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Young Alumni at Work: Thomas Day ’15 Alumni at Work, Health Science Specialist and Research Assistant, Palo Alto VA Hospital and Stanford School of Medicine.

“I studied such a broad range of subjects because I wanted to fully immerse myself in the liberal arts by examining truth from many different perspectives.”

Where can majors in biochemistry, religion and music composition take someone?

Thomas Day ’15 took these majors to become a health science specialist and research assistant in hospice and palliative medicine at Palo Alto VA Hospital and Stanford School of Medicine.

“I studied such a broad range of subjects because I wanted to fully immerse myself in the liberal arts by examining truth from many different perspectives.”

Day is working to improve the lives of patients who have terminal illnesses. He says he is helping people at their most vulnerable point in life.

He is working on four main projects: evaluating the most effective way to screen patients for pain in primary care; measuring the quality of hospice care within the VA system to improve care nationwide; analyzing focus group interviews about roles within interdisciplinary healthcare teams; and helping coordinate the development of a joint hospice and palliative care program at Stanford University School of Medicine and Palo Alto VA.

Day had no background in any of the technical skills his daily work requires, but ironically, he says this shows how Washington and Lee University prepared him.

He says that because of W&L, learning a whole new skill set was not a daunting task.

Day found a form of expression in music at a young age, and he continued that passion at W&L with the University Singers.

He said every concert closes with “The Road Home.”

“The Road Home is incredibly beloved by every member of the choir because it encapsulated so much of what the choir means to its members and what W&L means as well. It leads you back to a place like home,” Day said.

Below is an excerpt of the song.

“With the love in your heart
As the only song;
There is no such beauty
As where you belong;
Rise up, follow me,
I will lead you home.”

In addition to University Singers, Day was a resident advisor, peer counselor, member of the student faculty hearing board and a member of General Admission, among other things.

Day offers this advice for current W&L students: “Live your life there to the fullest. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to get involved and cherish your friendships.”

One class at W&L that stands out to Day was Religion 210 with Dr. Alex Brown. After having a bad draw during freshman year registration, “Approaches to the Study of Religion” was the only class available for his schedule. Brown advised Day that this class was not meant for first-years, but he persisted.

“It completely shaped the way I view the world and current religions … It’s the most valuable class I’ve ever taken. She wound up being my advisor and a sounding board for my life decisions.”

If Day could go back to W&L, he says he would spend more time doing the things he loves with his friends. He also called Lexington a “treasure trove” and encourages students to explore it more.

Day will remain with Palo Alto VA Hospital for two years. He also sits on the Alumni Board of Directors for the United States Presidential Scholars.

Day plans to matriculate into medical school in summer 2017.

– by Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder ’16

If you know any W&L alumni who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.

A Day in the Life of a Research Assistant

6:45-7:30: I wake up, eat breakfast and get ready for work.

7:30-8:00: Palo Alto is a bike friendly area, so I bike 5 miles to the Menlo Park campus of the Palo Alto VA Healthcare System.

8:00-10:30: I begin my day by reviewing the statuses of my projects and taking care of administrative tasks to keep them on schedule. Research projects require extensive behind-the-scenes oversight, including composing protocols, drafting budgets, securing IRB approval (ethical approval) and scheduling meetings. These responsibilities vary depending on the projects’ different stage — from grant writing to data collection to paper submissions.

10:30-12:30: Once the administrative tasks are complete, I turn my attention toward research activities. I conduct qualitative research, so I use a program called Atlas.ti to code interview transcripts, then I write about those findings in scientific articles. I also spend this time reading relevant papers and joining teleconference meetings with collaborators.

1:00-4:00: My fellow research assistant and I then travel to the Palo Alto VA’s primary care clinic to gather data about how physicians ask about and manage pain. One of us recruits patients to join our study and the other hands them a Galaxy tablet with our survey app loaded onto it. The tablet survey asks patients about different pain screening techniques (“On a scale of one to ten, how bad is your pain today?”) then reports the results so that we can figure out the best way to ask about pain.

4:30-5:30: At the end of the day, we drive back to the office, transfer our data, and make sure all sensitive information is stored securely. I then head to the gym to play basketball with coworkers and veterans getting treatment for PTSD. Hearing their stories has given me a deep respect both for their duties overseas and for their daily struggles assimilating back home.

5:30-6:00: I conclude my day with the same 5-mile bike ride back to my apartment.