Shelby Hamilton and A New Approach to Treating Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Fifth-semester student American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) Shelby Hamilton, Class of ’25, learned about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) early when she began puberty at age 10. After she began to develop health problems, a visit to the OB/GYN confirmed a diagnosis of PCOS, a common hormonal disorder that affects as many as 5 million U.S. women.
PCOS is caused by an imbalance of androgen in the body. It can cause early puberty and disruptions in menstrual periods. Typically a lifelong condition, the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, and treatment is still in research.
Health issues motivated her to seek answers through medical education
Dealing with PCOS, Hamilton developed a keen interest in women’s health. “It was difficult to talk about my health issues at such a young age. But my OB/GYN made me feel comfortable, and I was impressed by her experience and knowledge. I wanted to support other girls with PCOS searching for help.”
Originally from Belize, Hamilton attended a community college that had a partnership with Jesuit schools in the U.S. After shadowing a gastroenterologist in Belize, she traveled to the U.S. to earn an undergraduate degree in biology at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. Immediately after earning her degree, she began investigating med schools and selected AUC.
Once admitted to med school, Hamilton chose to attend the UK Track located in Preston, United Kingdom, part of AUC’s medical degree program in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire. “The UK track appealed to me because of its smaller class sizes, individualized learning, and academic and social support. Everyone knows each other and I feel very connected.”
While an undergrad, Hamilton took a course in endocrinology, which led her to her interest in PCOS research. Her health situation made her especially interested in learning more. “When I was living in Belize, my doctor ran additional tests that showed abnormal levels of my thyroid hormones. She wondered if, in addition to PCOS, I might have hypothyroidism, since many of the symptoms are similar. However, I wasn’t able to obtain all the tests needed in Belize to rule it out.” Needless to say, Hamilton was curious about the relationship between PCOS and hypothyroidism. ”I decided to research it by doing a literature review, exploring case study reports, reading cohort studies, and other primary research such as journal articles. My investigation confirmed that there is often a correlation between the two.”
An integrated approach to research a complex syndrome
Based on these findings, Hamilton submitted a poster presentation, “The Endocrinological Correlation Between Hypothyroidism and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome in Women," which won third place at an AUC UK Research Symposium in 2022 and was accepted for the 2023 Annual Academic Meeting of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Annual Meeting in London in February 2023. Presenting her research was eye-opening for Hamilton. “It was fascinating to meet other students in the UK medical program who were also presenting research projects in the OB/GYN field. It was exciting to be a part of the solution to women’s health issues.”
Hamilton’s research demonstrated that hypothyroidism may be overlooked by doctors when they discover that their patient has polycystic ovaries. “Physicians may check hormone levels, but they might not check thyroid levels. An abnormal thyroid reading could be the cause of PCOS-like symptoms. If the readings are normal, I think there is room to discover ’hidden’ hypothyroidism in some PCOS cases. Acting as a medical detective is the only way to find the proper treatment.” While Hamilton’s diagnosis hasn’t been confirmed yet, her condition is managed by taking a recommended PCOS medication.
Entering medicine to help patients like herself
Now preparing for her comprehensive exams and anticipating clinicals, Hamilton is hoping to do an OB/GYN residency and practice in the U.S.—and also wants to find ways to give back to the people of Belize. “I want to help those who don’t have access to adequate health care in addition to seeing patients with PCOS because I don’t feel there is enough focus on either issue. I know there are women just like me looking for answers.”
Most of all, Hamilton feels enthusiastic and engaged as a woman of color entering medicine. “I’m happy to see the diversity among my medical school classmates. I’m inspired to join other women of color in the medical field. I think it can only advance health equity, help to solve health disparities, and ultimately provide improved care for patients.”
Learn more about the AUC UK Track here.