My Research Fellowship at Jump

As a recent graduate of medical school, I’ve seen how institutions are continually changing curriculums and implementing different methods of teaching in hopes of better preparing students for what they will experience in residency. And I want to be part of the process of developing education that best meets the needs of students.
Salvador Fernandez working in the labThat’s why I chose to apply for a Research Fellowship with Jump Simulation. It’s my goal to shape medical education after my residency by looking at the different possibilities in instruction, and determining which ones are the most helpful through research. At the same time, I am working to advance projects taking place at Jump.

My main assignment is helping an OSF HealthCare neurologist pilot two simulators that can help medical students and residents better train on how to identify certain abnormal neurological exam findings seen with disorders such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As part of this effort, I am learning everything that goes into conducting a research study—skills I can carry with me as I look towards the future.

Putting together a research project

Learning to examine patients for possible neurological conditions such as MS, ALS or Parkinson’s disease is tough for medical students and residents as they most likely don’t encounter many individuals with these illnesses as part of their training. I can personally vouch for that as I did not get much experience with that patient population during my training.

As a result, many new physicians don’t have the experience to determine when a patient might have mild weakness or spasticity—two indicators of abnormal neurologic function. Dr. Chris Zallek, a neurologist at OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute, in collaboration with University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign engineers, developed two simulators designed to help health care providers-in-training learn to identify muscle weakness and stiffness sooner.

“We want to improve medical education, so that students don’t have to hope they will be at the right place at the right time to experience a neurologic exam finding,” said Dr. Zallek. “Training simulators give clinician‐learners the opportunity to practice feeling and identifying abnormal muscle behaviors as often as they need to feel comfortable with the process.”

Salvador Fernandez works in the lab with Doctor Chris Zallek.But how well do they work? And are students gaining the same value they would receive by working with real patients? That’s what I am helping to figure out in collaboration with Dr. Zallek, thanks to funding from both the Jump Applied Research for Community Health through Engineering and Simulation and the Ed and Ann Rapp Family Endowment.

This includes determining how we want to test and measure the use of these simulators. From there, we will have both medical students and residents test the trainers and provide feedback on the usability of the tools and what they found effective.

Based on that information, we would use those responses to improve the devices and continue refining processes for future testing.

“The overall goal of creating these simulators is to standardize and provide more consistent learning experiences to medical trainees,” said Dr. Zallek. “We hope this translates to patients receiving better screening and detection of neurologic conditions causing spasticity or rigidity sooner, meaning faster treatment that could slow these diseases.”

Additionally, if we find that these simulators are accurately replicating the behaviors they are designed to reproduce, we can use them to test new devices that can quantify those symptoms, such as wearable technology that can measure the severity of a patient's spasticity.

A good challenge

The past year has been a challenge with learning about research requirements, developing the appropriate documentation and understanding educational theory. However, everyone at Jump has been open to giving me suggestions on how to move forward and helping me evaluate different modalities. As a result, I am gaining the toolset I will need to work in the medical education space in the future.

Beyond the project I am working on, I’ve had the chance to shadow Dr. Zallek in his office, acquiring clinical experience I may have never received between graduation and residency. I’m also learning from my mentors here at Jump and through OSF Innovation about the importance of having an innovative mindset and constantly thinking about ways things can be done differently. I’ve learned to start with the wildest ideas and turn them into realities.  
Categories: Engineering, Health Care Engineering Systems Center (HCESC), Illinois Neurological Institute (INI), Innovation, Jump ARCHES, Neurology, Research, Research, Task Trainer