Research unites TCOM, School of Health Professions and School of Public Health

Prp Main
Left: Ameilia Gillespie
Right: Allison Hendon

Two second-year students from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine connected with professors from the School of Public Health and the School of Health Professions. The collaboration among schools of The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth resulted in important research on adolescent health. The work left an indelible — and possible career-trajectory-changing — mark on the two students.

Stacey Griner
Stacey Griner

Students Allison Hendon and Ameilia Gillespie were both accepted into TCOM’s Pediatric Research Program, an interdisciplinary mentored research experience designed to enhance students’ research awareness and knowledge. The pair worked with SPH professor Dr. Stacey Griner and SHP professor PA Amanda Brosnan, both of whom mentor for the PRP. Their interdisciplinary project eventually produced two poster presentations at conferences.

PA Amanda Brosnan

“It started with some data that I had pulled from the clinic over the last five years looking at mental health diagnoses or trends we were seeing in the clinic, as well as sexual health diagnoses and trends,” Brosnan said. “Allison and Amelia picked their topics based on that data and then did literature reviews.”

Hendon’s topic, Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 Restrictions on Depression in Pediatric Populations, couldn’t be timelier. During the pandemic, emergency rooms across the country reported an increase in visits from teenage girls dealing with eating and other disorders, including anxiety, depression and stress, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Allison Hendon

“I was really interested in mental health for pediatrics, especially post Covid,” she continued. “I was thinking about how mental health in children post Covid is going to affect their health overall — especially in regard to body image ideas and depression. And then that’s where I came to my topic of depression and eating disorders in pediatric populations post- covid.

“I had no experience in public health, so I didn’t know what to expect,” she continued. “PA Brosnan and Dr. Griner were the best mentors. I’ve never done research before and they broke it down for me on how, what I needed to do and where I needed to start.

Through Gillespie’s presentation — Addressing the Impact of Psychiatric Comorbidities with Management of ADHD in Adolescents to Improve Sexual Health — she now joins a growing list of researchers whose work shows children with ADHD are at increased risk for mental, behavioral and emotional concerns and disorders, including sexual risk behaviors. The presence of psychiatric comorbidity in patients with ADHD exacerbates these risks significantly.

“I knew I wanted to do something that combined medicine and public health, and so I felt this was a perfect segue into combining the two,” she said. “I wanted to work with the data from adolescents with ADHD and specifically how their ADHD is managed.”

At the encouragement of their mentors, each student presented her topic at the Health Equity Alliance of Tarrant County, or HEAL, Summit at the Hurst Conference Center in September. The theme of the event was Ensuring Equity in Perinatal and Infant Health: A Summit for Action. More recently, the pair presented at HSC’s 5th Annual Women’s Cardiovascular and Brain Health Symposium in February. Their next presentation will be at HSC’s Research Appreciation Day, March 25-28.

Ameilia Gillespie

Gillespie said that working in an interdisciplinary team was “eye-opening,” and her future patients will benefit from her learning a more holistic approach to patient care.

“It was really great to see those different perspectives because we don’t get to work with faculty from those schools a lot within our curriculum,” she said. “Being able to get their point of view and working with them one-on-one broadened my horizons about not only how the health care system is formed, but also how it changes. I think we need people like Dr. Griner and PA Brosnan thinking about ways we can transition into a more effective health care system.”

Both students said this project has potentially changed the focus of their careers.

“I came into medical school wanting to pursue OBGYN,” Gillespie said. “I have also found great interest in learning about other specialties, like primary care and psychiatry. I think this project made my appreciation for medical school and my future career more exciting.”

Brosnan hinted at further collaboration with the two TCOM students. Upcoming projects include hosting sexual health workshops for girls from the Boys and Girls Club in Tarrant County, and she has already asked Gillespie and Hendon to be a part of that if their schedules allow.

“I know they are very interested in helping with that and wanting to keep working with this population,” Brosnan said. “We hope to have our first workshop in March.”

“It was fun to see kind of this interprofessional collaboration come out of the PRP,” she continued. “I think this experience is a good example of how research can bring people together for the common good.”

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