Photo caption: Conducting research about the neurological effects of alcohol, Shult and fellow researchers collect and analyze data from animal subjects in the neuroscience laboratory supervised by Dr. Douglas Matthews.
One Blugold biochemistry/molecular biology major is well on her way to achieving her goal of becoming a physician, thanks to a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System collaboration that is giving her real-world experiences and opportunities on campus and in health care settings, preparing her for success in medical school and beyond.
Carolyn Shult, a third-year student-athlete from Augusta, balances her year-round training for cross-country and track and field with the rigors of coursework and unique opportunities in STEM that take her far beyond the classroom. For Shult, those opportunities have come by way of multiple connections to Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin, leading to rare undergraduate research, summer research internship offers from several research-intensive institutions and a hospital technician job that is shaping her views about aspects of her future work as a physician.
“My sophomore year I joined Dr. Doug Matthews’ research team in the neuroscience lab studying the effects of alcohol on aging populations,” Shult says. “Our research, in collaboration with Mayo clinicians and researchers in Rochester, examines how the use of alcohol impacts things like coordination and anxiety.
“Having the chance to share our research and findings with Mayo researchers is an amazing opportunity — it significantly informs our work on this project.”
Collaborative public health research
Now in her second year of research in the lab of Matthews, a professor of psychology, Shult works primarily on one of the lab’s two ongoing studies, focused on motor coordination impairment due to alcohol and how that is more adversely impacted in older populations.
This study makes use of animal subjects to observe and collect data, and Shult is one of the students collecting and analyzing the data, as well overseeing the care of and experimentation with rats of varying ages.
“We run experiments every couple of weeks or so, documenting the effects of ethanol on the coordination of the animals,” says Shult, who also helps to oversee the daily health and care of the lab animals.
“Our research does show that the negative effect of alcohol on coordination is in fact stronger in aging animals,” she says.
“This research has taught me so many things I could never learn in class, like just the basics of how research is conducted in the efforts to improve public health. Learning about research methodology in a classroom can’t compare to actually doing it. It has also opened my eyes to careers in science that I didn’t even know existed before working with Dr. Matthews.”
Part of that education about health science careers has come through collaboration and conversation with the Mayo Clinic Health System researchers advising on this project, she says.
“Our team has had Mayo researchers and physicians come work with us,” Shult says. “In addition to discussing and presenting our research to them, we talk with them about their experiences in the medical field, and they give us advice about the application process and careers in research and medicine.”
As Mayo Clinic researcher and project collaborator Dr. Doo-Sup Choi points out, the exchange of ideas brought by the collaboration agreement also has proven to be beneficial to Mayo Clinic Health System.
“Dr. Matthews maintains an outstanding research team of passionate and talented undergraduate students like Carolyn,” Choi says. “Our advanced facilities and clinically oriented research atmosphere is beneficial for Carolyn to improve the quality of her research and experience the translational potential of her research outcomes.
“For our laboratory, it is mutually helpful,” he adds. “These undergraduate students bring enthusiasm and energy, and the relationships give us a chance to recruit potential Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. students to the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota.”
Matthews is pleased that students like Shult can have meaningful and career-building experiences through their work in his lab.
“Carolyn has been able to successfully leverage all the amazing opportunities at UW-Eau Claire to have a unique university experience that will serve her well in her pursuits,” Matthews says. “She studies in a strong program that is academically challenging while working in a research lab investigating a critical public health issue with world-class professionals.”
For Shult, the connections and experiences gained through her collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System helped her secure five summer 2022 internship offers for undergraduate research in medical sciences. She has accepted a 10-week position with the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
“I’ll be studying microvascular endothelial dysfunction, looking at the tiniest blood vessels in our body and how issues in that system play a role in cardiac disease,” Shult says.
“This internship will be another asset in medical school applications. Being part of a Mayo research team definitely adds credibility to my research work on applications and, of course, it's an additional networking tool to get involved with Mayo physicians and employees.”
Already a Mayo Clinic Health System employee
When is comes to getting all the pre-med experience she can find, academic experiences weren’t quite enough for Shult. She wanted to add hospital work experience to her arsenal of skills, so she applied for a clinical tech position in the summer of 2021.
“I’m working for Mayo Clinic Health System as a phlebotomist, drawing and testing blood throughout both the hospital and clinic facilities,” she says. “I work in the ER, the critical care unit (CCU), the main clinic and on all patient floors of the main hospital.”
Shult’s onboarding for the position required six weeks of on-the-job training to learn the skills and procedures for all sample collection and laboratory testing. After a full year of experience in the position, Shult will be a Mayo Clinic certified phlebotomy technician, another accomplishment certain to make her a highly competitive medical school candidate.
“I’ve learned so much in this job — I love the ER, it’s fast-paced and exciting, but I enjoy seeing all the different roles and jobs and just learning how a whole hospital system works,” Shult says.
No matter what medical specialty Shult embarks upon in her future, there is one important lesson she has learned from her job as a phlebotomist that she says always will stick with her.
“I’ve seen firsthand how personal interaction with patients and families makes such a huge difference in overall outcomes — it can define an entire patient experience,” she says.
“Even if we meet someone’s every medical need completely, but they have a negative interpersonal experience with someone, they can still walk away feeling unheard or not fully understood.
“I see now that every person in the system, from the surgeons and physicians to the nurses, front-line staff and technicians, all have a role to play in whether or not each patient has a good hospital experience.”