First Week in Wellington


Despite what my past pictures and post have
appeared to show, my time in New Zealand is not exactly a vacation. For the next two months, I’ll be working as an intern in the Department of Surgery and Anaesthesia at the University of Otago, Wellington under Dr. Kirsty Danielson. The work I’ll be doing will be part of establishing a biobank of feasible biomarkers for the early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC). In the United States, CRC is the third most occurring cancer whereas, in New Zealand, it is the most occurring cancer. As with any cancer, early detection is key for a positive prognosis. Regarding CRC, the lack of a standard early detection method means that most of the CRC diagnoses are not made until Stage IV which has a very low rate of survival in the next five years.
While I’m not going to be doing any of the big stuff like personally collecting blood samples from patients or removing any of the surgeries (at least in the first week), I am still happy to do the grunt work for the sake of saying that I got to be involved in something like this.

First Day:
Lydia (the other intern) and I were told not to expect anything big within the first week, but boy was that wrong. Although initially, it really did seem that way. We met our supervisor, Dr. Kirsty Danielson (after a few months of emails), and talked about the work we would be helping with a final message to drop by anytime and ask her questions.
Kirsty took on us a tour of the department to say hi to everybody and to try and help us first navigate the maze-like layout. Aside from Kirsty, two people that will most likely be mentioned frequently in the future are Ashok and Phillipa because they are the ones that we will also be working with/for.

Ashok is a physician from the UK as well as the senior registrar. He’s the one that primarily interacts with patients (when they’re conscious) to collect their blood samples and then register their patient information into Redcap, the patient database. With Ashok, we will be helping him process the blood samples for serum and plasma via centrifuge and liquid nitrogen freezer and working on updating Redcap. In fact, he came by about an hour after meeting us to show us how to process the samples and even let us do our first one.

Phillipa, on the other hand, is the lab technician that collects tissue samples from the surgeons Liz or Ali and processes the samples from tumor tissue and normal tissue. She also showed us where we’ll occasionally be collecting liquid nitrogen in a slightly precarious manner for sample use.
At the end of the tour, Kirsty left us to our office – which we are sharing with a medical student – to lots of reading including (but not limited to): lab protocols for our various duties, related scientific articles, and copies of the research grant Kirsty wrote that had a summary of her project.
At the end of the day, some excitement came up! Phillipa came up to the office and rushed us down to an operating theater to try and catch the surgery for collecting tissue samples. Unfortunately, we missed it because of some communication issues but I was still excited to wear scrubs and (albeit briefly) be in an operating theater. Phillipa even demonstrated how we would process tissue samples in the future.

The day wound down nicely after that and the other interns and I had a nice walk home in the dark. I’m not quite used to this whole “being winter when I’m used to it being summer” thing yet but I’m working on it.

Second Day:
So, the second day wasn’t nearly as eventful other than continued reading, so I’m just going to fast forward past this.

Third Day:
Initially, I thought that today was going to be even more reading which I had tried to drag out just in case. However, there were some breaks in this routine. We met Gisela who is a medical student taking the time to get an Honor’s degree and possibly her Ph.D. 

Speaking of Ph.D.’s, I also attended a presentation by one of the Ph.D. students (Kathryn) as part of the Post-Graduate Seminar Series. She’s in the third year of her program and was showing us what research she had completed for her thesis up that point. In layman’s terms, her research is about Toll-like receptors and their relation to alternate pathways of platelet activation and preventing subsequent heart problems.

Isn't the logo cute??
Later that day, Ashok gave Lydia and me his access to Redcap to start updating it with patient information. Diane, the receptionist, gave us paperwork to start the process of getting our own IDs along with security clearance. According to other people in the department, this should take around two weeks which is remarkably quick in comparison to the usual pace around the university. Or New Zealand, for that matter. 

At the end of my day, I hit up the Wellington City Library and picked up a veggie burger/chips combo on the way home as a reward for not spending as much money as I thought I had.

And it was quite good even if the whole thing was nearly twenty (NZ) dollars. 

Fourth Day:
My last day of the week as an intern was mostly spent entering patient information into Redcap and then double-checking it. I did get a chance to meet with Kirsty as part of my internship requirements to discuss my professional and personal objectives for the internship. 

Aside from the usual intern work, Kirsty has agreed to help me by registering me for upcoming courses on Māori healthcare as well as assigning me to do "mini lab reports" for her to assess and provide constructive criticism about my scientific writing skills. 

On another positive note, Gisela finally got her computer after five weeks of waiting! And I made plans for the weekend to go to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa - Te Papa for short - and find a place to catch the upcoming rugby match of the All-Black versus the Lions. 

I'm a bit biased, but I was rooting for the All-Blacks this past Saturday.

I'll write up more about that later this week, so bye for now!