From studying history at Middlebury college to pursuing medicine post-undergrad, rheumatologist Dr. Gregory McDermott’s unconventional…
Alec joined OrACORe in March 2021 after graduating in February from Middlebury College with a BA in Mathematics. In college, he worked as, and subsequently coordinated, the calculus tutoring program. He also worked at the student-run climbing gym, helped lead the rock-climbing club, and volunteered with the Open-Door Clinic, a free clinic for people with underinsured and uninsured status near the town of Middlebury. His summer experiences include an internship as a wildlife technician for a carnivore monitoring project with the National Forest Service as well as serving as an EMT in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
1. What about this research position attracted you to it?
This position stood out to me because it affords the opportunity to work on broad policy-level issues with a computer-simulation model while also having direct contact with study participants through clinical research. I wanted to learn about chronic disease epidemiology because I hope to someday work in primary prevention of chronic diseases, such as diabetes or cancer. I also enjoy working with people and like to have breaks from staring at the computer screen, especially during COVID lockdowns! I also found the chance to conduct musculoskeletal-related physical exams and to coordinate with potential study participants and enrolling physicians through clinical research to be quite exciting.
2. What’s a typical week on the job for you?
A typical week varies quite a bit! I spend about 70-80% of my time on projects related to the OAPol model. My OAPol project tasks to date have ranged from running analyses, updating the model with new data, or helping edit manuscripts. On the clinical research side, I have at least one or two study visits each week and I also screen clinic schedules for potentially eligible study subjects prior to the day of their medical appointment with enrolling physicians.
3. What do you like most about being a research assistant at OrACORe?
I learn something new every day. It might involve encountering a disease that I’ve never heard of when screening medical records for a clinical trial, reading published manuscripts about how BMI changes over the life course of a population or improving my public speaking by giving presentations in group meetings. There is seldom a dull moment in this group and there are innumerable opportunities for growth. It’s also great working in a community of driven and kind colleagues!
4. What’s one thing you’ve learned in the past month here that either changed the way you understand health care or influenced you in some other way?
One of my biggest take-aways from this job so far is the realization of how much information and research is available. For instance, there are hundreds of papers published each month that relate to knee osteoarthritis alone. It’s humbling to work with clinicians who keep up with the blistering pace of research. Furthermore, in my view, it highlights the importance of tools like OAPol, which synthesizes numerous kernels of knowledge into distinct findings that can help guide clinical decision-making. My experience in this position is opening my eyes to the complexity of healthcare and is building my confidence towards navigating this chaotic system.
5. What are your plans post-OrACORe?
My plan is to attend medical school. Currently, I’m interested in rural medicine, sports medicine, innovative healthcare delivery models, and healthcare reform. I imagine that my interests may evolve as I pursue my studies and am exposed to new areas of medicine.
6. How are you engaging with your community outside of work?
I mainly engage with the community as a volunteer cross-country coach with an organization called Youth Enrichment Services (“YES!” for short). As an avid runner, I enjoy sharing one of my passions with Boston area kids. Hopefully the program will impart determination, positive mental attitudes, and healthy life-long habits among the participants. This winter, I will volunteer as a coach in YES’s alpine skiing program. I also donate blood at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, something I can do without having to go outside because the building where I work, and Dana Farber, are connected via bridges! Finally, I am active in the climbing community in Boston and can often be found at a local gym or crag.