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A Summer for the Ages

Jan. 15, 2021

This post is by Aaron Alokozai, who completed the Value-Based Health Care Summer Research Internship in 2019.

Prior to medical school, I spent over four years under the mentorship of Rob Kamal, M.D., MBA, an assistant professor at Stanford University. We often collaborated with the Dell Medical School team, and it became a dream of mine to enter this “factory of innovation.” I aspired to learn from legends such as Professors Kevin Bozic, M.D., MBA, and David Ring, M.D., Ph.D. To me, Dell Med was the place where ideas on the chalkboard came to life — a place where thinkers put thoughts to action and a place where all ideas were welcomed without judgement and bias. Despite these preconceived notions, nothing could have prepared me for one of the best summers of my life.

Before I moved to Austin for my Value-Based Health Care Summer Research Internship, the ball was already rolling. Remotely, I was encouraged to pursue my interests and ideas. I was a chef in a kitchen filled with all the tools and ingredients imaginable: ideas turned to proposals, proposals into Institutional Review Board submissions, and IRB submissions into approved research studies ready to harvest data before I even stepped foot in the Health Transformation Building. Weekly research meetings and one-on-ones with internship supervisor and Assistant Director of Research Lauren Uhler, MPH, kept that ball steadily rolling. I was invited to be lead author on Dr. Bozic’s quarterly column in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research once the team learned of my interest in patient activation.

Upon my arrival, I was welcomed as part of the family. It took some getting used to, but M.D.s and Ph.D.s introduced themselves on a first-name basis, breaking the formal wall and welcoming partnership. While I only had a summer, I was driven to soak in as much as possible. This became easy with a team eager to teach and a friendly yearlong Orthopaedic Value-Based Health Care fellow — Meredith Moore (aka “Firecracker”) — who helped me get involved in all aspects of the mission. Together, we attended every lecture and Grand Rounds we could, expanding our clinical and investigative horizons with each. There were also ample opportunities for orthopaedic experience that was helpful for personal career exploration. I was able to see patients in clinic, assist Dr. Ring with in-office hand surgeries and shadow Orthopaedics Division Chief Karl Koenig, M.D., M.S., in the operating room.

Beyond research and lectures, I received a crash course on the operational side of Integrated Practice Units, payment model innovation and employing patient-reported outcomes in care delivery. This was through biweekly team meetings focused on quality improvement and evaluating IPUs. Further, I was encouraged to attend business meetings with Prakash Jayakumar, M.D., Ph.D., director of clinical research and outcome measurement, and Clinical Program Manager Celeste Campbell on enhancing PRO collection in clinic.

In addition to endless learning, I made everlasting friendships, and experiencing Austin was truly a joy. I got in the best shape of my life working out with Anthony “AJ” Johnson, M.D., associate professor and Orthopaedic Surgery Residency program director, and Meredith. Despite my huffing and puffing, they taught me the mental strength to push through challenges. There was never a dull moment, from afternoon yoga classes, walking to get tacos, eating delicious homemade (and healthy) desserts made by Celeste and working with students from all over the globe. While I was a “summer” fellow, the experience transcended the summer with reunions in Phoenix and New Orleans with members of the team.

I encourage all medical students to apply, but one must beware of the side effects: You may experience signs and symptoms such as never wanting to leave, undergoing a transformative period of learning and creating lifelong memories and friends.