Call the Doctor...
I am Danielle, a medical student in my fifth year of study. However, this year I am not in clinical medicine and instead undertaking a Masters in Medical Sciences. My research explores how swallowing function changes as we age and whether certain genetic factors may play a role in that change.
Why did you decide to do research?
Medical students have the opportunity to take a year out and study another medical related subject in depth and gain an extra degree, which is called an intercalated degree. I chose to do a research masters to gain research experience and skills needed to help my career development. I also knew it would be a pleasant change before I undertake my final exams in fifth year, which are supposed to be incredibly stressful! I found my third year placement in gastroenterology (the area of medicine that covers the digestive system) incredibly interesting. This was why I decided to undertake research in this area.
What is your research about?
Everybody swallows around 2000 times a day and it is essential to life! Despite this we do not fully understand how it works. However, we know it does involve a lot of muscles and quite a few areas of the brain.
As we age our swallowing gets worse and many elderly people develop swallowing problems. The issue is quite common and has been shown to affect approximately 11% of elderly people living in the community. This is important because the treatment for swallowing problems is limited.
The first part of my research explores how swallowing function in elderly people changes over time. A questionnaire has been sent to people over the age of 80 that allows them to self report the extent of their swallowing problems, if they have any. The same questionnaire was sent to the same people three years ago and this therefore allows me to analyse if their swallowing has changed over time.
The next part of my research is investigating why only some people develop swallowing problems as they get older. Certain inherited factors, called genes, could play a role in the development of swallowing problems in otherwise healthy elderly people. This could mean that if you inherit a certain genetic factor from your parents, you are more likely to develop swallowing problems as you age.
This is important because it increases our understanding of swallowing and perhaps one day we may be able to predict who will develop swallowing problems. Ultimately, my research will help towards developing new treatments for those with swallowing problems and result in better care for patients.
What have you enjoyed most about your masters?
This year has been one of my favourite years in medical school! Being able to gain experience in research methodology and analysis in an area I find fascinating has given me a better idea of what I would like to do in the future. Sometimes it can feel as though we are being rushed through medical school so that we can start practicing as doctors as soon as possible. Having this year to do something different has definitely helped me reflect on my previous medical school years and consider what I want from my career.
Also, having the opportunity to network with world leading researchers has increased my confidence. Having such great figures as mentors has helped me with my current research and allowed me to think in a different, more critical way. Lastly, doing research has helped develop my organisation and time management skills. This has meant that I have been able to make the most out of this year by participating in extra-curricular activities and even start the gym.
What will you do after your research?
After completing my masters I will return to my fifth and final year of medical, which I am anticipating to be quite hard and challenging. Following that I will graduate and become a doctor. I hope to do some more research in the not so distant future.
If you would like more information on research in swallowing, please look at the following relevant websites:
A video that shows what a normal swallow is like
The NHS website explains swallowing problems and how they can be treated in further detail.
Stroke is the leading cause of swallowing problems and is common. More information about stroke can be found here.
There's also more here about the gastrointestinal research that takes place at University of Manchester.
To find out about studying medicine at The University of Manchester, you can look at the department's webpages.
The Brightside Trust's Bright Knowledge can also help you to think about pursuing medicine and healthcare- related careers.