This summer, I conducted research at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania under the department of Critical Care Medicine. A significant percentage of critically ill patients in the Intensive Care Unit develop cognitive impairment, especially those with sepsis. The goal of my project was to translate recent findings that the widely used statin class of drugs, normally used for patients with high cholesterol, can in fact protect the brain from the neurologic symptoms of sepsis in animal models. I assessed patients for cognitive impairment at two points: (1) acute impairment, called “delirium”, while patients actively had sepsis in the ICU and (2) long-term impairment immediately before patients were discharged from the hospital.
In order to test patients for delirium, I used the Confusion Assessment Method-ICU (CAM-ICU) exam, which tests for patients’ level of attention, alertness, and organized thinking. For the cognitive exam before discharge, I used a longer test called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) which is a more comprehensive exam testing for higher order function. When administering these exams, I would first enter the patient rooms, explain my project, obtain their consent, and then conduct the exam.
This proved to be an amazing experience, allowing me the rare opportunity as an undergrad to spend many hours with patients during their stay in the hospital. As the summer progressed, I became more confident in the often-hectic environment of the Intensive Care Unit and learned how to best help patients feel comfortable and at ease. While I was not able to confirm my research hypothesis, I feel that this experience has better prepared me for both future research as well as my clinical education in medical school.