Jan 26, 2023 / Research & Innovation

Get to Know our Staff: Paola Sparagana, Research

Each year, our team seeks out college students interested in pursuing a career in medicine. Clinical Orthopedic Research Assistants (CORA) are hired at Scottish Rite for Children to assist our experts in performing clinical research tasks and collaborating on research projects. CORA staff are also mentored by our physicians and researchers and given valuable advice and guidance for their future. Each CORA staff member specializes in a specific area of study and works with the staff in that department, receiving a well-rounded experience in their field of interest.
What inspired you to apply for the CORA position?
What initially inspired me to apply for a CORA position was the sheer uniqueness of the program. Not only was this an opportunity at a globally distinguished hospital, but it also offered numerous opportunities that seemed essential for my professional growth. The CORA program is tailored toward those who are interested in pursuing advanced degrees in medicine. So, unlike other research assistant positions, CORA offers opportunities that are crucial in creating a competitive applicant for any medical degree program. Such opportunities include designated hours for observing in clinic, developing your own research project and learning from true experts in their field. As someone who had minimal experience with clinical research, this seemed like a terrific opportunity to formally introduce myself to the wonderful world of research!
Have you always been interested in medicine and/or research?
I grew up with two parents in the medical field, so it certainly has always felt like a natural topic of interest to me. Despite always having this interest, I wasn’t sure what that meant for me and my future. I never experienced a defining moment where I thought to myself, ‘Yes, medicine is it for me!’ In fact, even up to my senior year of college, I found myself wondering if medicine was just an interest or if this had the potential to be a lifelong career. Fortunately, I found myself at Scottish Rite for Children, where my experiences have gradually transformed interests into ambitions and passions.
What is it like working at Scottish Rite for Children?
I certainly have a sense of pride when I come to work. Since its inception, Scottish Rite for Children has maintained a reputation of providing extraordinary patient care and pioneering revolutionary research. The staff and volunteers here are a true testament to the excellence of this organization. Working with children is a humbling experience, but that is a feeling that we all need to learn to embrace. In fact, I often find myself learning valuable lessons from the short interactions I have with the children in clinic. There is so much to learn here, and I am beyond thrilled to be a part of the community!
Can you share a few sentences about someone at Scottish Rite who has been a mentor to you and how they have impacted your experience? What project are you working on with that mentor?
While working here, I have had the opportunity to learn from some truly impressive individuals. Within the Rheumatology department, Lynnette Walters has selflessly invested a significant portion of her time into my own professional and personal development. Within a few short months, Lynnette reinforced my abilities to lead with positivity and integrity. I am currently working on an autoimmunity project with Lynnette that consists of obtaining biological samples and examining disease manifestation at the time of sample collection. Julie M. Fuller, M.D., who is mentoring me through a personal project, has also given me direction and confidence since the start of this project.  
How do you think this experience will impact your career path?
It has unquestionably already impacted my career path. This experience has solidified my interests in medicine while giving me clinical experience that goes beyond most entry-level positions. I believe this program has solidified the foundation for my professional career while reinforcing my personal development.  
What progress have you made toward your career goal since beginning the program?
The CORA program has helped me not only identify my career goal, but it has also helped me set some crucial career development goals. One important aspect of my career development was gaining exposure to other departments and specialties. I have had the opportunity to work with multiple departments such as Rheumatology and Pediatric Developmental Disabilities. Working with different departments has enhanced my workplace flexibility while also allowing me to step outside my job description and create new opportunities for myself. As I have grown more comfortable in my role, I have felt confident in accepting new tasks and projects that had once seemed daunting. Experience has only made me more confident myself!
What is your favorite project that you are currently working on or have worked on at Scottish Rite?
My favorite project is probably my own personal project that I am working on with rheumatologist Dr. Fuller. We are working on a case series examining patients with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) who also present with Temporomandibular Joint involvement. Getting to work through the challenges of research with Dr. Fuller has given me invaluable experience into the fundamentals of the research development. It is incredibly rewarding to watch an idea transform into a project that you can call your own.
What advice do you have for future CORA participants?
My first piece of advice would be to embrace the work that is given to you. It is unlikely that you will always know what to do when assigned a new project, but in chaos there is always opportunity! If you use this as an opportunity to learn, then you’re only better preparing yourself for the future. My next piece of advice would be to allow this experience to be more than just professional development. Let this be a time of personal growth for you. Explore your talents, potential, dreams and aspirations. At the end of the day, it is personal growth that gives us the motivation to accomplish meaningful work and advance in our careers. 
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Prior to this position, my only true research experience was at Texas A&M, where I helped develop open-education resources (OER) for second language education. We developed textbooks that are now used by Introductory Spanish courses at Texas A&M, which provide students with free textbooks! So, despite my minimal experience with clinical research, I believe it was my eagerness to learn fast and prioritize the information needed that has allowed me to excel in this position.
Anything else you would like to add?
The CORA positions are a great opportunity at an outstanding institution with world class medical staff and colleagues. I give the program my most heartfelt endorsement!
If you are interested in a career in medicine and plan to take a year or two after college before applying to medical school, learn more about becoming a clinical orthopedic research assistant (CORA) on our careers page. Applications for June 2023 positions are being accepted through spring of 2023.
If you are in medical school and are interested in a research opportunity, learn more about becoming a medical student research fellow (MSRF) on our careers page.

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