School of Health Sciences hosts annual research forum

Over 50 poster presentations were held inside Upstairs Lakeside during the 2023 School of Health Sciences Research Forum.

The Elon University School of Health Sciences hosted the annual Global Engagement and Research Forum on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Fifty-three poster presentations from the departments of physician assistant students, physical therapy education and nursing lined the space as students shared research that they had spent months gathering.

Sarah Haley PA ’23, discusses her project on healthcare at the School of Health Sciences Global Engagement & Research Forum, December 5, 2023, upstairs at Lakeside.

“I’m so proud of our students,” said Maha Lund, dean of Elon University’s School of Health Sciences. “Their research topics and the depth of the work are impressive. What it shows me is that they have learned how to go to the original research and the resources that will help them take care of their patients.”

Sarah Haley G’23 graduated on Friday, Dec. 8 from the Physician Assistant Studies program and during the poster session, she presented her research on non-weight versus weight-based approaches to improving cardiovascular health in adults.

The idea for her project began after a lecture on weight bias from Associate Professor of Physician Assistant Studies Antoinette Polito. In the lecture, Haley focused on the point that was made about how little data there is about weight bias.

For most of her life, Haley had thought, like most people, that if someone has obesity that means they are unhealthy. Polito’s lecture was the first time she heard the idea that there may not be a clear correlation between obesity and health.

So with Polito as her mentor, Haley sought out to critically examine the efficacy of weight-neutral approaches in improving cardiovascular health compared to traditional weight-based interventions. After nearly a year of honing in on that specific question and conducting a comprehensive review of existing literature, Haley found that there was “absolutely zero correlation” between BMI and metabolic health.

After graduation, Haley will be studying for her board exams to become a certified physician assistant and will soon co-author a paper with Polito on the topic. While she is excited for the future ahead, it was a rewarding experience to display all the work that when into the project during the research forum.

“Getting to share this with everyone,” Haley said. “This has been the best part.”

Carolina Chong Liao PA ’23, discusses her project on healthcare with Dr. D. Melnyk Evans, right, at the School of Health Sciences Global Engagement & Research Forum, December 5, 2023, upstairs at Lakeside.

First-year students in Elon’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program Jazmyne Davis, Andrew Miller, Milani Saldon and Kasey Sutryk presented their research “Changes in Self-Reported Injuries, Biomechanics, Strength and Range of Motion in Pregnant and Postpartum Runners.”

To investigate the prevalence of self-reported injuries, pelvic health and musculoskeletal and biomechanical changes, the DPT students surveyed 12 participants weekly with questions from the Overuse Injury Questionnaire, PROMIS Sleep Disturbance Form and Fatigue Scale and Pelvic Floor Distress Inventory.

The students began their research in March and concluded that the research should focus specifically on the prevention of pelvic health impairments and pelvic health rehabilitation. Perhaps more importantly, however, the group found that there is no significant change in running biomechanics, strength or range of motion from the second trimester and into the first few months of the postpartum stage.

“Society tells us that pregnant women are fragile and they shouldn’t be doing much activity,” Saldon said. “They’re not as fragile as you may think, they can keep doing whatever they want.”

Ann Heil G’23 had a unique experience for her capstone research as she spent eight weeks in Brussels, Belgium, doing a clinical rotation. Through the School of Health Sciences Global Learning Opportunities program, the 2023 Elon DPT candidate worked in an acute care hospital setting at the UZ Brussels hospital which values equitable access and promotes return to function as independently as possible.

A native of Boise, Idaho, Heil was exposed to a diverse population with more than 2 million residents in Brussels as well as a diversity of disciplines as she assisted the pediatric, cardiology, neurology and orthopedics teams during her time there.

Ann Heil PT ’23, discusses her project on healthcare with Elon University Provost Rebecca Kohn, right, at the School of Health Sciences Global Engagement & Research Forum, December 5, 2023, upstairs at Lakeside.

In those eight weeks, Heil said she was able to grow as a clinician and as a person. Connecting with others from different backgrounds showed her that

“The biggest thing I took away was to keep an open mind with different cultures, values, religious views,” she said. “Nothing is right or wrong, it’s just different. You have to do the best you can to incorporate people’s values and views into your treatment and make it salient.”

Being able to explain complex concepts in simple terms is a skill all health care professionals need, and presenting research is required in the curriculum for all of Elon’s health sciences students.

Having participated in the research forum, Dean Lund hopes the students will use the experience as a stepping stone toward their future careers.

“I hope that they feel the pride in their work that and feel they are developing a professional identity that they’re so much closer to being clinicians who are out there taking care of patients,” Lund said.