Medical School Life

Medical student research retrospective: Toni-Ann Lewis, MD, MPH

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

Medical student research retrospective: Toni-Ann Lewis, MD, MPH

Mar 21, 2024

The research one does as a medical student can further the body of knowledge used to improve patient outcomes. These scholarly pursuits also can shape careers and help bolster a residency applicant’s credentials.

During her pursuit of a dual degree at St. George's University School of Medicine in Grenada, Toni-Ann Lewis, MD, MPH, conducted research that focused on societal implications and stigma surrounding HIV as well as Alzheimer's disease. An AMA member, Dr. Lewis now has a decade of research experience, examining a wide range of topics that are in the scientific and public health arenas.

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Now a PGY-3 internal medicine resident at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, Dr. Lewis shared the lessons she learned as a medical student researcher and how they have continued to shape her career.

Toni-Ann Lewis, MD, MPH
Toni-Ann Lewis, MD, MPH

Medical student research retrospective: Toni-Ann Lewis, MD, MPH.

Current position: Third-year resident at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.

Specialty: Internal medicine.

Medical school: St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada.

How I got interested in doing research: As I learned about the intricacies of the human body, I wanted to delve deeper and understand more. This curiosity naturally led me to explore scholarly pursuits in medicine. Through research, I discovered new insights, advancements and challenges within the medical field, further fueling my passion for scholarly pursuits.

My first foray into medical student research: As a medical student, I found myself particularly inspired by research surrounding HIV and Alzheimer's disease. During my final practicum for my dual MD-MPH degree, I focused on HIV stigma and its impact on the social life of youth. This study resonated deeply with me due to its profound societal implications and recognizing the critical need to address the social dimensions of HIV in addition to medical interventions. Understanding how stigma affects the lives of young individuals living with HIV was not only eye-opening but also underscored the importance of holistic approaches in health care.

Additionally, my research during college focused on Alzheimer's disease using Caenorhabditis elegans expressing chaperone proteins was equally compelling. Alzheimer's disease poses significant challenges both in terms of treatment and understanding its underlying mechanisms. Exploring protein folding mechanisms using model organisms like C. elegans provided valuable insights into the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's and potential pharmacologic interventions. This research highlighted the intricate interplay between molecular processes and disease pathology, sparking my interest in translational medicine and the quest for novel therapeutic strategies.

How my research relates to my physician specialty choice: Research was pivotal in shaping my career path and specialty choice in medicine. Through engaging in various research projects and experiences, I gained insights into different areas of health care and developed a deeper understanding of complex medical issues. These experiences helped me identify my interests, strengths and areas of passion within medicine.

How I have identified research mentors: Identifying mentors in research involves seeking out individuals with expertise and experience in the specific area of interest, whether a resident, fellow or an attending. They play a pivotal role in professional and personal growth as a researcher by providing valuable guidance, feedback, and support throughout the journey. They offer insights into research methodologies, assist in design and help navigate the complexities of data analysis and interpretation. They also provide constructive critiques on research proposals, manuscripts and presentations, improving the work.

Mentors provide opportunities for networking and collaboration and can introduce you to other professionals in the field and facilitate valuable connections. Most importantly, mentors help us navigate challenges and setbacks and provide encouragement to continue along the journey when we face setbacks.

When selecting a mentor, I’d advise medical students to look for a physician with experience in publishing research who can provide guidance and support throughout the process.

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What I would do differently as a medical student researcher: Instead of being discouraged by setbacks or failures, I would embrace them as valuable learning experiences and opportunities for growth. Cultivating resilience and persistence in the face of challenges is essential for success in research, and I would strive to develop these qualities earlier in my academic journey.

Advice for medical students with designs on publishing: If you have aims to publish in medical school, it’s critical to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of research methodology, including study design, data collection methods and statistical analysis. Follow best practices in research to ensure the validity and reliability of your findings. Seek feedback early and often throughout the process from your mentor, peers, or other experts in the field, and incorporate their suggestions and critiques to improve the quality of your research and manuscript.

How research experience affects my ability to grasp new discoveries and apply them in practice:  By conducting research in medical school, I developed a deeper understanding of the scientific method, experimental design and statistical analysis, which has enhanced my ability to evaluate the validity and reliability of research findings.

Research has taught me to approach new discoveries and innovations in my field with a critical eye. I am better equipped to evaluate the potential implications of research findings for my clinical practice, considering factors such as study design, sample size, statistical significance and relevance to patient care.

Research has also instilled in me a commitment to lifelong learning and staying abreast of advancements in my field. I actively seek out opportunities to engage with scientific literature, attend conferences and participate in continuing education activities to ensure that I am up to date with the latest developments and innovations in health care.

Other tips for medical student researchers: Start early! Begin engaging in research activities as early as possible. Look for opportunities to participate in research projects through formal research programs or by collaborating with faculty members and researchers in your institution.

It’s also important to choose a research topic relevant to your interests, experiences or the current needs of the medical community. Consider areas with a knowledge gap or where your research findings could have practical implications for patient care using literature reviews to familiarize yourself with existing studies and identify gaps in the literature that your research can address.

Advance your research