Young Investigator Receives Research Honors With Support of Hospital Mentor


Medical students at the University of Pennsylvania must complete a scholarly pursuit, a period of time prior to graduating medical school in which they conduct research with a faculty mentor and prepare a research paper. One such student, Jennifer Handzel, M.D., was recently recognized for her research titled “What Happens to Inner-City Youth Between Ages 8-19: Perceptions and Intentions vs. Reality?”

Dr. Handzel’s research, conducted in collaboration with her research mentor, Hallam Hurt, M.D., Division of Neonatology, looked at factors associated with trajectory altering events (TAEs) – substance use, teen parenthood, school failure, and entering a juvenile system – in teenagers with low socioeconomic status between the ages of 16 and 19. The study team, who followed study participants from birth, looked at the relationship between TAEs and two sets of data: the teens’ self-described intentions for the future at 8 to 10 years of age and information from the teens’ early childhood.

The research showed that there was no correlation between the teens’ intentions for the future and TAEs. Childhood environmental factors, specifically exposure to violence at age 7 and poor home environment at age 5.5, were the variables most significantly associated with a participant experiencing a TAE as a teenager.

Dr. Handzel was awarded the Young Investigator Trainee Award for her presentation of this research at the 2009 Eastern Society for Pediatric Research Annual Meeting. She was also one of three presenters to win an award at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Annual Public Health Poster Session, this prize gave Dr. Handzel the opportunity to spend a day shadowing a Philadelphia Public Health official.

“This story exemplifies how integrating a young investigator, representing both Penn and CHOP, into research provided an opportunity that took her not only to academic presentations but also to an important forum for public health in our city,” says Dr. Hurt.

Dr. Hanzel is currently an intern pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital and plans to publish these findings and continue research looking at the effects of poverty on inner-city children as they transition into adulthood.

“Almost daily, I see first-hand the effects that poverty has on our inner-city children,” says Dr. Handzel. “As a first year pediatric resident, I am still not entirely sure which area of pediatrics I will eventually pursue; however, I do expect to incorporate research as a component of my future career.”