In January 2018 Columbia-Bassett established a research program. The program provides opportunities for the Columbia-Bassett students to participate in research in one of the thematic areas of their curriculum—the role of adverse childhood experiences in shaping health over the life course. These research opportunities are primarily in the summer following the first year of the pre-clinical phase of the curriculum, and in the scholarly project program in the differentiation and integration phase of the curriculum. However, throughout the four years of medical school, contact is encouraged and supported between the students and the research program.

The Columbia-Bassett research program is directed by Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH. He is assisted by Allison N. Herman, M.Ed., MPH, the research program’s coordinator and Tracy Dearth-Wesley, PhD, MPH, the program’s epidemiologist and statistician. We are working to identify potentially modifiable factors that support flourishing with adversity. Flourishing (eudaimonic well-being) refers to aspects of psychological functioning, such as self-acceptance, a sense of purpose, personal growth, and positive relationships. Adversity can include those life events and circumstances that are traumatic insofar as they are experienced as emotionally threatening and can have enduring effects on health and development. Some of these traumas are transmitted across generations and include longstanding social inequities. We are particularly interested in understanding how individuals flourish in the face of, and sometimes as a result of, adverse childhood experiences and the role of systems of care in that process. 

Our current projects focus on 1) the nature and impact of children’s safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with adults on the development of flourishing, even amidst adversity, and 2) the role of relationships in healthcare, education, and human services to promote flourishing by being more responsive to people’s life experiences that may have been traumatic.

The research program is closely integrated with the Life Experiences Curriculum. The research mentorship provided to students is philosophically aligned with the emphasis at Columbia-Bassett on supporting growth and self-awareness through a longitudinal mentoring relationship. This relationship involves inquiry and dialogue with students, both of which are integral parts of scholarship. The research program also informs ongoing curriculum development by evaluating the current science on how adverse childhood experiences, social forces, and the healthcare system influence health and well-being.