MS students at research symposium

KGI’s MS in Applied Life Sciences Program Provides Hands-On Training in Hospital Research

This story was first published in the 2019-20 Annual Report.

At KGI, students witness the impact of their research firsthand.

Students enrolled in the Master of Science in Applied Life Sciences (MS) program can choose from five concentrations:

  • Clinical Research Thesis (focused on helping hospitals improve quality of care)
  • Translational Research Thesis (geared toward developing new drugs, devices, or diagnostic interventions)
  • Public Health Research Thesis (examines public health issues, particularly in underserved communities)
  • Team Master’s Project (helps a biotech company solve a real-life issue)
  • Infectious Diseases (provides graduate-level training in the fundamentals of pathogenic agents and infectious diseases)

Through strategic partnerships, Clinical Research Thesis students can work with local hospitals to make systemic changes to improve patient care or partner with biotech companies to develop new drugs and technologies.

The MS program is designed for students pursuing careers in medicine, research and development (R&D), or academia. The first year consists of science/industry-focused courses, independent research, and professional development, while the second year is devoted to the thesis or the capstone Team Master’s Project.

Infectious Diseases is a new concentration that was implemented in fall 2020. According to Professor of Practice in Translational Medicine, Anastasia Levitin, this concentration reflects the impact that infectious diseases have on human health, and students requested to learn more about this topic due to COVID-19.

The Clinical Research concentration also arose out of student requests. In this case, students expressed that they wanted to perform research in a hospital setting, and the partnership between KGI and COPE Health Solutions was born.

COPE is an organization that pairs local hospitals with students interested in pursuing careers in medicine or research. The relationship is mutually beneficial in that it provides students with real-life exposure to how data is collected in a hospital setting, while the students offer fresh perspectives that lead to structural changes in areas such as pain management, antibiotic usage, and staff performance.

“Some of the projects are organized from scratch, while others are taking data that nobody in the hospital would ever have the time, energy, or even the ability to synthesize,” said Dr. Alan Rothfeld, the former medical director at COPE and Professor of Practice in KGI’s Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences.

Several projects have centered around improving timing when it comes to treating heart attack patients.

“You have a specific number of minutes that you can spend making the diagnosis and instituting treatment,” Rothfeld said. “Tissue has the ability to remain alive or even hibernate for maybe an hour or two hours. But after that, it is dead.”

By performing a detailed analysis of exactly what happens when the patient enters the emergency room, students identified the delays and proposed more efficient ways to treat the patient. Cutting down on time not only saves the patient’s life but can also salvage tissue and reverse the damage caused by heart attacks and strokes.

Programs such as this allow prospective medical school students to stand out from other applicants, and over 70% of KGI graduates who apply to medical school get accepted. More than that, though, the program provides them with invaluable experience that will serve them throughout their careers.

“This research experience allows them to see how hospitals work,” Levitin said.

“When they become physicians, they know what nurses, administration, and people on the floor go through when they make those decisions. Sometimes there is a disconnect between physicians and staff, so being on the other side before they become physicians helps them understand the dynamics at work.”

MS graduates also gain employment as clinical trial coordinators or researchers for hospitals, universities, and biotech companies. The program helps students prepare for this career path in that the thesis year unfolds in a real-world environment, where students are actively helping hospitals, companies, and government organizations find solutions to problems.

Levitin enjoys seeing the progression as students gain confidence and learn to take the initiative.

“At the beginning, they are very stressed because a hospital is a busy place,” Levitin said of the Clinical Research concentration. “It’s not like working on a research project in a lab where you have your advisor helping a lot. A clinical thesis is different because you have to find a way to help hospitals improve and move your project forward, and our training focuses on this. It’s real-life experience, and that’s why our students are so successful in finding jobs.”