Health Professions

Distinction in Research program helps students engage in research at a deeper level

PA studies student Caitlyn Swopes

As the first student in the School of Health Professions’ Distinction in Research program, Caitlyn Swopes credits the experience with helping her pursue research even as she manages a full schedule in the Physician Assistant Studies program.

“I want to practice as a PA, but I want to eventually get my PhD, so research is probably something I will stick with for a while,” she said. “I didn’t realize that I had the time to do it in PA school, and when I realized I did, a lot of opportunities opened up.”

Swopes’ research topic is an interdisciplinary opioid overdose awareness and reversal agent project called Operation Naloxone.

“The project involves training — initially students and now residents of Alpha Home (a nonprofit long-term substance abuse recovery center) — on Naloxone use, and provides education on opioids, the opioid epidemic and overdose prevention and response,” Swopes said.

Swopes performed the research with students from the Long School of Medicine and UT College of Pharmacy. Their research posters have been accepted to the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium, the 15th Annual Community Service Learning Conference and the 2022 Society of Student Run Free Clinics Conference. Data analysis of pre- and post-training surveys given to students who received a one-hour training showed a substantial increase in the ability to identify and respond to an opioid overdose, Swopes said.

The Distinction in Research program recognizes health professions students who demonstrate a commitment to research with an independent research project that goes beyond the requirements of their respective program, said Timothy A Reistetter, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, associate dean for research in the School of Health Professions.

“One of the long term goals of the program is to help fill the severe shortage of faculty who will train the next generation of allied health professionals,” said David Henzi, EdD, associate dean for academic and student affairs.

Three first-year School of Health Professions students were accepted into the program this year: speech-language pathology student Jena Hermes, PA Studies student Daniel Martin and master of medical laboratory sciences student Dylan Palmer.

“I applied for the program because it is my goal to one day be the PI of a research laboratory,” Palmer said. “From this experience I hope to gain a better understanding of how the grant process works, become more efficient in my laboratory practices and overall become more autonomous in the lab.” 

The Distinction in Research program awards a designation to students upon graduation. Just one first-year student per program can be accepted each year. Among other requirements, students in the program must maintain a 3.5 GPA or better, submit an abstract and be accepted to a state, national or international conference, and present their research during a symposium the spring before graduation.

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