Calling Dr. Google: Teens Redefine Health Research

Teens talk about why diversity in research matters

By Samantha Ngooi and Vineet Arora, MD

Suppose you discover an unusual rash on your arm that you haven’t seen before, or develop a sudden headache and blurred vision. What do you do? Chances are, if you’re anything like the average American teenager, you Google it. A recent study revealed that 84% of teens get their health information online, with 53% percent of these students using Google to begin their search. Teens research health issues for a variety of reasons: class assignments, preventive care, and self-diagnosis either for themselves or family members. Generally, the greater the diversity of students’ backgrounds, the greater the diversity of health issues deemed “very important” by students.

Interestingly, the demographic differences that exist in students’ rankings of health topics by importance are not unlike those found in health research careers. Researchers often rely on personal experience and background to formulate research questions, making it critical to cultivate, recruit, and retain a diverse research workforce. As our nation’s population becomes increasingly diverse, it is important that all aspects of our health care workforce represent that diversity. So how can we connect diverse teens and their health interests today so that they become health researchers tomorrow?

TEACH STRIVES lab microscope

Enter a group of 5 Chicago Public School students who decided to take matters into their own hands. As part of the NIH-funded TEACH STRIVES (Spreading Teen Research-Inspired Videos to Engage Schoolmates) grant, led by Vineet Arora, MD (@FutureDocs) at the University of Chicago Medicine, these teens conducted their own research this summer to see how they could motivate their peers to consider careers in health research.

The students, all high-achieving Collegiate Scholars at the University of Chicago, found that most of their peers found research boring and irrelevant to them. Generally, surveyed teens associated research with schoolwork and felt that classroom constraints (deadlines, word counts, topics) limited their curiosity and perceived impact. In the words of one student, “I think if it [research] felt just more real, kind of making an impact on the world or…just making an impact on my peers or anyone I know, that would make me feel like I’m actually doing something rather than just writing a paper.”

Inspired by viral video campaigns like Proctor & Gamble’s “Like a Girl” and Girl Scout’s #forEVERYgirl, the STRIVES students created a campaign that uses social media to inspire peer interest in clinical research careers and redefine why research is important to teens. Their social media campaign, #RedefineResearch, seeks to bust myths about research careers while highlighting the relevance of health research to teens and their communities. In addition to a video and infographic (below), students also created a petition to create a National TEACH Research Day to promote STEM research careers in schools.

5 Minute Guide to Clinical Research Careers

The campaign aims for more teens to feel, as one student did, that “research is…both critical and important …we need new cures, new discovery, more research, because it’s going to help people.” Help spread the word by signing the petition and sharing the video and infographic through social media using #redefineresearch. Interested in learning more or sharing your ideas? Email us at teachstrives@gmail.com.

TEACH STRIVES is funded by the NIH grant 5R01GM107721-02

About TEACH STRIVES (2 Articles)
Vineet Arora, MD, is principal investigator for TEACH STRIVES, which she co-leads with David Meltzer, MD, PhD at the University of Chicago Medicine. Co-investigators include Jeanne Farnan, MD, MPHE, Shannon Martin, MD, MS, and Audrey Tanksley, MD. Samantha Ngooi, MPP is the TEACH STRIVES project manager. Project coordinators include Zachary Bradley, Shira Fishbach, Noah Hellermann, and Sarah McNeilly.
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