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Since mid-February, Katie Schrack ’03, a neuroscience major from Mill Hall, Pa., has been learning about the British health care system through an internship at the National Health Service Confederation in London. She also has been taking theater and psychology courses while studying abroad.

This summer, she will continue her research on Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y., with Laurie Caslake, assistant professor of biology, through a prestigious Summer Research Fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology. Typically, less than 20 such fellowships are awarded nationwide.

National Health Service Confederation advocates changes in health policy, most recently serving as mediator between the government and doctors in adopting a new contract.

“The people at the NHS Confederation are wonderful and want me to learn as much about the health care system in London as I can, without making me do a lot of trivial busywork,” says Schrack. “So far, I’ve spent much of my time attending meetings with the director of policy, Nigel Edwards. I’ve been to several ideas exchanges in which I also participated (which was very intimidating, but I think I did a good job). I also attended meetings with the Strategic Health Authority, and with other organizations that collaborate with us in research projects. I have actively participated in organizing two seminars so far, one on orthopedic care and another on patient safety.”

Schrack also has conducted research for Edwards and others in the group’s policy team for projects involving issues such as “organizational turnaround” in the health system. In the next few weeks, she will interview members of trusts throughout London that have completed turnarounds. She also has researched good management and its outcome on patient health, and waiting times in the national health system.

Entering with no economics and business courses under her belt, Schrack soon found that the internship primarily involves aspects of business such as management, organizational culture, and policy.

“At first, it was hard for me to get into the swing of writing briefing essays,” she admits. “Luckily though, I’d done research before in biology with Dr. Caslake, so finding resources and reading through tough material wasn’t as challenging as it could have been. My first love is science and I want to go to medical school, not business school, but this experience has given me exposure to the business/management element of medicine.”

The most interesting aspect of the internship for Schrack has been learning about the different perspectives on health care systems from those in the NHS.

“Most of what I’d known about the health care system before starting my internship was from the patient perspective,” she says. “Here, at many of the meetings, I’ve been the quiet observer and listened to opinions from all sorts of people — nurses, general practitioners, chief executives, board members, and government officials. I’ve learned what goes on behind closed doors in hospitals in the NHS. I’ve also learned a lot more about health care in the U.S., and I’ve had some excellent conversations with professionals in England about it.”

Located in London’s Belgravia section, Schrack’s office is just two blocks from Buckingham Palace, giving her the opportunity to watch the changing of the guard on her lunch break. Her internship will wrap up at the end of May following a three-day conference in Harrowgate.

According to Schrack, the internship has been just one part of an “amazing” study abroad experience.

“I am much more independent over here, and have found the learning experience extends beyond the campus,” she explains. “I’ve been able to visit many historical sites like castles, Stonehenge, York, or other countries. The most rewarding of all is just absorbing a different culture, which I don’t think I’ll ever get to do again unless I live in another country sometime in my life.”

After returning from London, Schrack will continue her collaboration with Caslake, which in the past involved performing experiments to identify the presence and structure of the merA gene in mercury-resistant organisms found in Onondaga Lake.

“My work this summer will be focused more on antibiotic resistance than mercury resistance,” says Schrack. “I will use several different antibiotics to test the samples from Onondaga Lake and calculate the presence of antibiotic resistance in them. It will be interesting to see if mercury resistance is often present with some type of antibiotic resistance that may suggest they are transferred together. I can’t wait to get started with it, although I’m not quite ready to leave London yet!”

Categorized in: Academic News