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Research and education: One student's view

Heather Nelson

Heather Nelson is a very busy young woman.

The second-year medical student serves on the Academic Health Center’s steering committee for the Transforming the U strategic positioning project, whose goal is to make the University of Minnesota one of the world’s top three public research universities within a decade.

After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus in 2000, Nelson became interested in preventive medicine and epidemiology while working with a health insurance company. That led her to earn a master’s degree in public health from the University, which she completed in 2005—but not before enrolling in the Medical School in 2004. Over the past four years, she has worked as a research assistant in the Department of Otolaryngology with an eye toward a career in internal medicine. Her studies demonstrate the strong connection between research and medical education.

“The difference between a medical school and a technical school is science,” says Kathleen Watson, M.D., the Medical School’s associate dean of students and student learning. “When students learn to grapple with the cutting edge of science, they also learn how to apply science to patient health care.”

No one needs to convince Nelson of the value of her research experience. Not only will it enhance the likelihood that she will be accepted into a residency program in a field of her choice, it will also help her when she becomes a practicing clinician.

“As a physician,” she says, “I hope to combine my clinical practice with epidemiological research. The training I’ve received means I will know how research is conducted and how it is applied in the clinic. That will significantly affect the quality of advice and treatment I will be able to provide to my patients.”

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