While at HudsonAlpha, CaRES intern Bethany Johnson participated in professional development sessions with BioTrain interns, including presenting at a poster session to conclude her program. HudsonAlpha investigator Jozef Lazar, MD, PhD, asked Johnson questions about her poster during the session.

Medical school student learns importance of physicians who understand genomics

Bethany Johnson, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and a native of Harvest, Ala., wants to practice primary care medicine in a rural setting. However, Johnson also loves math and computer programming. In fact, she earned her undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. As a CaRES program participant at HudsonAlpha this summer, Johnson found she might be able to combine the two.

CaRES is the Cancer Research Experiences for Students program that provides paid summer cancer research internships for medical students and graduate students on the UAB campus or at institutions affiliated with UAB. CaRES is funded by a generous research training grant from the National Cancer Institute and has supported over 600 students since its initial funding in 1999.

Under the mentorship of Devin Absher, PhD, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha, Johnson worked on a set of computer programs that processes and prepares genomic data for analysis.

“I think it was great to be able to do some research in medical school,” Johnson said. “I had missed getting to do math and computer-type work my first year of medical school. I really enjoy math, so it was great to get an opportunity to apply some of my math skills again.”

Johnson said some people she spoke with during the poster presentation talked with her about using what she learned about bioinformatics – developing and using computer tools to analyze genomic data – in her career as a physician.

“I might be able to help patients who need to have genomic testing done or who would benefit from being referred to a place like The Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine,” she said. “Even if I’m not able to be involved in a lot of research, I’ve learned it’s important to have primary care doctors with a background in bioinformatics.”

Her mentor Absher agreed. “It’s important for promising medical school students like Ms. Johnson to have exposure to genomics research,” he said. “Whether she pursues a career in medicine, in research, or both, this experience will help her understand the value of applying genomics to medicine.”

This is the first year that HudsonAlpha has participated as part of the CaRES internships in collaboration with UAB. Previously, all internships were conducted on the UAB campus.

To learn more about the CaRES cancer research experience, which is directed by John Waterbor, PhD, of UAB, visit the program page on the UAB website.

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