I’ve always wanted to follow in my uncle’s footsteps and become a doctor. My uncle is an orthopedic surgeon with his own hospital in India and I was always mesmerized by the dozens of patients and doctors swarming the halls. While I knew that I liked and excelled in biology, and it’s always been my childhood dream to study medicine, I didn’t exactly know what being a doctor entailed. This summer, I set out to learn more about the field – I was going to conduct hands-on research and shadow doctors.
For the first half of the summer, I worked in Dr. Pandey’s lab at Rutgers University researching Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and is spread through contaminated blood. It is the leading cause for hepatocellular carcinoma, a common form of liver cancer. While vaccines exist for the related diseases Hepatitis A and B, there is no existing vaccine for Hepatitis C. In particular, Dr. Pandey’s lab was looking at the Fuse Binding Protein 1 (FBP1) and its interaction with the p53 tumor suppressor gene, an important gene that regulates the cell cycle. In previous research, Dr. Pandey found that the FBP1 inhibits the p53 gene by binding to some part of its DNA sequence and, when p53 is inhibited, the likelihood that a cancerous tumor forms increases. Based on that research, we were trying to determine the exact portion of the DNA sequence of the p53 gene that FBP1 binds to. Dr. Pandey’s plan to solve this consisted of cutting the DNA sequence into many different pieces and testing each piece to see if it would bind to FBP1, slowly narrowing the DNA sequence to find the exact base pairs that were binding to FBP1. My role in this project was preparing and testing one of these pieces of DNA to see if it would bind to FBP1. This involved cell cultures, transformations, restriction digests, and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. While I was not able to see the project through to completion, his doctoral candidates will continue the project and Dr. Pandey hopes to publish a paper on this research by November.
For the second half of the summer, I shadowed three different types of doctors: a general/vascular surgeon, a dermatologist, and a plastic surgeon. It was really interesting to learn about the three different careers, and from the doctor’s perspective rather than the patient’s. When I shadowed the general/vascular surgeon, I saw generally older patients with varicose veins, hernias, and gallstones. I learned about vein stripping procedures, angioplasties, and colonoscopies – it’s amazing how so many of these procedures can be done robotically! Next, I shadowed a dermatologist for a few days and saw people of all ages with dozens of skin issues ranging from common acne to severe skin cancers. I also was able to watch multiple skin cancer surgeries (I definitely learned the importance of sunscreen!) and got to cut my first stitch. He also showed me cosmetic procedures such as how to inject botox and fillers, along with how a new machine trims fat. Lastly, I shadowed a plastic surgeon who focuses on hand reconstructions. I saw many people who had sliced their hand or gotten it stuck in a door and required surgery. All three doctors were very encouraging and gave me advice on how to choose a field and pursue medicine.
Overall, both research and shadowing were great experiences that helped me gain exposure into the world of biology and medicine. It was especially interesting as I got to see both sides of medicine: the scientists doing the early cell research and the doctors treating the diseases based on what the scientists find. While it’s clear becoming a doctor will take many years of studying, learning more about the field and their day-to-day lives has only strengthened my resolve to someday join their profession!