IAP Health Reflection: Sahithi

This past IAP, I interned at the Boston Medical Center as part of the Autism Program’s Research Team. I was not prepared for how quickly IAP would fly past; between lectures, meetings, writing, and learning, the month was gone in no time at all. One of my projects included developing a research proposal to study the effectiveness of the Parent Leadership in Autism Network (PLAN), the Autism Center’s parent mentorship and support program. This proposal would serve as a roadmap for any future studies carried out. My other project involved creating a codebook, which is a standardized system to analyze qualitative data such as transcripts, for the Teens Engaged as Mentors (TEAM) program. This codebook would then be used to analyze data from TEAM, a program in which teenagers mentor younger children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and participants participant in monthly outings to things like bowling or a Red Sox game.

I was a little overwhelmed at the beginning of IAP, because I felt I was starting with very little background knowledge. I was especially nervous about creating the TEAM codebook, because I had absolutely no experience with qualitative research methods before. However, through collaboration with other interns and the Autism Program staff, I was able to learn more about this approach to research. I really appreciated the fact that in qualitative research, narratives and testimony from those directly affected (ideally) inform conclusions. 

This struck me as a powerful thing, since this wasn’t a paradigm of research I was used to – we are often taught, especially at MIT, to view the world and people in it as problems to be solved. In the Autism Program on the other hand, community insight was seen as a precious gift to drive solutions. This was most readily apparent in a caregiver focus group I attended towards the end of IAP, in which caregivers talked about their experience taking their children with ASD to the doctor’s. They described the particular traits of their children and methods they had identified as being helpful through a careful practice of trial and error. What was striking was that some tactics that parents mentioned, such as providing sensory distraction and running through the routine of the visit beforehand, were also strategies incorporated by the Autism Program. These caregivers displayed as much ingenuity as any scientist or engineer, coupled with genuine concern and expertise about their children.

Another powerful learning experience was a Pediatric Grand Rounds lecture given by Dr. David Duong. He talked about the importance of support systems in ensuring health, and he tied in the community support he received in his own experience as an immigrant. This was important to me because it showed me there are career pathways in healthcare that are still focused on big-picture issues, in the intersection between medicine and policy. I think taking a community-based approach to health, rather than seeing health as something taking place in a doctor’s office, is fascinating, and I’d like to see how this approach could be further implemented in Boston.

My team finished our projects the last week of IAP, which was deeply satisfying. However, what made me happiest was realizing that in four weeks, I managed to truly connect with the other BMC interns. I honestly hadn’t expected to make any friends over IAP, but somehow we really bonded. We now have our own inside jokes about the Crosswalk of Death outside the office, the bathroom sinks that spray water everywhere, the poorly-decorated wellness room, and the vent that makes the office unbearably cold. I love it. In fact, we’re planning on continuing to hang out past IAP – everything from group fitness classes to cooking together is in the works. I’m incredibly happy that while engaging with the larger Boston community at BMC, I built a community of my own.

Tags: IAP Health 2020

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