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Dr. Jonathan French with a patient

Brain Injury Awareness

Awareness of brain injuries continues to expand, both across Widener’s campus and with alumni who have gone into the field. But understanding what is going on in a patient’s head when diagnosing a concussion can be complex, even for doctors.

“If you take an egg and shake it, what happens to the yolk?” asked Widener alumnus Dr. Jonathan French, a neuropsychologist and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

“The egg shell is fine, there is no damage, but the biomechanical forces affect the egg yolk. This is similar to how our brain reacts in a mild traumatic brain injury.”

As many as 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), with children and teens at the highest risk.

French, who earned both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Widener, is part of a team at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program that recently obtained a grant from the National Football League to research a more systematic display on diagnosis.

Fifth-year doctoral student Natalie Sandel had the opportunity to shadow staff at the UPMC as an undergraduate student, which triggered her to switch her focus from biomed to neuropsychology.

“It’s the cutting edge of the field,” Sandel said of the research in sports concussions. “There are a number of innovative practices on the best diagnostic and treatment approaches and I wanted to be a part of that.”

This increased attention on brain injuries has also been central to promoting further research and study in Widener’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology (IGCP) and the Neuropsychology Assessment Center, which serves as a training “arm” of the neuropsychology program.

The center conducts more than one hundred mental health evaluations of individuals from all over the Delaware Valley who are referred by physicians, therapists, schools, parents, as well as the Widener community.

“Interning at the Neuropsychology Assessment Center was an absolute asset for me in getting my career started,” said Meghan Jorgenson, a 2015 PsyD graduate who has a post-doctoral appointment at the New York University’s Child Study Center.

“It’s a valuable placement for students, as there is a strong focus on training and students are involved in the entire process of each case, from the clinical interview to providing feedback. You get the full experience.”

To learn more about the research and treatment of traumatic brain injuries, read the full story here