My internship has allowed me to experience many facets of medicine – Natasha Najam

The following is an entry in the LAS Insider Blog for prospective students, a blog for students and alumni of the College of LAs to write about their personal experiences and insights, offering an inside look at the College and the University of Illinois. You can access the original post here.

Natasha Najam is a rising senior working towards a behavioral neuroscience psychology degree with chemistry and integrative biology minors. During the school year, she works as a research assistant for the Human Factors Lab at Beckman Institute and as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry. In her free time, you can find her reading, volunteering, and exploring different genres of music.

What is your internship this summer? What is your specific role? This summer, I am working as an intern at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The focal point of my internship is on a brain cancer project that looks at the viability of 2HG as a good identifying biomarker for a non-invasive way to monitor cancer treatment. I work with the research assistants in the lab who are also involved in the project, and while they are working on more technical radiology centered aspects of the project, my part of the project is more neuro-oncology focused. I get to observe MRI/MRS scans, greet patients coming in for their scans, and decode patient data. I also partake in career panels about clinical research with doctors in other departments, and the panels are more intimate because there are only six other interns in the program.

What does a typical day look like? It’s hard to determine what a typical day looks like because I don’t really have a day-to-day routine. The time I get to work is dependent on when the patient arrives for their MRI scan. Usually 9 a.m. is a safe bet, but there have been occasions where I get to work at 7:30 a.m. or earlier. I don’t run the scan, but I assist the radiology research assistants in running the scan and talking with the patient. Once the scans related to my project have been completed, I collect and organize the data to assess the metabolites and biomarkers we found in the tumor with other individuals in my team.

I usually have at least one meeting a day, either a panel hosted by my program, a lab meeting, or just planning next steps with the graduate students in the lab. Some days, I’ll have a clinical observation with one of the doctors in the surrounding hospitals. These observations usually go for about 2.5-4 hours. If I spend the majority of the day with a doctor on a clinical observership, I go back to the lab to get some work done by 6-6:30 p.m. If I don’t have a clinical observation, I’ll head home by 5.

What’s your favorite thing about your internship? I love how much I get to learn each day at Brigham. It is astonishing how much experience I have gained working there, especially since the project I have been added to is a blend of radiology and neuro-oncology. It involves organizing and collecting clinical, and genetic data, and making sense of it all. Given that I’m not adept in any of the aforementioned fields, I definitely feel like I’m constantly learning something new!

I also want to give an honorable mention to the location of my internship. It’s in a medical area, where there are major hospitals, medical centers and a medical school, all attached internally by glass bridges and tunnels. The whole area is sectioned off for labs and hospitals, and I found that layout really interesting and something that I haven’t seen prior to this experience. It makes it easy to work with the other hospitals—for example, I work at Brigham and Women’s but recently shadowed a doctor at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and because everything is really close by, it makes collaboration and cross-collaborative work easier.

What do you think you’ve gained so far from your experience? I have learned a lot of material content from the panels and live lectures that I was lucky enough to sit in. I have also experienced so many interesting facets of medicine, namely how to observe and understand the process of running the MRS/MRI scans. I was able to talk to patients in a number of situations, and learned how wide the scope of the medical field really is through these encounters.

I recently shadowed an allergy and immunology doctor and was faced with a challenge to cancer patients I had never considered before. Most people, when it comes to cancer patients, dwell on how taxing chemotherapy can be, but what if the patient was allergic to the life-saving chemo drug? I never thought about it, but that’s the dilemma allergists face. Their desensitization techniques were fascinating to me and very different from the limited scope of the medical field I had previously.

What are you ultimate career aspirations? I would like to continue learning new things in whatever field I choose, though ultimately I feel a strong pull towards the medical field. During my internship, I was given the opportunity to shadow some physician scientists who were able to balance both the clinical and research sides of the medical field. I like the idea of bridging the gap between discovery and implementation and thus, I find that career path highly appealing.