Nicole Konijn is doing the Master ‘Nutrition and Health’ and is especially very interested in research with patients and at hospitals. Therefore, it was no surprise she chose to do an internship at the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, where she researched the nutritional status of rheumatoid arthritis patients.
During my Bachelor Nutrition and Health, I was already very interested in studies with patients and studies performed in hospitals. After my bachelor, it was a logical choice to do the master specialization ‘Nutrition in Health and Disease’, which focuses on clinical research.
At the end of my master I had to find an internship, I decided to choose a university hospital, where I preferred a research with a lot of contact with patients and practical work. Eventually I chose the VU Medical Centre in Amsterdam, where the department ‘Dietetics and Food Sciences’ did much research in terms of malnutrition. My internship research focused on the nutritional status of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA patients have chronic inflammations on their joints throughout the body, so their joints are often painful and stiff. RA patients are often less physically active than healthy people, because of these symptoms. On the other hand, the chronic inflammations throughout the body result in a higher energy requirement. Both factors influence the body composition (the ratio between muscle and fat mass) and function in RA patients. During my internship I have done a cross-sectional research, by which I have investigated the body composition and function of a large group of RA patients at the VU Medical Center at one particular moment in time.
During the first month of my internship, I wrote a research proposal, in which I explained the exact purpose of my research, what and how I wanted to do the research, and which results I expected. Thereafter followed two intensive months full of measurements at the policlinic and outpatient department of rheumatology. During such measurement I determined the body composition (height and weight, fat and muscle mass) and muscle strength of the patients, and I took off questionnaires about appetite, fatigue, pain, etc. I studied up to 108 patients in total!
The results of my research showed that 20% of the patients had a low lean body mass index, which is an indicator for a low muscle mass. This is unfavorable because muscles are the ‘motor’ of the body in which all the metabolic activities take place. Also, up to 95% of the patients had decreased muscle strength. The results of my research were a real eye-opener for rheumatologists at the VU, because the RA patients often look healthy and well fed, while they actually have an unhealthy body composition with little muscle and pretty much fat.
I really liked being able to carry out my own research at a university hospital, it was really great to see and learn how research is performed in real life. It is a big difference with studies at the university, those are often carried out in an artificial environment, which are not always comparable to situations in daily life. Right now we are working on publishing the results of my research in a scientific journal. Wouldn’t it be great if my internship will be published worldwide, and all researchers can read my results!”