The Blue Ribbon Foundation, the non-profit behind the documentary Forgotten Plague, has an educational and research agenda. In addition to getting the film in front of as many people in the medical and health profession as possible, one of the primary programs they have created is a student fellowship for medical students to assist in top ME research labs. The fellowship takes place between the student’s first and second years of medical school, and is partnered with the Wisconsin ME Association and the Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine at Nova Southeastern University.
Here is a Q & A from Kelly Gaunt, who partnered with Kristina Gemayel in a DNA study of ME patients. They used social media as a recruitment tool to gather genetic information for the future use of genetic studies. Kelly’s research continues today as she currently seeks bigger platforms to gather data. Read about Kelly’s experience with the fellowship, after Dr. Nancy Klimas suggested she apply:
What was your familiarity with ME prior to the fellowship? Had you learned about it in classes or met anybody with it?
Prior to the fellowship and starting medical school I worked at the Institute for Neuro Immune Medicine as a Research Coordinator. I was involved with Phase Two of the current CDC study. Everything I have learned about ME has been through the experts at the Institute and, equally important, through the interactions I’ve had with the patients. I believe I gained a wealth of information by being able to see this unique illness from the clinical perspective of the physician, as well as the personal experiences of the patient.
How did you hear about the fellowship, and what prompted you to apply?
Dr. Nancy Klimas was the person to inform me about the fellowship. Even though I was no longer working as an employee at the Institute while in medical school, I maintained a relationship and expressed interest in contributing in any way possible. I applied because of a genuine interest in learning more about ME, as well as being able to learn from the best! What better way as a medical student to sharpen their research skills, than to learn from mentor that truly fosters every teaching moment and knows what she is doing?
What was your background prior to medical school?
Prior to medical school I worked at the Institute as a research coordinator for the phase two portion of the CDC study. However, prior to that I was a professional dancer in New York City. Growing up I had two life dreams, to be a professional dancer and a doctor. Being that dance is a much more time-sensitive career, I chose to go down that path first and tackle medicine second. It’s been an amazing ride and I couldn’t be any more appreciative of all that I’ve been able to accomplish thus far.
What is your project about?
Currently, Kristina and I are working on creating a genetic database linked with multiple symptom questionnaires of the ME patient population. We intend to subgroup the patient population by symptom commonalities and investigate any correlating gene mutations. We hope to discover biomarkers to help assist in diagnosis ME.
How will it benefit patients? How can patients participate?
I believe this has the potential to greatly benefit patients, mainly through the diagnosing process. ME is a very unique illness that affects patients very differently. Currently, I believe much of the patients frustration stems from years of misdiagnosis or just many unanswered questions, and not at the fault of the physician, it’s just simply very complicated. Hopefully, through our research we are able to establish clear biomarkers that will assist in the diagnosis process.
What was your favorite part of the summer research?
I can’t honestly single out any specific moment that was my favorite. The whole process has been incredible. From creatively brainstorming ideas, establishing the protocol, and putting our ideas into action, it has all such a positive learning experience. Medicine can sometimes seem to be very black and white, but research allows me to creatively approach a problem and think outside the box.
Why did you decide to become a doctor?
I decided to become a doctor because it’s a profession that encompasses everything that I value in a career. I want to help people live better lives and I want to make an impact. It will allow me to think critically and creatively, and I will forever be able to learn and challenge myself in new ways. The human body is completely fascinating and there is no end in what you can discover.
What has been your favorite part of medical school so far?
I have just completed my second year, so the curriculum has been mostly classroom learning. However, Nova pairs us with different practicing physicians, where we spend time with them seeing patients in their private practices. I have really enjoyed this because reading about something in a book and seeing it in person are two totally different experiences. It helps humanize all the details and facts about an illness and connects the dots.
What are your career goals? Specialties you’re leaning toward? Types of care? Research, academic, clinical, or all three?
As of right now, I am unsure of the exact specialty I am leaning towards. I like everything, which is a double-edged sword. I am waiting until I get to rotate through the different specialties before I make up my mind. However, whatever route I take I know I would like to have a mixture of both clinical and research.
What do you like to do in your spare time away from school?
Spare time is pretty rare in medical school, so I mainly like to spend any free time with my fiancé, my friends, and my family. Also, I am currently planning my wedding, so when I’m not huddled away in a library cubicle, I am tasting cakes and figuring out all the fun wedding details.
If you are interested in becoming a Blue Ribbon Fellow, view the application HERE.
The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Blue Ribbon Fellowship are run entirely from generous donations and grants. To donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation and support their quest to education the medical field on ME, click HERE.
MEAction questions Long COVID exercise study’s safety, efficacy
Calls for immediate public release of RECOVER’s clinical trial design