Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jennifer Martinez moved to Cortland, N.Y., at age 10. For her undergraduate work, she attended Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and received a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences.
Jennifer first came to Mayo Clinic in the summer of 2006 for a summer undergraduate research fellowship. The experience was a turning point in her life.
"I was so impressed by Mayo Clinic and its message that I felt strongly about returning for medical school," she says.
As a medical student, Jennifer planned to learn how basic science discoveries are translated into accessible treatments for patients. She says, "As a clinician, having this kind of research experience would allow me to take important questions from the bedside and answer them with basic or translational research methods in a way that remains clinically relevant for my patients."
In order to gain the kind of research experience she was looking for, Jennifer considered pursuing a number of different medical student clinical research fellowships for her second year of medical school. She quickly realized that these provided limited opportunities to think independently while developing research ideas, which would limit her to a single area of study.
Choosing the M.D.-M.S. Program
During her first year of medical school, Jennifer attended a weeklong course about principles and practices of clinical and translational research sponsored by the Center for Translational Science Activities (CTSA). The course also introduced some of the resources offered by the CTSA for medical students, including the M.D.-M.S. Program.
When reviewing her options, she was reminded of these programs and recalled a distinct contrast in approach.
"The clinical and translational science programs at Mayo offer course work to establish competency in research design and analysis in any field of study," she says. She found that the M.D.-M.S. Program would cover each step of the research process — from developing a protocol to writing a journal article — and determined that this was the path for her.
"The program provided me with the unique opportunity to focus on a research area of interest while still remaining versatile," explains Jennifer.
As a medical student and master's scholar at Mayo Clinic, Jennifer enjoyed other benefits as well.
"Mayo has vast resources available for patient care and research, but they also make sure their employees are doing well with regard to health and wellness," she says. "I don't know of any other place that takes such care in ensuring the well-being of its workforce."
Jennifer hopes her research will improve clinical practice with respect to adult patients with strabismus, a condition in which the eyes are misaligned. During her year of dedicated research time, she focused on the epidemiology of adult strabismus. Jennifer and her research team sought to characterize how frequently this condition occurs in the adult population, what factors cause the disorder, and what the outcomes are for people after surgical or nonsurgical management.
"Most of the strabismus research has been done in the pediatric population, which has led to effective screening and treatment programs for children," she says. "However, improvements in treatment and counseling options for adults with strabismus are still necessary. This project has the potential to improve clinical practice so that we can better address the concerns of this patient population, making it the ideal project to apply the principles I have learned through course work in the M.D.-M.S. Program so far."
Jennifer was not alone as she pursues these research questions. As part of the mentored research component of the program, she worked closely with her mentor, ophthalmologist Brian G. Mohney, M.D., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and is grateful for his support and guidance.
"Dr. Mohney has given me free reign to develop my own ideas, but is also an invaluable resource when I need guidance," she says. "As a medical student contemplating both a clinical and research career, I enjoy working with a clinician-researcher like Dr. Mohney because I can gain more clinical experience and ask better, more-relevant questions when designing studies.
"Looking back, it's amazing how much I learned in just my first few months. This program does an excellent job at teaching you how to think critically and best address clinically important questions."