Written by Niamh Simmons, BSc, MD candidate at University College Dublin, Ireland and Summer Pediatric Research in Global Health Translation (SPRIGHT) Scholar in the 2022 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program
I have successfully completed my first year at medical school in Ireland, where I thrived in a class on infectious diseases. We are reminded during all of our lectures that the information being presented to us will not be taught again, so listen and learn it well. I memorized the different infectious diseases, their signs, symptoms and risk factors, diagnostic assessments, and each disease’s pathophysiology, microbiological cause, associated culture characteristics and therapeutic interventions. I considered myself somewhat of an expert in all things infectious disease-related. Particularly, I thought I was an expert in Tuberculosis Meningitis, on which I am completing a research project in the Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track under the supervision of Carlos Mejia-Chew, MD, assistant professor in WashU’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
While working on my research project, I have built on the solid foundation of knowledge I had on Tuberculosis Meningitis. Moreover, I have swiftly learned that I am not an expert by any definition in infectious diseases, and that medical school gives students the skills they need to be well-rounded, safe physicians. Medical school merely scratches the surface of all the information there is to know about these diseases.
I have learned many valuable lessons to date. One of which is that there is an unfathomable amount of uncharted territory for all diseases. Even experts are left with unanswered questions! There is always something new to discover, knowledge to learn and disseminate, and diagnostic tools and treatments to improve; all of which aim to increase the quality of life of our patients. Most importantly, I have learned that to be a researcher, I must stay curious, constantly ask questions, and remain resilient in the face of infinite unknowns.