Darya started working at OrACORe in June 2023 after graduating from Bates College with a…
Dan started working at OrACORe in July 2023 after graduating from Brown University with a BA in Biology and Economics. Starting the fall of his freshman year, Dan’s passion for history and writing led to a position as a senior editor with the Brown Journal of History. Dan sharpened his editorial skills when he served as an editor on the eBoard of the Brown Journal of Medical Humanities, which he joined in January 2020. Beginning in January 2021, Dan explored an interest in orthopedics through research on stem cell treatments for meniscus tears in the Jayasuriya lab, part of the Rhode Island Hospital Orthopedics department. Dan was inspired to write a thesis reflecting his findings and had the opportunity to present at the 2023 Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) conference. Throughout his undergraduate years, Dan was a member of Brown’s Men’s Rugby team. A highlight of his rugby career was winning the Rugby National Championship in December 2022. Outside of work, Dan volunteers with the Adaptive Sports Center at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital as a Sled Hockey coach. Dan has further explored his interest in adaptive sports as a volunteer at the Boston Self-Help Center with the power wheelchair soccer program.
What about this research position attracted you to it?
I was first attracted to OrACORe by its clear interdisciplinary mission. As a biology and economics double major, I’ve developed a passion for both clinical and policy aspects of healthcare. My position with OrACORe allows me to simultaneously explore these two interests through its dual goals: to improve the quality of life for individuals with often-debilitating musculoskeletal conditions (such as osteoarthritis) and to optimize clinical treatment strategies for these conditions from an economic, value-based perspective. Furthermore, as a lifelong athlete, knee injuries hit close to home. I was excited to build upon my prior basic science research in the field of orthopedics and meniscus tear repair. I was keen to explore these conditions from a clinical perspective, which would help me better understand the role of the clinician-researcher. I was also drawn to the idea of working with many other RAs who have similar interests and goals, in addition to receiving mentorship by a fantastic and unbelievably experienced faculty.
What’s a typical week on the job for you?
Each week, my work is divided between two participant-facing randomized control trials (TOPS and PIKASO) and two modeling projects (OAPol and FraPol). PIKASO and TOPS are gearing up for recruitment, and so I am collaborating with colleagues to set up and test our data management processes in REDCap and to develop processes that allow automated recruitment letters to be sent to potential study participants who have sought care within the MGB (Massachusetts General Brigham) health system. For TOPS, which is led by investigators at Wake Forest University, I oversee the exercise intervention at the BWH site, which means that I interact with staff at local gym facilities where our participants will exercise. In early 2024, I will be leading exercise classes for our TOPS participants. In this same timeframe, I will start screening clinician schedules for potentially eligible PIKASO subjects (ACL tears) in addition to conducting baseline visits and biospecimen collection as subjects undergo ACL repair.
My modeling work in OAPol provides a nice change of pace from the clinical side of my position. Recently, I presented to all OAPol co-investigators my proposal for a new project related to the value of weight loss that will incorporate the use of weight-loss drugs for knee osteoarthritis treatment. My work in FraPol has been primarily focused on collecting input data pertaining to frailty in HIV populations for the model, as it is being built.
What do you like most about being a research assistant at OrACORe?
The community of people who work both at OrACORe and in BWH Orthopaedics generally! Everyone is remarkably welcoming and interested in each other’s wellbeing and advancement as both a person and researcher. I have loved getting to know my fellow research assistants both on a personal and work level. Elena, Jeff, Jamie, and Faith provide top-notch mentorship, and it is eye-opening to see how they navigate the field of clinical outcomes research. Questions are always encouraged, and learning is prioritized; everyone has your personal interests and aims in mind, beyond work goals. I also especially love that I can take ownership of my OAPol project, and I am provided the flexibility of moving it along at my own pace and being primarily responsible for its completion.
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 the major aspects of the TOPS (The Osteoarthritis Prevention Study) diet and exercise intervention centers around social cognitive theory (SCT), a framework to change health behavior through improving self-efficacy, setting goals, and thinking about achieving outcomes. Employment of SCT has been shown to significantly improve health outcomes and lead to sustainable, long-term changes in behavior, often related to weight loss and osteoarthritis treatment. I used to think of medicine as solely prescribing medications and performing surgery rather than bonding with a patient on a personal level. Learning about the effectiveness of SCT has highlighted the role that meaningful patient-provider relations can play in another person’s health. I’m very excited to start practicing SCT myself as a TOPS interventionist. The value of high-quality patient-physician relationships was further emphasized for me as I shadowed Jeff in clinic and watched him expertly employ these strategies to form deep connections with and provide care for his patients. I have gained a greater understanding that talking with people about their fears, needs and desires can be just as important and therapeutic as any drug.
What are your plans post-OrACORe?
After my two years at OrACORe, I plan to attend medical school. While there, I would love to continue along my research journey – whether that’s in the basic science or clinical fields (or even a combination of the two). I’m looking forward to treating people to allow them to get back to their passions and enjoy life to the fullest.
What makes you laugh the most these days?
Time spent with friends and family! I’ve been able to return several times to Providence to see some close friends from school who are still there as well as my sister who just started at Brown this fall. I’ve loved laughing together about my years there and helping my sister get accustomed to the city. I also recently started volunteering with the Spaulding Adaptive Sports Sled Hockey program, and the pure joy on the faces of the kids as they get onto the ice is infectious. Their smiles (plus the chance to play with the two dogs that go too) make my day.