PRESENTED RESEARCH AT ASM MEETING: UMHS student Fernando J. Vélez Alfaro spoke about the study ‘Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) Isolated from Surfaces After Clinical Simulation at a Caribbean Medical School.’ Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jane Harrington

UMHS student Fernando J. Vélez Alfaro, under the leadership of UMHS professor Dr. Jane Harrington, presented research at the annual ASM (American Society of Microbiology) meeting in Atlanta back in June.

The UMHS Endeavour spoke to Dr. Harrington about the highlights of this prestigious event, why attending the ASM meeting each year is crucial for UMHS, the important research presented, and more.

The annual ASM Microbe General meeting is a conference with between 10,000 and 12,000 attendees from all over the globe, representing such sectors as medicine, education, translational research and basic research.

“The presentations during the five-day event provide a great opportunity to learn about the cutting-edge scientific findings and updates to current practices,” Dr. Harrington said.  “I personally love learning about the new discoveries of the gut microbiome, which is a newly emerging field of medical microbiology.   The educational experiences of UMHS students will be improved when I incorporate this new information into their course work. UMHS student attendeesincluding Fernando J.  Vélez Alfaro this yearbenefit by learning about real-world medicine beyond text books and bullet points in PowerPoint files.”


Dr. Jane Harrington with UMHS student Fernando J. Vélez Alfaro at the ASM meeting in Atlanta. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jane Harrington

UMHS student Fernando J.  Vélez Alfaro worked with Dr. Harrington and Dr. Mohan Kumar on the study “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) Isolated from Surfaces After Clinical Simulation at a Caribbean Medical School.” She spoke about key things med students should know about the conclusions of the study.

Similar to previous MRSA studies that we have conducted on campus and cellphones, this recent study is very revealing of how much surface contamination occurs after interaction with inanimate objects,” she said. “ We observed a significant increase of bacteria on stethoscopes, only after a clinical simulation involving examination of lung and heart sounds. The take-home lesson is that students should regularly clean stethoscopes with ethanol wipes after each patient interaction, not occasionally.

Hospital-acquired infections are a major problem in U.S. hospitals. Dr. Harrington said there are key things hospitals can do to stop the spread of these infections.

“Awareness of the prevalence of Staph aureus on surfaces is the first step to begin improvement of infection control.  Once an individual and an institution become aware of the contamination hot spots, then diligent practices can be implemented.  The most important defense against spread of MRSA comes down to regular and thorough hand-washing, followed by habitually cleaning of objects, including stethoscopes and personal mobile devices.”


An attendee at the ASM meeting in Atlanta speaks with UMHS student Fernando J. Vélez Alfaro (right) about the MRSA study. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jane Harrington

Dr. Harrington spoke about working with UMHS student Fernando J.  Vélez Alfaro on the study.

“Fernando was an exceptional research student based on his independence, dedication and involvement in the entire research process,” she said. ‘He developed his own proposal and methodology as a continuation of the MRSA campus data previously collected.  The actual sample collection occurred over two semesters, which required lab work while he was finishing his last semester on St Kitts.   I normally forbid students in their final semester of Basic Sciences to participate in any research activities due to their very challenging course load. Fernando gave a wonderful oral presentation at the UMHS 3rd Research Symposium and he contributed to the creation of the poster.   I look forward to following his accomplishments in his future medical career.”

Dr. Harrington’s extended family is from Georgia and she attended her first two years of undergraduate at Oglethorpe University, so the trip was a homecoming.


The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jane Harrington
An undersea scene from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jane Harrington

“My biggest highlight was eating cheese grits and fresh biscuits,” she said. “ At the ASM Microbe conference, I was able to reconnect with colleagues from my graduate school and my post-doctoral fellowship. Additionally, I was able to visit the Georgia Aquarium.  Seeing the four whale sharks is truly amazing and I recommend it to anyone visiting Atlanta.”

Dr. Harrington noted that participating in the research process is a valuable contribution for the biomedical community and can be inspiring for students at the beginning of their medical career.

I feel honored to serve as a mentor for the UMHS Research Elective students and I feel very proud witnessing student presentations at international meetings. I will continue to create research opportunities, to train students on how use the Scientific Process in medial research and to encourage our institution to continually support conference attendance.”


Fernando J. Vélez Alfaro at the ASM meeting in Atlanta. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jane Harrington


About UMHS:

Built in the tradition of the best U.S. universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individualized student attention, small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. For these reasons, UMHS is quickly becoming the school of choice among Caribbean medical schools.


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