The Value of Early Exposure to Medicine for Career Choice
As I come from a family of physicians, I might be expected to know well what medical career, if any, I should pursue and what a physician’s job is really like. But I have had an eye-opening experience while rotating as a pre-med college student at University of South Dakota Medical Center. I compare it to reading about a famous painting versus looking at it directly. I thought I knew, yet I learned so much more about what the job of a physician is really about.
My work at Sanford Cardiovascular Institute (SCI) as a Summer Live Learn Research Intern consisted of completing a database of all of the transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) procedures performed since December 2012, along with shadowing the cardiologists (and cardiovascular surgeons) from the admission of the TAVI patients, to the valve replacement procedure, and then to their discharge from the hospital.
Aside from being able to observe the doctors performing the TAVI, I was also able to stand directly over patients during open-heart valve replacements in order to understand the difference in recovery and procedure performed. This experience further fueled my ambitions of being a physician.
TAVI is a complex, interesting, and fairly new procedure performed by a team of physicians (Heart Team), working in coordination and seemingly effortless ease. Two interventional cardiologists, or a cardiovascular surgeon and a cardiologist (they usually switch to be the lead on different TAVI) work with imaging cardiologist, anesthesiologist, and sometimes a vascular surgeon.
The room used for this procedure is large, called hybrid room, as percutaneous procedures and open heart surgery in case of emergency can be done there. It has a massive fluoroscopy machine and a lot of other equipment. In addition to Heart Team with cath lab and surgical staff in the room, cardiology fellow(s), medical resident(s), the physician’s nurses, and of course student(s) can be as well there. TAVI consists of many technically complex steps leading to inserting an artificial valve into the patient’s native valve, mostly through groin approach. I have seen patients awake from anesthesia right after the procedure (presently most receive sedation only) and go home feeling much better the next day.
Exposure to such a high tech, precise, and minimally invasive procedure that results in instant improvement of patients’ wellbeing is very impressive for a young student like me. It motivated me more than anything else to study even harder to become a physician.
Moreover, during my time at SCI, I could participate in research on TAVI. I was instructed and mentored to create a database of all of the 145 patients who received the TAVI at SCI. Being part of this process was also eye-opening for me.
First, I had to pass courses on research, ethics and patient privacy. Then, I was taught how to extract data from charts and imaging programs (including looking at echocardiograms and angiograms). We had regular research meetings with our team, during which further instructions were defined. At the end, we finished a database that is used for writing abstracts and manuscripts.
In addition to working on TAVI, I was able to observe cardiology teaching rounds (team of attending, fellow, resident, nurse and students) daily that covered patients across all wards of the hospital. I could follow TAVI patients that my research rotation was about.
Aside from teaching rounds, I was able to see patients with my mother, who is a cardiologist at SCI. I loved her bedside manner and approach towards her patients. This was because she gave her patients the time to talk with her about anything they wanted, even if it was not related to medicine. She also provided them with comfort and communicated the medical information to a degree that the patient could understand. I learned a lot from her at SCI.
In summary, my month of time at SCI gave me a very valuable and insightful experience preparing me for what’s ahead in my career. It gave me a head start on research, as well as motivating me further to study hard to be a doctor. I would advise that every college student planning on a medical career seek an experience like this. I am very thankful for mine.
Julia Stys is in her second year at Loyola University in Chicago. Her mother, Maria Stys, MD, FACC, is an academic assistant professor at USD Sanford School of Medicine and cardiologist at Sanford Cardiovascular Institute in Sioux Falls.