M3 student earns valuable research experience with National Institutes of Health

Rachel Hunt decided to go into medicine to make a positive impact in the lives of neurosurgery patients. The third-year Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB) student is on track to do just that.

rachel huntHunt is one of 55 medical, dental and veterinary students selected for the 2015-2016 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP) in Bethesda, Md. To take part in the residential research-oriented program, Hunt had to put her OUWB studies on hold for a year. Instead the 30 year old works closely with an NIH mentor, attends lectures on policies and technologies pertinent to research, takes part in clinical teaching rounds, and attends NIH Clinical Center courses that highlight the principles and practice of clinical research, including writing and publishing scientific papers.  

The training is all part of making a well-rounded physician scientist, says Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Career Development Sandra LaBlance, Ph.D., who encouraged Hunt to apply to the program.

“For students who are really interested in bringing together their love of science and a desire to go beyond the daily care of patients, this is a wonderful opportunity to work with scientists and physicians at the NIH, where some of the greatest minds in the world work,” says LaBlance. “It’s an amazing opportunity. I’ve seen students come back from the program and it’s like the world opens up for them. They really bring something back to their classmates and to their experience as medical students. It changes them forever.”

Studying the brain
Working within the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Hunt’s research involves gaining a better understanding of movement control in healthy people versus those with movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and turrets.

“My project is looking at decision-making. How do people choose between choice A and choice B?” asks Hunt, explaining that the program reads a patient’s brain during the decision-making process using Magnetoencephalography. Hunt says she finds being on the frontier of knowledge addictive and hopes to continue this level of thinking and opportunity throughout her career.

“We’re on the border of what we know and what we don’t know,” she says. “I don’t think I could do 100 percent research, but at this point I wouldn’t be able to do 100 percent clinical work either. It’s not uncommon for neurosurgeons to do both. On one hand, you’re treating patients. On another, you’re learning how to treat them better.”

The Albuquerque, N.M.-native decided to go into medicine when she was a nurse in a neurosurgery intensive care unit, and wanted to make an impactful difference in the lives of neurosurgery patients. Even more than she expected, the NIH experience reiterated Hunt’s drive to work with those patients.

“Rachel’s brilliant,” LaBlance says, adding that Hunt is a real thinker who seeks out knowledge beyond the typical ways. “Just in talking to her about her desire to learn more and to be a researcher and to be able to solve problems and give back to the world, I saw her as someone who needed that experience at the NIH. She has what it takes to be a physician scientist.”

“She will make a difference in this world,” LaBlance says.