Newport Beach native Daniel Sherlock is back home for the summer from Boston University, where he just finished his sophomore year as a pre-med student majoring in human physiology.
He’s getting in some surfing and is planning to hike the 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina Trail, but he’s spending a lot of time his summer on a computer in the CHOC Neurosciences Institute as well as in operating rooms observing neurosurgeons perform procedures.
The word “intern” often conjures up images of younger people performing simple, sometimes menial tasks for little or no pay.
Daniel, as a participant in the CHOC Research Institute’s student research intern program, is quite the exception.
Meaningful work on CHOC research studies in rare diseases
As the Research Institute continues to systematize its longtime student intern program, part of its Visiting Research Professional Program, candidates like Daniel will be its focus and making the experience both meaningful and potentially career-boosting will remain its goal.
Last summer, Daniel logged 300 unpaid hours under the mentorship of Dr. Joffre Olaya and is back again this summer for the same number of hours. But this time, he’s being paid under a Boston University program that awards stipends to worthy applicants for interns at nonprofit organizations like CHOC.
Daniel’s current internship began May 22 and lasts through Aug. 25.
For the neurosurgery team, Daniel is working on ongoing research studies including ventriculoperitoneal shunt replacement, Batten’s Disease, Chiari malformations, and traumatic brain injuries.
He participates in weekly staff meetings, performs retrospective chart reviews to abstract data from the CHOC electronic medical record, codes data into the REDCap data capture tool, performs background literature reviews, assists in data analysis, and writes up portions of manuscripts for publications.
Last summer, Daniel “quickly proved himself an invaluable member of the research team,” Dr. Olaya wrote in supporting him for this summer’s paid internship.
On a recent morning, Daniel was busy at work in the Neurosurgery Institute’s consult room on the third floor of the Commerce Tower on the Orange campus.
“I’m happy to be busy because it’s all interesting work,” says Daniel, who is scheduled to graduate in 2025 and then go to medical school.
Published literature on rare brain stem malformation
It’s unusual for someone planning to apply to medical school to already have multiple publications appearing in peer-reviewed medical journals.
Daniel already has been first author on a poster presented at a meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) in April 2023 in Los Angeles. His and his team’s research focused on a rare brain stem malformation.
“There’s no published literature on it,” Daniel says.
He also is a presenting author on a poster CHOC submitted to an infectious disease conference taking place in October 2023 in Boston. The poster is about an infection related to the treatment of Batten’s Disease.
And Daniel is lead author on a paper CHOC is submitting to the Journal of Neurosurgery Case Lessons that is based on the poster he presented at the AANS conference this spring.
“The experience was challenging because it was my first medical paper,” Daniel recalls, “but I also had some help and Dr. Olaya who guided me and were very patient with me.”
CHOC staff is ‘Very kind, very open’
So far, Daniel, who always has been interested in chemistry, biology, physics and math, has logged 104 hours in operating rooms watching Dr. Olaya and other CHOC neurosurgeons performing such procedures as a spinal infusion and a laser-ablation corpus callosotomy, surgery done to treat seizures.
“Everybody is very kind, very open,” Daniel says. “They want to help you understand what’s going on and they’ll take the time to teach you, and I think that’s really special and one of the reasons this experience has been so incredible.”
Virginia Allhusen, Ph.D., a manager in CHOC’s Health Sciences Administration, says Dr. Olaya deserves credit for acting as a great mentor to Daniel.
“He has provided great learning experiences for him as a pre-med student and has been extremely generous with his time in shaping a meaningful internship experience for Daniel,” Virginia says. “One of the challenges of bringing on student interns is making sure that the sponsor has the bandwidth to provide that kind of mentorship; Dr Olaya has definitely gone above and beyond.”
He may return
Daniel, who attended The Pegasus School in Huntington Beach and Sage Hills School in Newport Coast, would love to return to CHOC as an intern in summer 2024, schedule permitting.
“Honestly, it’s been the best experience,” Daniel says. “I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to work with the neurosurgery team as a whole, especially Dr. Olaya.”
He says his experience at CHOC has got him interested in pediatric medicine.
“I really love neurosurgery,” Daniel says. “My time at CHOC has been an incredible learning opportunity and has affirmed that medicine is truly what I want to do with my life.”
Learn more about research at CHOC