Second-year med student balances school with kidney research

October 15, 2012

Bethany Kirkpatrick, second-year medical student

Balancing classes in medical school can be enough of a challenge, but it takes talent to include research on the side. Bethany Kirkpatrick ’15, a second-year medical student at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) College of Medicine, exemplifies that talent by continuing kidney research while pursuing a career as a physician.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia, Kirkpatrick was involved in her sorority Pi Beta Phi and the Pre-Physician Assistant Club. Her initial goal was to attend physician assistant school, so after graduation, she took a job as a patient care technician for Satellite Dialysis in Austin.

“I started out as a patient care technician and loved getting to work so closely with patients,” Kirkpatrick says. “However, two months into the job, a position for research coordinator opened up. I had no prior clinical research experience, but I was a very dedicated worker and thought the job sounded really interesting, so the company promoted me.”

It was then that Kirkpatrick fell in love with nephrology and decided to become a doctor. After two years at Satellite Dialysis, she moved to Boston to pursue a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University School of Medicine. Part of the degree included a thesis, so she chose vitamin D and chronic kidney disease research and found a nephrologist at Tufts Medical Center to be her mentor.

“Of course, I just had to write my thesis on something kidney related,” Kirkpatrick says. “And I was fortunate enough that when I finished my thesis, my mentor hired me as a clinical research coordinator.”

This position at Tufts offered her insight into a more relational side of the field. Data collection included working with individual patients with kidney disease.

“They’re a special group, and you get to see them for years. I love that you get to be a part of their care for a long time,” Kirkpatrick says.

A year later, she focused on her long-time goal and moved to Temple to attend the TAMHSC-College of Medicine.

“While I loved finally being in medical school, a part of me still missed nephrology research,” Kirkpatrick says.

Donald E. Wesson, M.D., FACP, in the TAMHSC-College of Medicine is secretary-treasurer of the American Society of Nephrology and works with Kirkpatrick on kidney research.

“Dr. Wesson helps make it easier to balance research with school,” Kirkpatrick says. “If I have a test coming up, I just ask if we can meet earlier in the week or postpone until the exam. He is always very cooperative.”

Kirkpatrick realizes school is her main priority, but she sees her opportunity to do kidney research as an added bonus.

“Being involved in kidney research while I am in school helps me see beyond the classroom and reminds me why I chose to study medicine in the first place,” she says.

Kirkpatrick is currently focused on analyzing data of her kidney project – the effects of smoking cessation on kidney disease. Seeing the final results of the data is an exciting experience for her and creates a sense of accomplishment.

“Kidney research is what got me involved in going to medical school. It will always be a part of what I do,” she says.


— Blair Williamson