Blog COVID-19 Infectious Disease

From hospital wards to schools: the diversity of infectious disease research

Written by Devin Diggs, BS candidate in Neuroscience and Behavior at the University of Notre Dame and participant in the 2021 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

This summer, I am working alongside Jason Newland, MD, MEd, Professor of Pediatrics, School of Medicine. Dr. Newland is a pediatric infectious disease physician with research interests in antimicrobial stewardship and COVID-19 mitigation strategies within K-12 schools. These two branches of his work have formed the basis of my experience in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track.

Devin at Notre Dame Stadium. Dr. Newland and Devin both attended the University of Notre Dame for their undergraduate degrees.

Dr. Newland leads the Sharing Antimicrobial Reports for Pediatric Stewardship (SHARPS) Collaborative where 70 hospitals work together to establish best practices in antimicrobial prescribing for hospitalized children. In 2016, the SHARPS collaborative launched a study to assess inappropriate antibiotic prescribing among hospitalized children. The study found that nearly one in three patients received at least one suboptimal antibiotic order. However, research is limited on which medical and surgical services have the greatest inappropriate use. To learn more about where this inappropriate prescribing is taking place within hospitals, the SHARPS collaborative distributed an updated survey throughout 2019 and 2020.

My primary task this summer has been analyzing the quantitative data of this recent survey to describe inappropriate antibiotic orders by medical and surgical service. This project will provide data that will hopefully inform more targeted antimicrobial stewardship interventions. In addition to Dr. Newland, I have the opportunity to collaborate with two of the principal investigators of the previous study, Alison Tribble, MD, from the University of Michigan Medical School and Brian Lee, PhD, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. Without prior experience in quantitative analysis, mentorship from Dr. Newland, Dr. Tribble, and Dr. Lee has been instrumental in my ability to discover findings within the data and develop a new skill set. This project has given me newfound knowledge in antimicrobial stewardship and skills in programming that will prove useful in my career as an aspiring physician-researcher.

With a previous exclusive focus on antimicrobials, Dr. Newland expanded his research interests upon the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is currently leading several projects aimed at better understanding how schools’ coronavirus policies impact the spread of the disease. My secondary task this summer has been assisting with one such project, specifically by conducting phone interviews with children (or if under age 12, their parents) who tested positive for COVID-19 or were considered close contacts due to a school exposure. In these interviews, I ask questions regarding mask-wearing, social distancing, and other COVID-19 related practices and refer families to free COVID-19 testing. Interaction with community members has been a highlight of my summer, and I appreciate the opportunity to engage in both quantitative and qualitative research.

This summer has been an insightful glimpse into the world of academic medicine and public health. The diversity of research topics and methods and witnessing how clinical care can inform scientific inquiry has excited me to develop my own topic of interest and has strengthened my desire to enter the field. Dr. Newland has taught me that medicine opens endless opportunities to pursue health-related interests, and I look forward to seeing where mine take me.