. Each week, I watched my mentor interpreting echocardiographs. I desperately wanted to understand those black and white short movies, but it was nearly impossible with my limited knowledge from AP Biology. I vowed that, one day, I would learn how to assess patients using this noninvasive imaging technique. As a second year medical student, I am now one step closer towards my high school dream.

Excited by his past publications, I approached Dr. Markus Meyer in the Cardiology Division of the UVM Medical Center to see if there were any echocardiology research opportunities. As one of the three CVRI (Cardiovascular Research Institute of Vermont) summer research fellowship recipients, I am currently working on a stress echocardiology project with Dr. Meyer examining the relationship between exercise capacity and left ventricular volume in the heart. I learned the basics of how to interpret echocardiograms and how to apply classroom statistical knowledge to clinical research settings. In addition to the echocardiology research, I had the opportunity to attend lab meetings, participate in extraordinary experiences like cardiac catheterization in animal models, and shadow Dr. Meyer and other physicians in the cardiology clinic and other departments at the medical center.

Aside from work, I got to enjoy everything that Vermont has to offer in the summer! The breathtaking views from sailing in Lake Champlain and hiking the surrounding mountain recharged me before the school year started again. Most importantly of all, this summer experience furthered my appreciation for the essential role that research plays in health care. I plan to pursue clinical research as part of my clinical practice, committing myself to being a life-long contributor to evidence-based medical care.

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