Two second-year medical students and a recent M.P.H. graduate from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine collaborated on studies looking at attitudes and uptake of vaccinations during pregnancy. Their research was timely and rigorous enough to be presented at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Annual Clinical and Scientific Meeting in San Diego.
Such early career achievements for medical students and recent graduates are relatively rare. Generally, residents, fellows, attendings, or physician scientists present at ACOG and other major medical meetings every year.
“It is a very competitive process for anyone to have their work accepted at a meeting of this stature,” said Hilit F. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for student affairs. It is an honor “particularly for medical students to be granted this opportunity.”
The opportunity to present not one but two studies at ACOG “represents their commitment to this important scholarly endeavor as well as the type of excellent mentoring that our students receive when working with our faculty,” added Dr. Mechaber.
Medical students Gabriella Rodriguez and Valerie Vilarino, who are part of the NextGenMD curriculum, joined forces with Eva Agasse, M.P.H., to survey 360 postpartum women at Jackson Memorial Hospital from July to September 2021. They designed the survey with enough comprehensive questions that the results could be used for multiple research projects.
“Because it's an important area of interest in the field — vaccination and pregnancy — especially in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, people were interested to hear what we found,” Rodriguez said.
Implications for Diverse Populations
One study revealed that women with greater knowledge about COVID-19 were more likely than others to get vaccinated during pregnancy. A study like this “allows us to understand how minority populations might be choosing to make decisions about their health in the middle of a pandemic,” Rodriguez added.
A second research project found that non-U.S.-born women had a significantly higher uptake of influenza, Tdap, and COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy than other women. In addition, a higher proportion of Hispanic women received these vaccines during pregnancy, but the difference was not statistically significant.
Insight like this was possible because “we have a uniquely diverse population here in South Florida,” said Agasse, currently a senior case worker in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences.
Need for More Education about Vaccines
Overall, vaccine uptake during pregnancy is “suboptimal” and points to a need for greater education about the safety and effectiveness of vaccination during pregnancy, the researchers noted.
The two studies were presented as side-by-side posters at ACOG 2022. “We were lucky that we got placed next to each other. It was very important for us to showcase the work that we had all done together,” Agasse said.
‘Collaboration Over Competition’
“Outside of the actual knowledge that we gained, I think we're a really good example of how collaboration and research in medicine can really set you up for success,” Vilarino said. She doubted that she could have recruited, obtained informed consent, and surveyed 360 women on her own in one summer.
“The fact that Eva and Gabby and I worked together as a team allowed us to truly exponentially increase our success,” Vilarino added, and provided a powerful example of “collaboration over competition” in medical research.
The research served as a capstone project for Agasse’s M.P.H. degree, and as a scholarly project for the Women’s Health and Population Health Pathway of Emphasis for Rodriguez and Vilarino.
“We had a wonderful time working on this project, meeting the incredible women we serve here at Jackson,” Rodriguez said.
The researchers thank their mentor, JoNell Potter, Ph.D., professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Miller School of Medicine, for her guidance and support.