Kyle Jennette, ‘11, was a research scholar at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, working with an experienced clinical neuropsychologist, when the patient came in through the ER. The patient was agitated and confused. He was an immigrant day laborer and spoke very little English. He knew something was wrong with his brain, but he was having difficulty understanding what the clinicians were telling him.
To make matters worse, he needed to be prepped for a “Wada,” a test neuropsychologists and surgeons use to determine where certain cognitive abilities are in the brain before brain surgery. While still awake, the patient’s ability to speak and understand language would be temporarily shut down via injections directly into the brain. It’s an important assessment, but can be traumatic for patients.
“I remember how upset the man was,” said Jennette, who graduated from Flagler with a degree in psychology, is now a board-certified specialist in psychometry. “And then I remember seeing how my advisor — the doctor I was studying with — worked to calm him down. My advisor was bilingual and was able to communicate in Spanish, for one thing. But beyond that, he was able to break down some very complex neurological concepts and explain them in a way the patient found clear and reassuring. In no time we had completed the procedure and brought back the man’s language abilities. The whole thing happened quickly, but it was an experience that has stayed with me for many years.”
What the afternoon in the ER taught him, Jennette said, is the importance of being able to connect with patients — especially those with cognitive difficulties — on a very human level.
“Patients with neurological impairments can be struggling with fear and confusion,” he said. “I’m inspired to learn more about how to help these patients through research and then to apply that research in clinical settings.”
Jennette is currently working on his Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. His research focuses on how subtle genetic mutations influence the course, onset, severity, and characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease and normal aging. The goal is to have a better idea of what each person might expect based on his or her genetic profile. “It’s a practical way to look into new treatment and prevention,” Jennette said. “We’re essentially looking at ways to predict Alzheimer’s disease more efficiently.”
Jennette credits his time at Flagler with helping to ignite a passion for clinical work and in-depth research science.
“I majored in psychology at Flagler and minored in environmental science. In both programs, my mentors Dr. Emily Splane and Dr. Terri Seron helped me focus my research and find internships and opportunities that led me down this path,” he said. “I know I want to work with people, but I also want to understand the genetics behind the symptoms. I really feel that this work can make a difference.”