The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust

Research Scholars Program Completes Successful Season at LVHN

On Friday, August 3, 2018, 40 college students and 41 professional and clinical staff mentors from Lehigh Valley Health Network gathered in the Kasych Pavilion at the Cedar Crest campus to present the results of an intensive eight-week Summer Research Scholar Program. Student Scholars presented research and project findings on posters for review by 27 judges and a crowd of more than 150 LVHN representatives, guests, and family members.

The program, partially funded by The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust, is offered through the Department of Education (DOE) and provides valuable assistance to LVHN divisions while giving students a project-based experience that links their academic pursuits to a professional working environment.

The 2018 Summer Research Scholars served in departments such as family medicine, cardiothoracic surgery, orthopedics, nephrology, infectious diseases, human resources, organizational effectiveness, and marketing and public affairs. While congratulating the scholars on their summer work, Robert Barraco, MD, MPH, Chief Academic Officer, LVHN said, “I’m thrilled the breadth of projects has touched so many corners of the health network. It is a true representation of LVHN as we heal, comfort, and care for our community.”

Kerri Green, MS, MEd, Education Consultant, Youth Programs, LVHN, coordinates the program and says she is always impressed that in just eight weeks, mentors and scholars working collaboratively can further important clinical research and conduct quality improvement projects aimed at improving patient-centered care and health outcomes. There are also non-clinical projects aimed at improving workflows, reducing inefficiencies, and increasing productivity.

Jennifer Leader’s project is one example. Leader, a student from Emmaus entering her third year at Penn State University, joined the marketing and public affairs department for the summer and created a permanent content repository. “It’s a storage structure of finalized content including articles, bios, and video transcripts,” she said. “It’s a side of marketing and public relations that you don’t see.” Leader’s completed project will reduce users’ time spent in research and compilation by 60%.

Historically, the Summer Research Scholar Program reaches back more than 35 years.  In 2002, the program was branded as the Research Scholar Program and in 2017, it was updated with a new blinded application structure and system to collect program and participant data. Green explains the program begins each fall when LVHN mentors submit potential project outlines and specific criteria and skills needed from a student for the associated work. 

In February, the scholar application process is opened by externally posting on LVHN’s website and through an online internship database used by colleges and universities across the country. In 2018, Green reports 222 student applications were received to reach the final 40 scholars representing 24 different colleges and universities.

Applications are first screened by a committee within the DOE, then qualified applicant profiles are blinded and digitally batched out to mentors for a two-step selection process. Once selected, the students must undergo similar training and clearances expected of all LVHN employees before beginning work.

Joseph J. Napolitano, PhD, MPH, RN, CRNP, Program Officer for The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust, said the program remains important to The Trust because Leonard Pool and Dorothy Rider Pool placed great emphasis on education.  “This is where a future workforce begins,” he told the crowd. “We see this program as a pipeline to connect talent to LVHN and possibly turn these students into employees in a few years.”

In the summer of 1989, Dr. Timothy Friel secured a Research Scholar position before entering his senior year at Harvard University. Friel’s summer project assignment was working in the Patient Education Department assessing the readability and appropriate reading level of patient education materials used throughout what was then Lehigh Valley Hospital. Now the Chair of the Department of Medicine at LVHN, Friel recalls how the experience shaped his career. “The experience impressed upon me the fact that to be a truly great physician, I needed to be a great teacher and life-long learner as well,” he says. “The Summer Scholar Program also introduced me to the wonderful family of LVHN colleagues, a group that I was proud to join ten years later as an infectious disease specialist.”

Christopher Zhang, a pre-Med major entering his senior year at Lafayette College from Danville, PA, said he would encourage others to apply to the program. “This stood out from other internships,” he said. “I really enjoyed the shadowing opportunity; the program paced the work well; and the summer was very productive.” Zhang served the Department of Burn Surgery under mentor Dr. Sigrid Blome-Eberwein, with a project studying laser treatment for burn scars.

Each research scholar is awarded a stipend for the summer service. In addition, three projects received awards through the poster presentation. Katie Gibbs, a student from the University of Pittsburgh, served with Robert Kruklitis, MD, Mindy Broscius, RN, and Lorraine Valeriano, RN in LVPG Pulmonary and Critical Care/Department of Medicine to complete a project titled Development of a Feasibility Study of Tele-Education for Ensuring Correct Bronchodilator Use and won first place. Second place was awarded to Joshua Blatt of Lehigh University for working with Kay Werhun, DNP, MBA, RN, NE, BC in the Integrated Care Coordination Department on a project titled Inpatient Case Management Facilitated Multidisciplinary Rounding to Improve Discharge Process. Catherine Wenger of Northeastern University took third place for her work with Sharon Maynard, MD, in the Department of Nephrology on a project titled Kidney Disease in Pregnancy: Initial Blood Pressure as a Risk Factor for Preeclampsia.