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Eight Years Strong: CTSI-RAP Develops Next Gen Clinical Researchers, Undergraduate Research Week and Beyond



UCLA CTSI News Archive


The UCLA CTSI Research Associates Program (CTSI-RAP), a pipeline program that exposes undergraduates to hospital-based health practice and clinical research, has completed its eighth year.

Under the guidance of faculty mentors, CTSI-RAP research associates become comfortable with the workings of a hospital and gain skills in professionalism, patient communication, and research methodology. Typically during their tenure, students interact with research subjects, collect and analyze data, and contribute to publications and presentations.

Due to the pandemic, CTSI-RAP students have had limited opportunities to participate in active projects as clinical research volunteers have been on a pause within the Health System since March 2020. Even so, the students and their leaders have continued to promote clinical research education and learning opportunities within the campus community. Students have met weekly, heard from a diversity of guest speakers, attended various departmental grand rounds, networked professionally and socially, and learned about post-graduate opportunities in the health professions. Our Student Directors, Ashley Huynh and Gabrielle Le were vital and impressive in sustaining a welcoming and engaging environment for all students.

“This past year has been a challenge with converting in-person research experiences to virtual discussions that attempt to synthesize clinical research knowledge and skill development into interactive presentations and discussions. Such training and networking has proved impactful for students to realize the opportunities available to them at the post-graduate level in multiple health careers,” Laurie Shaker-Irwin, CTSI-RAP clinical research advisor, said, "Over the past several years, many of our students have applied successfully to health professional schools of all types including medicine, public health, physician assistant, physical therapy, and nursing.” 

Experience Undergraduate Research Week with CTSI-RAP

As part of the pivot to more virtual experiences, CTSI-RAP is pleased to announce that nine abstracts were accepted and will be presented at the UCLA Undergraduate Research Week's Undergraduate Research and Creativity Showcase on May 25, which is hosted by the Undergraduate Research Centers.

Occurring May 24 – May 28, RAP students will be able to describe their projects during the Research Week to faculty, fellow students, and staff through a virtual platform in either live or recorded presentations. 

Title of PresentationCTSI-RAP PresenterPrincipal Investigator
Identifying Variation in Community-Level COVID-19 Case Counts and Health Determinants to Promote Safer Behaviors Amidst the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) ReopeningRebecca Phelan, Eden Wetzel, Fiza Baloch, Sandhya Rajkumar, and Jordan LoDr. Moira Inkelas
Effect of Tai Chi on Quality of Life in Older Adults With Major DepressionVaidehi RamanarayananDr. Helen Lavretsky
Assessing the Reproductive Life History of Women Through Alzheimer’s Related InflammationAngela WangDr. Molly Fox
Quantifying Adipose Tissue in Children Using Free-Breathing Magnetic Resonance ImagingKelsey KuwaharaDr. Holden Wu
The Use of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in Clinical and Translational Research Centers (CTRCs)Varshni NandakumarDr. Noah Federman/CTRC
Impacts of COVID-19 on Chronic Disease Management: A Mixed Methods StudyAshley HuynhDr. Lauren Wisk
Operational Changes in the UCLA-Westwood Clinical & Translational Research Center during the COVID-19 PandemicAlec SimoniDr. Noah Federman/CTRC
Reported Impact of COVID-19 on Chronic Mental Health Condition ManagementConnie LeeDr. Lauren Wisk
UCLA CTSI Research Associates Program: Promoting Clinical Research and Cultivating the Next Generation of Medical ScientistsSherry Dorosk, Alice Ma, Amy Kumar, Hailey VallesDr. Laurie Shaker-Irwin / Dr. Noah Federman

In parallel with the Showcase, CTSI-RAP is hosting several events relevant to the undergraduate population. The first program took place on May 6, “Overcoming Barriers as a Pre-Health Student: An Open Conversation” and featured panelists Dr. Jennifer Lucero, Associate Dean of Admissions at UCLA DGSOM and Dr. Ifeoma Amah, Director of the UCLA Academic Advancement Program & Peer Learning Facilitator. The event addressed the pre-health educational paths which are sometimes challenging to students who are underrepresented or experience inequities while pursuing a health profession. 

Other highlights of Research Week will include CTSI-RAP student Alec Simoni as one of four invited students for a “Research in the Time of COVID Panel” scheduled for Monday, May 24 from 1-2 pm. In their promotion of clinical research at the undergraduate level, CTSI-RAP students will host an undergraduate workshop entitled “What is Clinical Research?”, a discussion of clinical research with a question/answer session, on Wednesday, May 26 from 3-4 pm and a second iteration on Saturday, May 29 from 4-5 pm. To close out the week, a CTSI-RAP Coffee Chat is scheduled for Friday, May 28 for students to learn more about the program and the fall application process.

CTSI-RAP Leadership, 2020-2021
“Our goal is to increase interest and engagement with clinical research among the greater UCLA community. We are very excited to host such events as they are valuable opportunities for UCLA students to gain insight into pre-health education, clinical research and CTSI-RAP, " shares Vaidehi Ramanarayanan, a CTSI-RAP Ambassador, "attendees will also be able to participate in discussions that will enable them to become better equipped to face the changing landscapes of healthcare and clinical research. Especially with the pause on in-person volunteering this past year, these events are vital in providing opportunities for engagement with clinical research and to prepare them better for the professional world.”

Unique Training Opportunities and a Growing Legacy

While Research Week shows the culmination of students’ research this year, CTSI-RAP outreach and collaboration efforts also provide these students with the rigor and training to enter health care professions. 

Dr. Noah Federman, CTSI-RAP medical director, notes that "CTSI-RAP is a one-of-its-kind program training and mentoring the next generation of clinical researchers and physician scientists. It has been a joy to watch these wide-eyed students find their love for clinical investigation and contributing to our medical knowledge base as a whole. We are proud to be a stepping stone for these talented phenoms as they begin their journeys into the healthcare field." 

CTSI-RAP has also conducted collaborative outreach to those traditionally under‐represented students in research. Shaker-Irwin says “We have invited speakers who reflect UCLA's diversity and impactful research so that students hone an awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion concepts with their peers, Health System faculty/staff, and most importantly, in working with the types of patients they will be treating in their future health careers.”

Over the past year, expert speakers provided information on their career paths, clinical and research knowledge, and most importantly sage life advice at weekly meetings through both didactic and experiential delivery. Below are the featured topics and speakers:
  • Pulmonary & Critical Care under COVID‐19 (Dr. Igor Barjaktarevic)
  • Health Care Disparities (LAC, LAUSD, STOP COVID‐19) and Equity Diversity and Inclusion (Drs. Arleen Brown and Moira Inkelas)
  • Emergency Medicine (Dr. Haig Aintablian)
  • COVID-19 Clinical Research and Vaccines (Dr. Laurie Shaker-Irwin)
  • National COVID Cohort Collaborative/Bioinformatics (Dr. Doug Bell)
  • Palliative Care (Dr. Azadeh Dashti)
  • Gambling and Addiction Medicine (Dr. Timothy Fong)
  • Medical School Admissions (Dr. Theodore Moore)
  • Patient Sensitivity Workshop (Gabrielle Le and Ashley Huynh)
  • Radiation Oncology (Dr. Anusha Kalbasi)
  • Pediatric Oncology/Differential Diagnosis (Dr. Noah Federman)
  • Medical School and Residency (Calvin Lau MSIV)
  • Clinical Neuropsychology and Memory Care (Dr. Karen Miller)
  • Case Simulation: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (Dr. Laurie Shaker-Irwin)
  • Healthcare Workforce Wellness (Dr. Karen Miotto). In this latter session, CTSI-RAP inspired the creative side of our students to compete in a shark tank product pitch for their peers.
This past year also featured other events including a CTSI-RAP hosted journal club with the Emergency Medicine Research Associates (EMRA) and a campus‐wide "Clinical Research Ethics ‐ Case Studies in Medicine Seminar".  

“The previous events hosted by CTSI-RAP Research Ambassadors were incredible opportunities to enable impactful discussions about topics pertaining to clinical research”, says Brandon Ton. “Our Journal Club served as a platform to foster intercommunication with other undergraduate pre-health organizations within UCLA; by spearheading such partnerships, Research Ambassadors hope to showcase and garner interest for clinical research to the pre-health and greater UCLA community. The ‘Clinical Research Ethics - Case Studies in Medicine Seminar’ provided an opportunity to present case studies in history involving unethical practices, which then fueled discussions about bioethics in today’s healthcare practices. Having the opportunity to host these events has been instrumental in educating the greater UCLA community on pertinent topics of clinical research and modern healthcare.”

One hundred and twenty-five students have participated in CTSI-RAP since its inception in 2013. Students in their second or third years are selected based upon an application and recruitment process that involves thoughtful essays and two in-person interviews. Students are on-boarded by the Office of Volunteer Services and CTSI’s human resources to ensure appropriate institutional training with regard to patient care and privacy. 

CTSI-RAP also provides students with leadership opportunities. Student Directors and Research Ambassadors play a key leadership role in motivating and setting the culture and tone of the program. Student Liaisons lead each project and interact with the investigators directly. The students maintain a website, social media links Facebook page, Instagram @UCLA_CTSI_RAP, and network over LinkedIn. They have social events to encourage interactions, teamwork, and camaraderie. Students and faculty mentors evaluate the program each year to optimize the program’s mission and goals. The unique blend of first hand clinical experience and scientific research gives CTSI-RAP alumni an advantage in healthcare and research for the future.

“I am honored to have been able to advise and mentor such a strong and capable group of undergraduate students in clinical research over the years,” Shaker Irwin said. “Each of our students comes to the program with different lived experiences and talents they are able to showcase and share with our clinical research teams and fellow RAP students. They develop strong skills in the areas most important to health careers – communication, responsibility, and problem-solving. Students apply to take on leadership positions in the student-led program. Such initiative is key to their personal growth and development, maturity, and future success as they step out beyond their comfort zones in their roles as volunteer research associates in UCLA Health clinical settings.”  

Celebrating Our Upcoming Graduates

Later this month, the RAP Graduation & Alumni Night will provide a forum for celebrating our graduating seniors who have contributed their volunteer hours on RAP projects within the UCLA Health System and for returning program alumni to discuss their career paths since graduation. We anticipate over 50 attendees for the event where Dr. Steven Dubinett, Associate Vice Chancellor and Senior Associate Dean for Translational Research at UCLA and the UCLA CTSI Director, is the invited speaker acknowledging the students' dedication to the UCLA research mission. The impressive alumni attendance is proof that the traditions and values instilled by CTSI‐RAP leadership and faculty mentors to pay it forward are actualized by encouraging the next generation to follow biomedical career paths.

“As a student leader and member of CTSI-RAP,” Connie Lee, CTSI-RAP Research Ambassador, states “it has been such a rewarding and transformative experience to take part in the growth of the program. Together, we have created a supportive, uplifting community among our members that has allowed us to overcome barriers that transcend academic and professional spheres. Despite COVID-19 impacts on the pause of projects on campus, members have proven their commitment to bettering themselves and the communities around them by maintaining their presence and advocacy of CTSI-RAP values on virtual platforms. On behalf of CTSI-RAP, I am proud of our facilitation of thoughtful discussions regarding contemporary issues in hospital-based health practice and clinical research and creation of plentiful learning opportunities for clinical research education within the greater UCLA community.”

Get Assistance with Your Clinical Research Projects

We are excited to hear from faculty investigators and their projects for the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year. Further RAP information and a spotlight video may be found on our website. 

If you are interested to have RAP student volunteers assist on your research projects, please contact Dr. Laurie Shaker-Irwin at LShakerIrwin@mednet.ucla.edu

This article was written by Laurie Shaker-Irwin, Ph.D., M.S., and CTSI-RAP Student Ambassadors Connie Lee, Vaidehi Ramanarayanan and Brandon Ton.