Larner Class of 2025 medical students (left to right): Ryan Kamkar, Mimi Falcone, Jordan Franco, Karena Nguyen.

Scholarly Summer

Medical students dive into research.

July 28, 2022 by Janet L. Essman Franz


For students pursuing a degree in medicine, there’s no off-season. Despite an eight-week break between their first and second years, many Larner College of Medicine medical students tackle projects to address unmet health needs, practice clinical skills, and immerse themselves in specialty clerkships with physician preceptors. 

Many rising second-year students choose to engage in clinical, basic science or health policy-related research, which can be among the most valuable experiences during their medical education. These summer projects involve posing a hypothesis and performing a basic science or clinical experiment with data collection and analysis to address the hypothesis and provide new insight and knowledge. All of the projects receive support from Larner College of Medicine Fund, and many of the studies become published in scholarly journals.

Read on for a glimpse of summer 2022 research by the Larner Class of 2025. The students will present their research at a poster session on September 22.

Ryan Kamkar poses indoors wearing his Larner medical student white coat over a blue collared shirt and lavendar tie

Ryan Kamkar '25, under the mentorship of Thomas Delaney, Ph.D., investigated behavioral and health trends of LGBTQ teenagers in Vermont.

Ryan Kamkar

Recent Behavioral and Health Trends of LGBTQ Youth in Vermont


Growing up in a conservative California suburb, Ryan Kamkar had no queer role models nor knowledge of LGBTQ resources, and the prospect of coming out in high school was unfeasible to Kamkar and his sister, who is transgender. In college, volunteering with the Gay Men’s Health Collective at Berkeley armed Kamkar with knowledge about advocacy and “the profound influence a supportive community can have in positively shaping the way its members may self-identify,” he said. These experiences inform Kamkar’s research, documenting the behavioral and health trends of LGBTQ teenagers compared to their cisgender, straight peers in Vermont.

Kamkar uses data from the Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to analyze risk and protective factors including nutrition, access to specific mental health education and resources, and safe community spaces, and to assess their impacts on the overall health of LGBTQ-identifying youth.

“In Vermont, LGBTQ-identifying youth consistently identify greater rates of suicidal ideation and attempt, major depression, negative body image, tobacco use, and being physically threatened on school campus. By mapping out the most significant risk or protective factors in recent years, we can gain some critical insight on how our efforts can be better focused to support this marginalized population moving forward,” he said.

In California, Kamkar founded a student organization for queer college-aged volunteers to share their coming out stories at local middle and high schools and spread awareness of mental health resources. He plans to bring a similar elective course called “Our Closet” to UVM students in spring 2023.

Kamkar’s inspiration to become a doctor stems from caring for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis: “Taking care of her while growing up gave me a unique perspective on the very real ways psychological stress manifests into physical conditions,” he said. “I find my current research project fulfilling because it lets me take a closer look at how certain community stressors affect the health of LGBTQ youth in Vermont. As a [future] doctor, I hope I can serve my population by advocating for both patient care and community resources.”

Mimi Falcone

Autism Support for Immigrant Families


At a space called the “Family Room” in Burlington’s Old North End, Mimi Falcone sits with a group of New American parents whose children are on the autism spectrum. The mothers eat watermelon and share parenting tips while their children play tag, toss balls and make arts and crafts. The group gathers twice monthly to socialize and gain insights on themes such as wandering prevention, with support from social workers and volunteers. 

For her research project, Falcone surveys the parents about their stress related to taking care of their child with autism, asking them to rate their stress on a scale from 1 to 10 with a brief explanation. She’s tracking the impact that a peer support group has on relieving stress among these immigrant parents of children with autism. 

“Parents with neurodiverse children often are cast aside and forgotten. Many of these parents have limited English proficiency and minimal family nearby, so they feel isolation to an even larger degree,” said Falcone. “The hope is that this style of peer support group has a positive effect on the participants and their families by providing a sense of community and camaraderie with other parents and a connection to educators, healthcare professionals and advocates.”

Through this project, Falcone aims to show that peer support groups build healthy communities and improve health care outcomes for immigrants. Early evidence shows she’s on track: “So far, having a consistent time and physical meeting place for parents to decompress and share what’s on their minds is proving to be instrumental in reducing the stress felt by the parents involved in the group.”

Falcone earned a B.S. in biochemistry with a minor in nutrition at UVM. An undergraduate course in maternal and child health equity sparked her interest in healthy food access and integrating community service and science. 

“I hope to be an ally, advocate and educator within immigrant and low resource communities. I see myself working to improve health and wellbeing at a population level just as much as with individuals in an exam room,” she said. 

Mimi Falcone poses outside of with green trees behind her

Mimi Falcone '25 tracked the impact of peer support on relieving stress among immigrant parents of children with autism, under the mentorship of Andrea Green, M.D.

Jordan Franco poses in front of a screen showing blood work test results

Jordan Franco '25 explored laboratory components of health literacy with Mark Fung, M.D., Ph.D.

Jordan Franco

The Laboratory Component of Health Literacy


“Constructive communication is the bedrock of establishing a patient-physician relationship and building patient trust,” said Jordan Franco, who hopes to have a career in family medicine. Franco’s research focuses on health literacy— the capacity of an individual to find, understand and apply information to inform health-related decisions — with an aim to help patients better understand their laboratory test results. 

The project involves testing people’s ability to interpret mock laboratory results, as if they were looking at lab test reports from their own health chart. The study participants then answer screening questions that allow Franco to measure their health literacy and make inferences about how confident and successful they feel interpreting the lab results. Franco will then analyze usage data from a website that provides the participants with various information on laboratory tests. 

“The idea here is to get a sense of what types of lab tests are compelling patients to seek out extra information on the Internet,” Franco said. “Perhaps the information gained here can shed light on specific types of laboratory tests that warrant extra patient education.”  

Franco, who grew up in Connecticut, chose this topic because he wants to use science and problem solving to help people improve their health. “While there are many determinants of health, health literacy is one that can be quantified in real time at the point of care,” said Franco. “When a patient understands what is happening, they can make better decisions about their health.”

Karena Nguyen

Disparities in the use of preventative care screenings among Vermont’s BIPOC population


As a future physician, Karena Nguyen is eager to understand environmental and social factors that affect health, including access to food and clean water supply, public transportation, and disability compliance. This summer, Nguyen is assessing health disparities pertaining to usage of breast cancer screenings in Vermont.  

“My hope is that this project can help pave the way to improve health equity among the underserved populations in Vermont, similar to how the COVID-19 vaccination rate gap closed between BIPOC and white Vermonters after data elucidated the disparity,” said Nguyen. The data she referred to was from the Vermont Department of Health and found that in April 2021, the COVID-19 vaccination rate for members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community lagged behind that of white Vermonters by 13%. These findings prompted numerous outreach efforts to connect the BIPOC community to the vaccine and were essential in mitigating the racial and ethnic disparities in Vermont’s COVID-19 vaccination rates. 

This project allows Nguyen to combine a personal commitment to community service and interest in improving cancer care. A California native, Nguyen volunteered for Special Olympics, food banks, and a cancer support center in San Francisco. She currently works with the Vermont Health Equity Initiative to promote mental health and well-being among the BIPOC population. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nguyen worked as a scribe for Southeast Health Center, observing firsthand the importance of documenting social determinants of health, particularly for marginalized communities of color.
Karena Nguyen poses for a photo outside on the UVM campus with wearing her Larner medical student white coat and a stethoscope draped over her shoulders.

Karena Nguyen '25, under mentorship of Mark Fung, M.D., Ph.D., assessed health disparities pertaining to breast cancer screenings among Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Vermont.

Read more about summer research by Larner Class of 2025 medical students on the UVM Office of the Vice President for Research website