Former All Bahamas Merit Scholar (ABMS) Shannon Butler never thought he would address a global health pandemic for a Master’s degree dissertation, but he is. Butler’s original research project placements and dissertations were scrapped in the face of COVID-19. He was given new topics and current dissertations, which are now entirely literature-based and centered on the coronavirus, as he completes a year-long study toward a Master’s of Philosophy in therapeutic sciences at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge.
Butler’s topic relates to treatment options for the novel coronavirus disease. He hopes to explore some of the most promising potential coronavirus treatments currently in existence and in the development pipeline; as well as the economic and regulatory incentives provided to centers focused on COVID-19 research and development.
“I’ll aim to present some of the evidence behind the development of antibody-based therapeutics, as well as the evidence behind currently existing drugs, the antivirals, the antimalarials, and, potentially, interleukin-6 inhibitors. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fit all of it into the word count, but I’ll definitely try my best.”
The 24-year-old 2013 ABMS decided to take the multidisciplinary degree course because of its focus on the basic science, development, commercialization and regulation of therapeutics ranging from small molecule drugs to biopharmaceuticals, and diagnostic and medical devices.
Butler is studying medicine with the goal of specializing in cardiothoracic surgery.
He says he decided to pursue a Master’s degree on top of his medical degree for a number of reasons – one being he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to take a break from medical school and study something different.
“I wanted to deepen my knowledge of basic biomedical science and potentially gain some research experience, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that a university like Cambridge could offer, and I also wanted to make myself more competitive for clinical specialist training [residency] positions when the time comes, further down the line, in my medical career.”
Completing the Master’s degree, he says, has the added benefit of opening up job opportunities in healthcare consulting and in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors for him.
“I was also fortunate enough to be accepted into an MSc course at Oxford University, but I decided to do the MPhil course at Cambridge because of its holistic nature and the fact that the course boasted strong scientific, business and legal-related elements.”
Butler enrolled in the Master’s program after completing a clinical elective, last summer, in interventional radiology and interventional oncology at the clinical center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, the world’s largest biomedical research institution.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to join a great medical team and participate in many fascinating minimally invasive medical procedures,” he said.
After he’s completed his Master’s study, Butler returns to medical school at the University of Manchester for his final year.
As he completes his Master’s degree, Butler said COVID-19 hasn’t affected his studies. The United Kingdom went into lockdown just as he concluded the teaching component of his course, so he did not have to make the switch to online classes.
“So, I’m just basically working on my dissertation for this semester that’s largely self-directed and my personal time.”
Butler also did a one-year sabbatical in 2017, to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, where he did the first half of his medical degree, which was basically the pre-clinical side of medicine. After that, he moved to Manchester and started clinical rotations at the University of Manchester.
“So, just rotating through different medical and surgical specialties in the hospitals in and around Manchester. I’m supposed to do three years of that before I actually finish medical school. I did the first two years and before my final year, I decided to take a year out. I’ll go back into final year at the University of Manchester and finish off medical school.”
As he prepares for his return to medical school, he’s still uncertain as to when that will be. He says that has not yet been communicated by the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland.
“I think they’re still trying to work through a lot of things for this semester. I hope I’m able to return in August, because that’s when the year was due to start, but for now, really, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed,” he said.
While the world battles the global health pandemic, Butler says life is pretty boring for him.
“Just trying to get through this degree and get back to medical school and finish that off so I can start my clinical training and training properly as a doctor and specializing. It’s quite boring in lockdown as well. I’m just cooped up in the house all the time and basically only venture out for groceries, but other than that, it’s quite calm. I’m grateful to be in Cambridge, a place that’s well-resourced and that’s quite small and quiet.
The Bahamas has 93 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths, 39 recovered cases, six hospitalized cases, 43 active cases; and has completed 1,634 tests, as of Monday.
Worldwide, there are 4,153,871 confirmed cases and 284,628 deaths.