Learning from the ‘Big Kids’ in the Playground at AcademyHealth
My experience at AcademyHealth’s Annual Research meeting was notable for two reasons: who I met and what I heard.
First, I visited almost every college table that had a PhD program in Health Policy, Epidemiology, or Health Economics. The representatives at each table gave me guidance about how I should pursue my undergrad career if I were to apply to a PhD program. I would not have been able to access this kind of advice easily through my university advisor.
A highlight was interacting with PhD students from my university, Emory. There is something to be said about learning from the “Big Kids” in the playground. Emily Johnston, a PhD student at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, pointed me toward opportunities at Emory, including specific professors’ research and possibilities at the CDC.
Most memorable were the sessions on behavioral economics, as well as racial gaps within our health care system. One of the most engaging speakers was Dr. Jose Figueroa of the Harvard School of Public Health, who presented his research titled, “Hospitals That Serve for Minority Patients Report Greater Barriers to Reducing Readmissions: Results of a National Survey of Hospital Leaders.” What made his research very thought provoking was how he surveyed both patients and providers to get different perspectives on why a patient had to be readmitted to the hospital.
Survey results showed that some of the barriers to lowering readmission rates in minority-serving hospitals were funding gaps, lack of assistance from nurses and other faculty members, and an overall lack of communication. Lack of funding is certainly an obvious barrier, but most people seemed surprised about the lack of communication between providers and patients. Through poor communication, patients may not receive proper instructions for discharge, putting them at risk for readmission. Once discharged, these patients may not how to care for their injury/disease nor when and how to obtain follow-up care.
I really found Dr. Figueroa’s work to be the most interesting because I am very passionate about improving the quality of health care for minorities. High readmission rates reflect gaps in the quality of care in hospitals, but they also increase U.S. health care costs. As I left the session on racial and ethnic disparities in patterns and outcomes of hospital-based care, I could see myself working towards improving minority health outcomes in the future.
The conference gave me a perspective on research I hadn’t had before. I learned to consider the importance of one’s research, and to question how data were collected. I also learned that to pursue a path in health care research, you need to be persistent and resilient. I hope to one day present my own research at AcademyHealth.