Tufts Pre-Health

Anecdotes and advice about preparing for a career in health

Category: Postbac (page 2 of 3)

Dan Earley: My Time at Lahey

Our last post was about the Lahey Clinical Research Preceptorship from the perspective of someone who recently completed both the preceptorship and the Postbac Premed Program. Another former preceptor and postbac alum, Dan Earley, who has just begun medical school, talks about turning the preceptorship into a fulltime glide-year job:

As I start my first weeks of medical school, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the last few years that got me here. Late in my senior year of college I started thinking about a career in medicine but as a Classics major with only a few science classes, I knew I had a long way to go. I spent the first 6 months after college reflecting if this was the path I wanted to take, and researching ways to achieve my goals. After getting into the Tufts Postbaccaulaureate program I started classes in January following my graduation.

During the 18 months of my postbac studies at Tufts I had the opportunity to take part in the Preceptorship program at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. While my classes gave me the knowledge base I needed to start medical school, at Lahey I worked on a retrospective chart review comparing rates of glaucoma among patients with herpetic eye diseases.

Before starting the research project, I shadowed an ophthalmologist in clinic and in the operating room to learn about the different kinds of patients seen in that department. While I learned much from doing the project and eventually traveling to present our findings as a poster at a conference, the greatest experiences I had at Lahey came as I was finishing up my classes at Tufts.

I was offered a full time position at Lahey in the Ophthalmology Department, working as a medical scribe. I would be in the room typing the doctors’ notes as they examined patients. While this freed the physicians from being tied to the computers (a fact that patients appreciated), the nature of the job also meant that I learned first-hand about patient-doctor interactions.

I was also in the room for minor procedures. Many times this meant managing equipment and specimens if the doctor was keeping a sterile field, but it also could mean figurative and literal hand holding (any procedure near a patient’s eye can be stressful).

Some workdays were definitely crazy. A single emergency could easily put us behind the eight ball. I had heard statistics of long wait times in doctors’ waiting rooms. Now I have a better understanding of what happens to cause this.

Patients with retinal detachments and infections threatening the whole eye have to be seen. Emergencies can be disruptive to clinic flow, but taking care of those emergencies is a crucial part of the job. As the year went on I got better at talking to patients and explaining delays.

But by far patients were the best at keeping other patients calm. Several times I would overhear patients whom we saw regularly calm down anxious or frustrated patients in the waiting areas. Patients who had previously had an emergency, or patients who had been seeing this doctor for years would say “trust me, s/he is worth it.” Those comments were manifestations of the good relationship the doctors had built with those patients.

After treating two retinal detachments late on a Friday afternoon, the doctor I was working with turned to me and said, “Dan, we did good today.” I knew he didn’t just mean we had done a good job; he meant that our jobs made a positive impact in others’ lives. I have spent the last 3 years going from a Classics major to 1st year medical student, and moments like that one confirm I’m on the right path.

Lahey Hospital Burlington

Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

The Postbac Lahey Preceptorship: Howell

The Postbac Premed Program offers a great opportunity to get hospital experience: the Lahey Clinical Research Preceptorship program. Applications for this year’s preceptorships are due on August 16. T. Howell Burke reflects on his past year working at Lahey:

Here is my advice to anyone enrolled in the post-baccalaureate premedical program: get out of the library! The skills in problem-solving and basic science you will learn in chemistry, physics, and organic will help you on the MCAT and will be important to your career as a healthcare professional, and the labs can even be fun sometimes.

However, you will eventually be working in a hospital, not a lab or classroom – so take any opportunity you can to get into a hospital. Clinical experience is an important part of the discernment for a medical career, and it is also a lot of fun.

During my second year in the Tufts Postbac Program, I had the opportunity to participate in the preceptorship at Lahey Hospital in Burlington, MA. My advisor, Edwin Ozawa MD PhD, is one of the more impressive people I have met: he had a career in bioengineering before he became an anesthesiologist. As an engineer, he is constantly tinkering with systems – including the way that specialized teams of anesthesiologists, pharmacists, and nurses at Lahey respond to code blue events, in which a patient goes into cardiopulmonary arrest.

Dr. Ozawa was looking for help improving the response of code blue teams to such events. We designed and ran simulated code blue events using the SimMan 3G, a sophisticated $100k electronic mannequin that could simulate a lot of human physiology (it could even talk). The clinical management and teamwork of code blue teams during these simulated events were scored using an evaluation tool that I designed.

This work required that I have a working understanding of code blue pathology and clinical management. I spent a lot of time reading American Heart Association algorithms, analyzing video of simulated code blue events, and even observing real code blue events. “Grading” MDs on their clinical skills definitely felt strange, but it is what I was asked to do!

Code Blue drill

A laptop is used to control a training mannequin’s vital signs during a mock code blue drill at the pain management clinic at Naval Medical Center San Diego. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anastasia Puscian/Released)

The position was also a great opportunity to form a close working relationship with a physician that I respect. Dr. Ozawa and I spent many hours discussing our mutual interests in naval history, military strategy (he is a reservist with the U.S. Navy, and I am applying for the U.S. Navy medical scholarship), teamwork behavior, and Legos (nerd alert, people). The mentor relationship drives medical education and training, and I feel fortunate that I can count Dr. Ozawa among my mentors.

While I probably will not pursue anesthesiology as a specialty, my work at Lahey did get me interested in the details of critical care, including airway management, as well as the human systems underlying emergency management, skills which are important in other medical specialties that I am interested in pursuing.

You might have heard the cliché that medicine is a career of lifelong learning. My experience at Lahey demonstrated the truth of this cliché: physicians decades into their careers were eager for additional opportunities to train and fine-tune the way they responded to critical care events. I feel fortunate to be included in such a group.

Register with the HPRC by Wednesday, April 1

2015 HPRC reminder flyer

The Path to Postbac: Kevin

It’s the final days until Sunday’s March 1 deadline for the Postbac Premed Program! Last week, we heard from Amy Zoller about her decision to change careers and pursue medicine. The Postbac program supports many more career paths than just medicine, though. Check out Kevin’s journey from finance to pre-dentistry at the Tufts Postbac program:

Just a few months prior to enrolling in the Tufts Postbac Premed program this spring for pre-dentistry, I was an undergraduate senior at Boston University finishing a business degree in finance and accounting. I had always enjoyed the nature of financial analysis, and so it was a shock to most of my friends that I was considering switching majors.

However, the idea was one that I had reasoned out over time. Throughout my undergraduate years I had interned at several financial institutions and explored different career paths related to finance. From this, I understood that most industry employees seemed to be motivated more by salary and the prospect of advancement within their companies than the nature of their job.

So, I re-considered what I truly wanted out of a career and ultimately decided that I wanted to have a positive personal impact on the greatest number of people. I had to look no further than my parents, who are both dentists, to realize that their profession exactly fit that criteria.

Even with that figured out, the decision was not an easy one. I first had to make sure that I would enjoy being a dentist, so I spent a few months shadowing at a nearby dental practice. There, I got a better sense of the profession (which I liked) and began to transition from a purely analytical to service-oriented way of thinking.

However, I still had some doubts about going back to school for so long and learning completely different subjects. I had doubts about whether or not I would be missing out in the short-term since my friends would be starting their lives as young professionals together. And I also wondered if I had just wasted four years of college. In the end, I decided that my long-term goals were worth the short-term sacrifice, and that I could still utilize the business skills that I picked up as an undergrad when I open a dental practice in the future.

Being part of the Tufts Postbac has been a great experience for me so far. I have really gotten close with other members of the program who are in the same boat, which has made the transition a lot easier.

The classes aren’t overwhelming, since we are only taking two classes a semester (currently BIO14 and CHEM1) instead of the usual four. This allows us to volunteer, shadow, or even work part-time. And there has been an abundance of career and academic support from professors, TAs, tutors, and advisors, so that the material is easier to understand. Although I may have had some uncertainties when I first entered the Tufts Premed Postbac program, they are fading fast as I adjust, and I can truly say that I am looking forward to continuing on this new career path.

The Path to Postbac: Amy Zoller

The deadline to apply for the summer start date of the Postbac Premed Program is coming up on March 1. If you’re trying to decide whether or not you should switch careers and pursue medicine, check out how postbac Amy Zoller came to her decision:

My decision to pursue medicine has certainly been a long process of self-reflection, intuition, and intellectual discovery.

I have been asked many times by my friends and family prior to starting the Tufts Postbac program, “Do you REALLY want to go to medical school? That is a REALLY big time commitment and career goal. You haven’t taken any core science courses since HIGH SCHOOL.”

My immediate response to these questions was to doubt myself and wonder if in fact I was thinking clearly. Yes, the road to becoming a physician is long, but isn’t it only long if you aren’t enjoying what you’re studying nor excited about the end goal?

If I think about the first time I was captivated by science, it was definitely in my high school chemistry class taught by a very quirky, yet strict, teacher. I thought her explanations about topics such as molecular bonding and geometries were conceptually challenging, but once grasped, clarified how everyday processes work on a molecular level.

During one class, she assigned me a project on Marie Curie. I loved learning about her life, the fact that she was the first to conduct research on radioactivity, and most importantly, that she was the first female chemist to win a Nobel Prize. Go women! I look back on my high school chemistry days and remember how excited I was to come to class and how the door to my future in science had just slightly opened.

As an undergraduate at Brandeis University, I turned to psychology and neuroscience as my areas of focus. I, for some reason, never considered a pre-med path and was quite frankly super intimidated by the pre-med science course requirements. One neuroscience course in particular, my Behavioral Neuroscience course, was a pivotal event in igniting my interest in medicine though. I was fascinated by the interplay of neuro-anatomy, physiology, and behavior.

After completing this course I sought out a Research Assistant position in the Memory and Cognition Laboratory at Brandeis and was later invited to conduct a Senior Honors Thesis with the Principal Investigator. I loved working with our mostly elderly participants one-on-one during experiments, and my overall experience in the lab taught me the value of careful investigative techniques. After graduating, I wanted to see how that knowledge could directly impact the care of individual patients within a healthcare environment.

I began working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). My position was unique in that I operated in a collaborative research unit within a strong healthcare community; I worked directly with neurologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, speech therapists, and radiologists, and had the opportunity to appreciate the role that each contributed to patient care.

During one notable multidisciplinary conference at MGH, a patient with frontotemporal dementia that I had worked closely with was being discussed. Gathered around a boardroom table sat a team of highly trained specialists. In turn, each contributed their evaluation of the patient based on their specific field of knowledge. Looking around the room, I asked myself: “Who do I want to be?”

When the neurologist spoke, she first summarized the clinical course and how it correlated with the MRI and PET imaging, cognitive and neurological assessments, and eventual pathological findings. I realized I also wanted the scientific training and knowledge to synthesize the underlying anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry, the pathological disease process, resultant clinical manifestations, and ultimately the prognosis and treatment plan. I wanted to be the neurologist – the physician – in the room.

My MGH experience provided me with the insight into the daily work of physician clinicians and researchers, and I enthusiastically wanted the opportunity to join their ranks. Looking back on my path that led me to pursue a career in medicine – from my role model, Marie Curie, in high school chemistry class, to my fascination with neuroscience and clinical research, to my collaborative and interactive work within a healthcare community, I was finally confident that my path pointed to a career in medicine.

It is easy to let others’ opinions get caught up in my own, but when I stop and think about what I want to be and what I’m passionate about, there is no doubt that medicine is right for me. Ultimately, I want to wake up every morning with the passion to continue learning and the drive to reach my goals, and I believe I’m on the right road to achieve just that.

Postbac student Amy Zoller

Postbac Amy Zoller

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