Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) student Jannel Lawrence, ’23, remembers witnessing many of her family members battling chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease while growing up on the Caribbean island of Dominica. “I wanted to learn how to manage and treat these conditions in addition to providing health information to my family. That’s how my love for medicine began,” says Lawrence.
An opportunity to shadow
Following the path to medical school, Lawrence majored in biology at the University of the Southern Caribbean in Trinidad and Tobago. Before applying to med school, she shadowed a pathologist back in Dominica at the main hospital while working as a medical laboratory assistant. “While working alongside the pathologist, I was captivated by how an accurate diagnosis at the cellular and tissue level helps to save lives and realized medicine had to be my career. I started applying to med school and was accepted at RUSM,” says Lawrence. Then, the pandemic happened—and it unexpectedly opened a new door for her.
How the pandemic inspired her research
Although information about COVID-19 and the subsequent impact on healthcare was still in its infancy, Lawrence made it her mission to learn as much as possible. “The pandemic fueled my eagerness to seek out research to improve public health. A lot wasn’t known during the early days of the pandemic, and there was already a lot of misinformation, which continues today. People weren’t sure where to turn and a lot of misleading information stemmed from the internet and social media. I learned how this false information was having a dramatic and negative impact on individual health and the healthcare system globally.”
During the third year of her academic career at RUSM, Lawrence was fortunate to collaborate with a team based in Larkin Community Hospital in Hialeah, Florida, on a research paper dealing with COVID-19 misinformation, “The impact of misinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic”. Published in AIMS Public Health in January of 2022, the research explored how false information perpetuates beliefs that lead to vaccine avoidance, mask refusal, and the use of medications based on poor scientific data—all of which contribute to increased morbidity. Lawrence explains that documentation for the research was gathered through published papers, databases, data, and articles addressing the topic.
“I discovered the research team by networking with doctors and medical students via social media. In our paper, we suggest ways to stop the dissemination of misinformation about COVID-19 to decrease negative health outcomes,” says Lawrence.
Facing current challenges in her clinical rotations
Currently in her fourth year clinical rotations at the University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center in Largo, Maryland, Lawrence continues to be fascinated with the investigative side of medicine and the state of public health but deals with the challenges she faces now. “During the Omicron surge, we were at Code Red for a few weeks. Many of those admitted to the ICU had COVID-19. It is stressful to worry about exposure, but we follow the protocols and take precautions. Tragically, the number of patients we see with COVID-19 reflects real-world examples of my research. During my rotations, I have encountered many seriously ill patients who have vaccine hesitancy from unscientific sources.”
The past, present, and future
Lawrence looks back on her years at RUSM as integral to her success. “RUSM has helped prepare me for a medical career, teaching me to be resilient and resourceful. The small group learning sessions, the clinical skills sessions with patient simulations, and all my experiences at RUSM have helped equip me with the basic knowledge and skills to tackle the clinical years.”
Her focus is now on preparing for the residency match and starting a career in Internal Medicine. “I am interested in Internal Medicine as a specialty because it affords the ability to diagnose, manage and treat a wide range of conditions while at the same time leaving the door open to the possibility of sub-specializing. As an Internal Medicine physician, I hope to also give back to the medical community as a mentor and educator, to empower the next generation of physicians. I would not be where I am today without the support and encouragement of amazing mentors in the field.”
Lawrence’s enthusiasm for Internal Medicine while at RUSM led her to start an Internal Medicine Interest group at her clinical site. “I know that there are medical students like me who are passionate about the field. They can benefit by learning more about general Internal Medicine and its subspecialties, and get a head start on internal medicine procedural skills, mentorship, and residency advice.” Eventually, Lawrence would like to return to Dominica to concentrate on improving community health care on the island.
Advice for students who want to pursue research
Lawrence urges medical students to think about where their passion lies in medicine. “Let that be your guide. If you are not sure where to begin when it comes to research, take the first step by learning the basics and gaining knowledge before becoming involved in a project. Knowledge fueled by enthusiasm, determination, and persistence can be the greatest combination for success. Use social networking sites like LinkedIn®, Twitter®, and Instagram™ to connect with other researchers, find mentors, and gauge opportunities. Always be willing to learn and go the extra mile, since you never know who is willing to open doors for you.”