Blog 4: Seeing the Results

Dr. Zager and I have accomplished both of our most prioritied research goals, which were:
1. Create a suvey to assess medical students perceptions and attitudes toward persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
2. Administer the survey to medical students as a pilot test to modify and strengthen our research methods

Rather than create an entirely new survey instrument, Dr. Zager and I modified an existing instrument (which I previously described in my blogs) that measured attitudes toward general disabilities. I had modified that instrument by researching significant attributes that can typically apply to a person with ASD and molding the existing questions by applying these traits.

Ensuring that the variables I swaped out were actuate, was challenging. It was very important to keep the participant in mind when forming the questions, and to ensure we were addressing the intended objectives of the study.

On Monday, March 17th, Dr. Symons, a contributing of Dr. Zager’s and my study, administered the first version of the survey that I created. The pilot test was conducted with 145 first-year medical students. Ironically, this date was one of only a few dates available to reach out to them all, and immediately after all participants completed the survey, they attended a lecture on the topic of disabilities.

This situation could have had a different effect on our study than if the survey were to be administrated on an average day. It is highly possible that the students were mentally prepared to discuss disabilities, thus leading to greater thought and in-depth analysis of questions.

Since the survey has been completed, Dr. Zager and I plan to have additional contributors from the original study to conduct a statistical analysis of the data.

I look so very forward to seeing the results, and to using these results to guide a curriculum that will enhance the education of medical students to reflect issues of serving persons with autism.

Since this study commenced, Dr. Zager has kept me informed and has taught me so much about the publishing and authoring process. Upon completion of this study, I look forward to working together to submit this piece to a peer-reviewed journal.

Update: Facing an Obstacle

Dr. Zager and I have accomplished about half of the major elements composing our research project. To date, I have reviewed literature on our topic, and extracted key findings to guide Dr. Zager and me in modifying a survey instrument to assess perceptions of persons with an autism spectrum disorder.

On the other hand, one obstacle that Dr. Zager and I are facing is sustaining the interest of our project’s supporters. In my previous blog, I may have mentioned that Dr. Zager and I have reached out to a team of scholars, including medical doctors, who previously developed an instrument and conducted a study to assess medical students’ attitudes towards autism. In the fall semester, our plans continued, but as of December, the team has been unresponsive to our request for them to conduct a pilot study. Conducting a pilot study using our newly adapted instrument on medical students is critical to developing our findings. In response to this challenge, Dr. Zager and I are staying positive and preparing to explore alternative routes for administering the survey tool and analyzing its results.

As my faculty research advisor, Dr. Zager guided my interpretation of information that I read related to autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s). For example, she clarified terms of stereotypical behavior and how to more properly address language around sensitive terms and stereotypes. This was extremely helpful, and I think that this is one of the many important positive attributes resulting from a student-faculty research team. While I’ve had experience doing topic-specific research and have transferable skills from such, I haven’t had official exposure to education related to ASDs.

One of my original goals related to this research initiative was to develop a stronger understanding of autism, and to gauge sensitivity and interaction with persons having a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is my belief that Dr. Zager is a powerful teacher, combining her expertise in the field of autism research with her transparent and empathetic approach to teamwork.

An Examination of Medical Students’ Knowledge, Perceptions and Attitudes toward Persons with Disabilities

Dr. Dianne Zager and I are researching medical students’ understanding, perceptions, and attitudes toward persons with developmental disabilities, with a primary focus on patients with autism. Our research will further validate and expand upon an existing study that addresses the need for humanized healthcare. The findings from this study will have the potential to improve access and quality of medical care for persons with autism developmental disabilities.

The goal of this research project is to assess medical students’ understanding, perceptions, and attitudes toward persons with autism, and to use this information to develop a curriculum to increase their awareness and sensitivity to people with autism and developmental disabilities. Dr. Dianne Zager and I are starting to achieve this goal by conducting a review of relevant literature in the field of disability, social psychology, and medical education.

Through our literature review, I have  found an instrument published in 2012 by Dr. Andrew Symons, which measures medical students’ attitudes toward people with disabilities. With support from Dr. Andrew Symons, Dr. Zager and I plan to adapt this instrument to address autism in particular. For credible adaptation of the instrument, we will base interpretation of findings on the extant literature and research base.

Upon completing the autism-specific assessment tool, we will conduct pilot surveys to medical  students at selected universities, to be determined. After completing any necessary edits to the instrument, Dr. Zager and I will reach out to the Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine to assist in collecting data. The Gold Foundation conducts the White Coat Ceremony at most medical schools in the U.S.; collaborating with The Gold Foundation will provide opportunity to administer the survey to a larger group of medical students from different geographic regions.

By expanding upon Dr. Symons’ original methods and findings, the achievements of our research is two-fold:  further validate an existing study on medical students’ attitudes toward people with disabilities, and provide scholarly work which calls for the need to address medical students’ attitudes toward patients with disabilities. As Dr. Symons stresses his 2012 article, “Development of an Instrument to Measure Medical Students’ Attitudes toward People with Disabilities”, his 2009 instrument needs further validation.  In addition, The president of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation – a nationally recognized nonprofit organization with a mission to humanize healthcare by advocating for compassionate care coupled with scientific excellence—is enthusiastic about this proposed research topic, as this is an area of great need.

We also plan to use data gleaned from our study to apply for a grant from Autism Speaks to develop a curriculum that will educate medical attitudes about characteristics and needs of  patients with autism and other developmental disabilities.