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Medical student researcher credits VCU Librarian Cyrus with aiding his success

October 15, 2018
Librarian John Cyrus with med student Pauli Mui

A second year medical student whose research, some observers predict, will have a national impact is making a mark in his field early. One reason is his passion for research--for understanding the communities he hopes to serve and for identifying practices and policies that will improve health care services and provide better outcomes for patients.

Another reason for his success is Research and Education Librarian John Cyrus.

Paulius Mui (class of 2021) met Cyrus in his first month of medical school when Cyrus gave a presentation about library resources for medical students and shared his email with the group. (Cyrus, left, and Mui are pictured at Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences.) 

“The same morning, I reached out to him to pick his brain about technical assistance with coding software for one of the projects I was working on at that time,” says Mui. “John was very quick to respond and connected me with different leads, and I continued to keep in touch whenever I came across any questions related to research or information science. I also directed a number of my classmates his way when they were getting started with research because I had such a great experience working with John.”

Mui’s current work is focused on the impact on patients when a rural community loses its physician to retirement, a move or death. With funding from the Collaborative for Rural Primary care, Research, Education and Practice (Rural PREP), Mui crisscrossed the state from rural Southwest Virginia to the Eastern Shore.

Mui credits Cyrus with helping him secure the funding by helping him hone his research questions.  

Mui’s research could have national implications, according to Department Chair Anton Kuzel, M.D., M.H.P.E.  Kuzel, quoted in the School of Medicine blog, calls Mui’s project “by far the most ambitious” student study in his experience.

Among a number of conference presentations, in 2018, Mui presented his early findings to leaders from the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health and Rural PREP.  

Just how does this student approach research?  

“To me, research is about relationships. Research brings together people with shared interests and allows them to create something new and enduring. It provides opportunities to overcome challenges, learn from each other's strengths, and communicate our passions and research findings with the larger community.

"I was fortunate to work on a few research studies during my first year in medical school - a mixed-methods study about primary care career selection, which I started during my time at the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care; a quantitative study about toxic substance exposures in Virginia's rural and urban communities working with the Virginia Poison Center; a quantitative study about telemedicine cost savings at correctional facilities in Virginia working with the Office of Telemedicine at VCU; a qualitative study about the impact of losing physicians in Virginia's rural communities.

"I aspire to become a rural family medicine physician and working on projects that align with my career interests has been fascinating. For example, I received a grant from Rural PREP, which enabled me to travel and meet with rural residents in their communities and explore the kinds of areas in which I wish to practice."

What role did library resources/services or the librarian play in your process including developing or refining research questions, literature review, selecting resources to use, applying for funding?

"The library resources have been invaluable to my research. John Cyrus has guided me through literature reviews on multiple projects by helping to think about search terms and identifying appropriate databases. This process can seem daunting and intimidating to anyone unfamiliar with it, but it's crucial for refining one's research questions and building a strong foundation for the rest of the project.

"I attribute part of my success in securing a grant from Rural PREP to John's help with a literature search to build a case for a gap in existing literature about my topic of interest.  

"In addition, John has helped me to think about organization of information and creating systems that streamline collaborations with my co-investigators.

What are your next steps as a researcher / learner?

"One of my long-term goals includes finding a way to build research capacity in family medicine and share the potential of this work with my peers. There are so many fascinating topics to explore through rigorous quantitative and qualitative studies that can impact the way patients access and receive care, especially in rural and underserved communities. If we knew how to make our systems of care function better for patients with the least resources and the greatest need, the reality would be more aligned with the aspirations we hold for all patients. Engaging in research in family medicine and primary care is one way to move the needle in a direction of our ideals, and I hope more students will explore these opportunities.

"Lastly, I look forward to expanding and building my research skills with assistance from John and the VCU Libraries community.

A version of this article was published earlier by the VCU School of Medicine blog and is used with permission.

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