When thinking about a career after university, undergraduate students in medical or health sciences often feel stuck vying for a spot in medicine or healthcare. But the Western University Health and Research Conference aimed to show students the multitude of other scientific aspirations that exist.

The event, which took place on Nov. 15, was put together by Western’s Friends of Doctors Without Borders: a club that aims to raise awareness and raise funds for doctors involved in international humanitarian non-government organizations.

WUHRC gave a glimpse into scientific research endeavours through speaker panels and one-on-one networking opportunities. 

“Undergraduates don’t really have any opportunities to actually see research in action,” explains Salonee Patel, third-year medical sciences student and communications director of WUHRC. “We hear about it in class and stuff, but this conference offers students the opportunity to see what research is through speakers [who] are currently doing cutting-edge investigations.” 

Approximately 100 students crowded into a small lecture room in the Physics and Astronomy Building where four professors explained their research. Research discussed included psychotherapeutic interventions, skin cell regeneration, perceptions of global health and neuro-anatomical circuitry. 

The lecture panels demonstrated that even though scientific research may be a strenuous occupation that includes hours of testing, analytics and fieldwork — the occupation does yield results in a wide variety of sectors.

At the event, anthropologist Elysèe Nouvet and general psychiatry professor and chief psychiatrist at Victoria Hospital, Volker Hocke, discussed the humanitarian side of research. Each of them introduced their work in cultural anthropology and psychotherapy, discussing the long hours of fieldwork they have done. 

Both speakers highlighted the idea that field research involves patience, determination and flexibility in order to yield results.

Nouvet described her work during the Ebola epidemic in Central Africa and the divergent perceptions that local citizens had on medical health.

Nouvet reached out to citizens in West African communities in attempts to explain the scope of the virus. However, most locals did not understand the importance of medical research, quarantines and isolated disease control measures, which made them skeptical of medical science from Western society. 

She highlighted how palliative care, which is defined by WHO as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients facing problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering”, could have helped prevent the spread of Ebola. However, holistic palliative care was omitted from efforts to tackle the crises because of local citizens’ negative perceptions. 

"They put more emphasis on traditional healing as opposed to medical help," says Nouvet.

Hocke also spoke about the humanistic side of research studies, focusing on mental health issues among youth in relation to cultural dissent and drug abuse.

He opened up about a specific patient he studied; a university student with bipolar disorder who was suicidal. Hocke studied the student for over a year and highlighted the idea that physicians need to have patience and compassion when studying youth with mental health problems.

Professors Lina Daginino and Professor Anne Simon also spoke about their research experiences and the processes of creating and implementing an experimental procedure in relation to skin cell regeneration and discovering a genetic base for social recognition. 

“It opened my eyes to the fact that you don’t necessarily have to be a doctor after going into medical school. There’s so many more interesting aspects of research that you can go into,” said first-year medical sciences student Vandana Ratnam. 

Students can follow the Western University Health and Research Conference here to find out about future conferences. 

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