Research In Action

Research In Action

Julia Vanni Minds Matter
Capping Off College with Concussion Research
June 5, 2018

As a Northeastern University student, I began working at CIRP in January 2015 to fulfill a cooperative experiential (co-op) requirement. Though I had no prior research experience, I had the good fortune to serve as a research assistant for several pediatric concussion studies. This experience proved to be formative to my college career as it developed my research skills and challenged my career ambitions.

Through the interdisciplinary nature of the concussion team, I recognized the enhanced insights and benefits possible when researchers are clinically active in their area of research and not removed from their patients’ lives. They inspired me to pursue Master of Public Health and Physician Assistant degrees so that I, too, could work as a liaison between clinical medicine and research.

Long after leaving CIRP, the scientists I worked with continued to mentor me. Dr. Kristy Arbogast, in particular, has enriched my personal and professional life significantly. Although it was not required, she continued to share her skills, knowledge, and expertise to help me achieve my goals. She also stressed the importance of ongoing learning and challenging myself. When it was time to select a mentor for my senior Capstone project, I turned to her. 

Capstone Project on Injury Recovery

Under Dr. Arbogast’s guidance, I analyzed associations between pre-existing medical conditions and the clinical course of youth concussion patients to complete my project. Research shows pre-existing medical conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may lead to longer recovery times and increased school accommodations for concussed teens. However, limited knowledge exists regarding how other pre-existing medical conditions may extend the clinical course and impact of prescriptions for school accommodations in these youths.

To help address this gap, my team utilized the electronic health record (EHR) to identify patients aged 5-18 who presented to the CHOP Care Network with concussion from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. I helped create a REDCap Database and abstracted 300 variables, including length of clinical course, prescription of school accommodations, and pre-existing medical conditions for 575 subjects. Using this rich dataset, I utilized R Studio to complete a crude analysis describing the relationship between these conditions and length of clinical course and prescription of school accommodations. 

The results show that 32 percent of the study population had at least one pre-existing medical condition, with the most common: ADHD (8.5 percent), learning disability (8.2 percent), migraine (5.6 percent), and anxiety (4.7 percent). Those with pre-existing medical conditions have a similar clinical course but were prescribed school accommodations more frequently than others. Youth with pre-existing migraines, however, had the longest median clinical course – 36.5 days.

Presenting Her Findings

With Dr. Arbogast’s guidance, I was invited to present my findings earlier this year at the Northeastern RISE Research Expo. She challenged me to think critically about how to present my results in a way that answered my research objectives and had the most impact and also helped me through the entire submission process. I received very positive feedback from the judges and faculty.

This project gave me an opportunity to better my understanding of the research process and to take a research study from start to finish. I now understand the literature surrounding pediatric concussion and how to create a project which addresses a current knowledge gap. I also learned the intricacies of R Studio and managed a large data file.

I look forward to continuing my career at CIRP in July when I join the team as a Research Assistant. There is so much amazing growth and learning that lies ahead of me.