Current ICRE Spotlight

In early 2013, Colleen Judge was working as a clinical research coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, having graduated from Princeton University two years earlier with a degree in Molecular Biology. Judge found that she enjoyed the interactions she had with the adolescent patients in the study, and began to wonder if it would be possible to combine her interests in research and medicine in a career.

Nearly five years later, we find Colleen on the path to such a career. A student in Pitt and CMU’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), Judge has completed the first two years of medical school and one clinical rotation in adolescent psychiatry, and is one and a half years into the PhD in Clinical and Translational Science Program here at the ICRE. Shortly before entering the graduate research portion of the MSTP, Judge found her interests shifting yet again as she became less interested in cell mechanisms than in people—particularly what factors impact their lives and their experience with medical care. She had begun to think about how much greater an impact the circumstances of people’s lives outside the hospital can have on the course of their treatment, far beyond what health professionals are able to accomplish during a short appointment in a clinic. She switched her focus to the area of women’s health, where she found a “perfect” mentor in Dr. Sonya Borrero, with whom she has since collaborated on two research projects studying contraceptive access and disparities.

The first project is a data analysis of Dr. Borrero’s study examining patterns of contraceptive use (or non-use) in women Veterans, which found a gap in care for women who are medically ineligible to use estrogen. The second project is a survey, conducted over social media shortly after the 2016 presidential election, of women’s concerns about future access to contraception. The survey showed that 40 percent of women held concerns about increased costs and other factors, and that many had already acted on those concerns. These two studies have already yielded three publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Judge says she’s already benefited from several components of the PhD training in the ICRE, including a firm foundation in statistics, training in different types of research studies and methodologies, and knowledge gained from courses like Intro to Disparities in Health Care and Survey Design & Data Analysis. Additionally, the writing and defense of an R01-style grant proposal allowed her to explore her growing interest in psychometrics: she proposed the development of a new, person-centered measure of “post-conception pregnancy acceptability” that may be able to replace or augment traditional, timing-based metrics of pregnancy intendedness.

More than anything, Judge feels she has benefited from “the breadth of experts and techniques” at her fingertips and the “collaborative mentoring structure” that allows students like her to combine different content areas with a variety of methodologies. She is excited about the skills she can take with her when she completes her clinical training and rotations, but for the time being is glad to be active in family planning research amid its current shift toward more patient-centered models of care, which acknowledge that public health goals may not always align with women’s individual reproductive goals or realities. She is confident that the “highly structured and collaborative framework of the CTS PhD program” will continue to allow her to develop the technical, conceptual and professional skills necessary to build a combined career in health services research and clinical practice.

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