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New Internship with WellSpan Opens Door to Undergraduate Clinical Research

Rachel Rambler and Erica Rinehart pose in front of a WellSpan Health sign.
Rachel Rambler ’23 (left) and Erica Rinehart ’24 (right)

York College of Pennsylvania Biology majors Rachel Rambler ’23 and Erica Rinehart ’24 were selected for an inaugural summer program as part of a Knowledge Park pilot with WellSpan Research.

Rachel Rambler ’23 was sure she wanted to pursue a career in nuclear medicine technology—until she realized her interest in medicine was broader. And she was sure she wasn’t interested in research—until her York College of Pennsylvania classes proved that research could be hands-on, innovative, and exciting.

Rachel, a Biology major with minors in Neuroscience and Psychology, and Erica Rinehart ’24 (Dover, PA) also majoring in Biology with a minor in Psychology, were selected for the new, eight-week Summer Undergraduate Research Internship Program (SURIP), a collaboration with WellSpan Research, who will be among the College’s inaugural Knowledge Park partners when construction is completed.

According to Jeff Vermeulen, York College’s Assistant Vice President for External Relations and Executive Director of the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship and York College Knowledge Park, WellSpan’s Melissa Schlenker, MS, CCRC, CIP, Corporate Director Research, Joan Moore, MSN, RN, OCN, CCRP, Director of Clinical Operations, and Dr. Rahul Kashyap, MBA, Medical Director for Research, were instrumental in helping York College organize the program.

Vermeulen says Dr. Kashyap “has gone above and beyond to make this program a success for our students.” Dr. Kashyap remarks, “It is a privilege to be interacting with these young minds. This inaugural cohort of WellSpan Health Summer Research interns from York College is a great collaboration for promoting interest in the science of healthcare in the York community.”

Working with WellSpan investigators and staffers, Rachel and Erica got an up-close look at what goes into clinical research, from patient interaction to Institutional Review Board meetings and budgeting. They even got to pursue a hypothetical research question of their choosing.

“This was a pretty great opportunity,” Rachel says. Some of the behind-the-scenes work she’s never been involved in, such as meeting with ethics boards and submitting budget proposals, called her name.

“I looked forward to it in, like, a weird, nerdy way,” she admits.

Expanding research opportunities

Research is a cornerstone of York College’s Biology program, says Dr. Wendy Boehmler, Biology Department Chairperson and Associate Professor. But that research usually doesn’t include patients.

“To be able to give our students clinical research where they’re actually working with patients and other clinical researchers, I think it’s really exciting,” says Dr. Boehmler.

Erica says, “When I found out about this internship, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to expose myself to the type of environment that I envision myself working in one day.”

Rachel, who grew up in York, discovered her interest in research through her college Biology classes. Unlike her experience in high school, these classes took a hands-on approach.

“It’s just so much more interesting to find out things that are novel,” she says. “It really furthers your understanding of biology in general when you have to apply it to something new instead of regurgitating information.”

Both of the York College students selected for SURIP have prior research experience. They know statistics and understand what goes into a research design.

“They got to enhance and hone those skills in a completely different area of research,” Dr. Boehmler says. “The things that they were able to experience, they’ll definitely have a better idea of career choice.”

Rachel and Erica have impressed those at WellSpan. Moore says, “It’s been a pleasure working with the York College students. They had an opportunity to shadow research nurses and investigators and to experience the duties performed by the research staff. The students were highly engaged and had several great questions to ask our research staff.”

Exploring modes of medicine

Rachel enjoys her work as a patient care technician at UPMC. But she realized while performing those duties that she didn’t want to box herself into a narrow field.

“I realized I wanted to learn more about it than just ‘How does this apply to doing a PET scan?’ ” she says. She switched her major to Biology and is applying to physician assistant school. Now she’s excited to explore how she might incorporate research into her career.

“With research you’re really looking at the mechanism behind a certain disease,” she says. “You might be the first one to figure out a new treatment for something because you understand the pathways so well.”

In Erica’s experience, “After working a few days with the WellSpan oncology research team, I knew that my time here with them would be enjoyable, and full of valuable learning experiences,” she says.

Getting real-world experience

Being in the inaugural class for the internship program was a thrill for Rachel. At the beginning, the team at WellSpan Research asked her what she hoped to get out of the program.

She spent her time shadowing principal investigators and research nurses, collecting data, observing, processing samples, and preparing for Institutional Review Board meetings. But what she’s most enjoyed was the opportunity to pursue her own clinical research question.

“It’ll be interesting to see how that could actually be put into motion one day,” she says.

“I enjoyed working with the team for the duration of this program to develop my own research project on a topic of my interest,” Erica says. “It was rewarding to see the skills I've learned in my undergraduate coursework lead me to success in my own studies.” 

The WellSpan collaboration is one more way that York College expands education beyond the classroom. And it is representative of the type of learning and student experience that will be emphasized upon completion of the Knowledge Park, says Vermeulen. “We are learning much from this process and launch of our first SURIP cohort that will help us with future collaborative work with Knowledge Park partners. We’re just getting started.”

Schlenker adds, “Interactions with our York College Research Interns has been both fulfilling and stimulating. We are motivated by their desire to learn about the development and conduct of clinical research and have enjoyed working with them.”

“It gave them real-world experience,” Dr. Boehmler says of the students. “To be able to enhance their investigative skills with patient-oriented research will be beneficial to their future career goals.”