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6 Questions for First-Year Research Assistants: Hanna Mass

Hanna started working at OrACORe in July of 2021 after graduating from Middlebury College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Neuroscience. In the summer of 2019, Hanna interned in a cardiac clinic in Germany, supporting the clinical team and performing basic procedures. During the summer of 2020, Hanna worked in the Systems Neuroscience Lab at Middlebury College where she studied the role of oxidative stress on traumatic brain injury in Drosophila melanogaster. Outside of school, Hanna was on the Middlebury Sailing Team and was a ski patroller at the Middlebury Snow Bowl.

Hanna at her favorite hiking spot, the White National Forest of Colorado. Photo courtesy of Hanna Mass.

1. What about this research position attracted you to it?

After having done mostly wet-lab research in college, I was looking to gain clinical experience before applying to medical school. I was also interested in both orthopedics/sports medicine and health policy. OrACORe provided a unique opportunity to bridge these interests and was one of the few positions I found that combines clinical engagement with broader cost effectiveness and policy work. I was also drawn to the opportunities for mentorship that this program provides and the ability to collaborate with other research assistants who share similar interests and passions.  

2. What’s a typical week on the job for you?

Every week is slightly different, with a combination of time interacting with study participants and enrolling physicians as well as time spent at the office reviewing patient records or working on writing projects. Typically, I spend two days each week screening and attempting to enroll potential subjects into TeMPO. The screening of physician clinic schedules occurs from my office computer, but I also spend time in the clinic space where I speak with potential TeMPO participants. Additionally, I conduct baseline and follow up visits for participants that are enrolled. I mostly work at the main Brigham campus (75 Francis Street), but occasionally travel to other Brigham locations, such as Foxborough, to conduct TeMPO enrollment visits and screening. Another day is spent working on OAPol projects, a computer simulation model that evaluates knee osteoarthritis in cohorts of patients. I spend my remaining time on a range of projects, from helping with grant submissions and literature review writing to getting involved in a variation of other research projects. For example, I am currently working on a study creating an index score to predict arthroscopic partial meniscectomy outcomes. Throughout the week, I also take advantage of opportunities to attend medical lectures such as conferences and grand rounds. 

3. What do you like most about being a research assistant at OrACORe?

One of the things I love most about being a research assistant at OrACORe is the range of projects I get to work on. For example, on Dr. McFarlane’s INFORM study, I help design the study protocols and draft the manual of operations. Furthermore, I really enjoy interacting with people and thus recruiting TeMPO subjects and performing study visits are often a highlight of my week. The variety of on-going studies as well as participation in aspects of research such as grant writing and literature reviews has allowed me to gain a more holistic perspective of the research process. Through this work as well as the abundance of learning opportunities available, I am kept on my toes and learning new things every day!

Hanna (third from the left) and her Middlebury Snow Bowl ski patrol team. Photo courtesy of Hanna Mass.

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?

Listening to the weekly medical rounds has been very interesting and has impacted my understanding of the role physicians play in the health care system. Initially I was shocked by the uncertainty physicians expressed in diagnosing and treating complicated cases but have since come to appreciate the complexity of these scenarios and the collaborative environment they depend on. Not only can symptoms and test results be misleading, contradictory, or inconclusive, but patients may also be hesitant to follow recommendations based on their previous experiences with the health care system. The ability of physicians to work across departments and navigate this abundance of evidence while also considering a holistic view of patient care is inspiring to observe.

5. What are your plans post-OrACORe?

I am currently studying for the MCAT and plan to apply to medical school next year. OrACORe has opened my eyes to the possibilities of clinical research, and I hope to be able to integrate research into my future career!

6. How are you engaging with your community outside of work? Having just moved to Boston, I still have lots to learn about this community and how I can best engage outside of work. Recently, I started working with a program called YES that provides youth enrichment services for Boston children and teens through participation in active outdoor activities. The fall program I am volunteering with focuses on teaching kids of all ages how to ride a bike. Additionally, along with the other first year RAs, we have been working with the Haley House, a local nonprofit that provides meal services and collects donations and have organized a clothing drive at the hospital.

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