City of Hope experience proves 'enlightening' for Caltech students

August 3, 2015 | by Jon Thurber

Cal Tech students From left: Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope Vice Provost and Associate Director David Horne, students Galen Gao, May Hui and Lauren Li, City of Hope Provost and Chief Scientific Officer Steven T. Rosen, students Peter Noh and Cynthia Sung, and Deputy Director of Basic Research Linda Malkas.

Internship programs are a rite of summer for many high-achieving students. For five Caltech pre-med students, each hoping to make a mark in medicine, that rite led them to the City of Hope campus in Duarte, California, for an exceptional learning experience.

The collaboration between the two high-profile research institutions marked the renewal of a successful venture that was in place between 2007 and 2009. And while that program was a shadowing experience, known as a preceptorship – in which students discreetly trail doctors through rounds – this version of the program offered a broader agenda.

The idea behind the latest program – as envisioned by Steven T. Rosen, M.D., provost and chief scientific officer at City of Hope – involved not only shadowing but a strong educational component, with each participating department setting a curriculum that included lectures, visits with physicians and other medical personnel, as well as engagement with patients.

“We are delighted to renew this wonderful connection with Caltech,” Rosen said, adding:

“Our goal was to give these gifted students an experience they could not receive at any other hospital in Southern California. To that end, I think we have absolutely succeeded.”
Depth and breadth packaged together

For the students, May Hui, Galen Gao, Peter Noh, Lauren Li and Cynthia Sung, the four-week program marked their first experiences in the fields of pathology, radiology, surgery and supportive/palliative care. And while some had experience with shadowing programs at other hospitals, none had experienced a program with such breadth.

Noh said he was struck by something he learned in the palliative/supportive care week of the program.

The “relationships that you form with your patients” are key to treatment, Noh said. “City of Hope is doing that amazingly well. Everyone is very compassionate and caring … It wasn’t something I thought of before I came here ... I didn’t expect this experience to be so enlightening.”

The students said they were moved by the genuine caring the patients showed them during their visits. As the patients voluntarily discussed their concerns about their illnesses and treatment options, they also spent time offering encouragement to the students, urging them to follow their dreams of careers in medicine.

Each week of the program, the students experienced a different discipline. After supportive/palliative care in week one, the students went on to pathology, radiology and finally surgery.

In supportive care, they heard lectures on the role of the nurse practitioner in treatment settings, as well as various issues in pediatric psychology. They also had a moving encounter with an end-of-life patient and her family.

During their time in pathology, the students observed a brain autopsy. In surgery, they watched procedures as they were being performed and worked on a da Vinci robot simulator to learn about robotic surgery.

Week by week, the students sat in on meetings of tumor boards to hear discussions of options for treating different kinds of cancers. These boards included cases of patients diagnosed with breast cancer, colorectal tumors, lymphoma and liver cancer. The discussions were conducted by experts in those specific fields of cancer treatment.

An intense, and ultimately reaffirming, regimen

The week of surgery involved a daily 6 a.m. arrival time and long days of watching physicians perform procedures. The students accompanied the surgeons on grand rounds and heard lectures from a leading neck surgeon and a visiting liver surgeon from Japan who contrasted treatment practices there and in the U.S. All five students said that getting accustomed to the da Vinci simulator was harder than they had anticipated.

Hui, who early in the program laughingly said she was there to see “what the mundane life of a doctor was like,” said the City of Hope experience reaffirmed her desire to be a physician. And while she acknowledged that getting up early was not easy for her, she said the preceptorship experience made her “more hopeful of going into surgery.”

As the program came to a close, the students said they wished it had lasted even longer.

Noh said he would have loved one or two more weeks on the Duarte campus to explore other medical disciplines, but he was still delighted with his experience: “I was doubtful [about] medical school when I came out, but I definitely want to go now." **

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.


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