Stimulus money creates at least 22 summer jobs at Stanford medical school

Stephanie Pappas Alex Craig

Alexander Craig, a rising sophomore at Princeton, has a newfound interest in medicine as a result of his summer job researching kidney disease at the medical school.

STANFORD, Calif. —At the start of his summer vacation, Alexander Craig couldn’t have told you much about the kidney, let alone medical science in general. “Dialysis?” he said. “I didn’t even know what that was.”

But now, Craig can rattle off nephrology terms with ease. His newfound knowledge is the result of a job at Stanford University School of Medicine made possible by a new federal program. Craig, 19, a Palo Alto native and a rising sophomore at Princeton University in New Jersey, gets his paycheck courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.

While many college and high school students across the nation have searched in vain for summer employment, Craig is fortunate to be one the beneficiaries of the NIH’s effort to train a new generation of scientists and physicians. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known by most as the “stimulus package,” the NIH has allocated $21 million over two years for educational supplements to existing research grants. The supplements are intended to create jobs and promote student participation in research. More than 3,000 college undergraduates, high school students and science teachers are expected to participate, according to the NIH.

So far, at least 12 high school and 10 college students have received NIH stimulus funds to work with researchers at Stanford medical school. [For a list of the students, visit http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2009/july/summer-list.html.] According to the agency’s Web site tracking of its Recovery Act spending, Stanford has received more than $200,000 to support summer research experiences that enable high school and college students to excel in medicine.

“The main purpose is to give something back, to give them some research experience,” said Marion Buckwalter, MD, assistant professor of neurology and neurological science and of neurosurgery. She used stimulus funds to hire rising Stanford sophomore Jeremy Goodman to a full-time summer position in her lab.

For Craig, who works in the lab of professor of medicine Glenn Chertow, PhD, MPH, the experience is a chance to explore options before declaring a major: Craig is interested in everything from medicine to classical languages to electrical engineering. In the past month, he’s gotten a crash course in the kidney and is assisting with research into the effects of dialysis on health.

“I’m learning how research works in an academic setting,” Craig said.

Grace Lapier, 18, is having a similar learning experience in the lab of associate professor of surgery Jill Helms, PhD, DDS. Lapier, who recently graduated from Palo Alto High School, applied for several summer jobs at cafes and yogurt shops, but heard nothing back. Many of her friends could not find summer jobs, said Lapier. So rather than dishing out ice cream, she is now researching craniofacial development.

“It’s probably more difficult than it has been,” said Lapier, who will attend Williams College in Massachusetts in the fall, about scoring some work in the current summer job market.

The NIH-funded summer positions help bring students a step closer to attending medical school. Jennifer Wang, 20, a rising senior at Stanford who is in the midst of medical school applications, has worked in the lab of David Feldman, MD, professor of medicine emeritus, for about two years. This summer, NIH funding is making a full-time job in the lab possible.

In addition to helping Wang prepare to go to medical school, it also serves a more immediate and concrete need by helping pay for next year’s college bills. “Housing, room and board, tuition — the funding has helped cover those costs,” Wang said.

Steve Fisch Stevenson Lab

NIH funding have helped Alec Barlow and Cynthia He take summer jobs in the lab of David Stevenson, MD.

Alec Barlow, 24, of Pleasanton, Calif., decided late in his college career that he wants to go into medicine; he delayed his graduation from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo to satisfy the prerequisites and try to get some research experience.

Barlow’s opportunity arose when he found an opening in the lab of David Stevenson, MD, professor of pediatrics, who researches neonatal jaundice. Barlow is spending the summer conducting research, attending lectures and tagging along on rounds in the neonatal intensive care unit. The NIH funding enables him to live on campus instead of commuting from Pleasanton, he said.

Barlow splits the grant with Cynthia He, 20, a rising senior at Stanford who has been fascinated with neonatology since she read a book excerpt about the NICU in seventh grade. A biology major who also plans to apply to medical school, she has worked in Stevenson’s lab for a year and a half, and will use the funding to complete her senior thesis project. “It’s really been good for me to see how neonatology works from the research point of view,” she said.

Stevenson said he strives to give the students a comprehensive experience, spanning from hands-on basic research to observations of bedside care. “I hope to inspire them to be doctors who think critically and know how to deal with information in a way that is most conducive to helping patients,” he said of the two students. “They can imagine how work they’re doing now will change care for the future.”

And whether the students are new to medicine or following a life-long dream, each agrees that hands-on research experience is invaluable.

“I’m just really thankful I get to see this stuff,” Craig said. “I don’t know if I would have learned about it any other way.”


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