Final Thoughts

Being granted the opportunity to shadow Dr. Sher at Northwell Health far surpassed my expectations and cemented my interest in pursuing a medical career.  Dr. Sher’s interactions with his medical staff while in the OR and the skill at which he practices the art of surgery is truly awe-inspiring.  Further, through shadowing Dr. Sher in clinic as well, I was also able to see the more “human-side” of medicine – the patient side of medicine.

For those even remotely interested in the medical field, I would highly encourage shadowing a doctor/surgeon.  Whether it is to affirm or disprove your suspicions about the medical field or to gain more experience as a student, shadowing a doctor has truly opened my eyes to a world of possibilities.  While shadowing Dr. Sher, I have interacted with many medical professionals from a wide array of fields.  As such, I have been exposed to multitudes of doctors that have expanded my interests in many different fields.  This has certainly taught me that any area of the medical field isn’t to be written-off as “uninteresting” or “unappealing”.

This summer, I am most proud of how I handled myself in the OR.  At the start of this program, I was unsure as to how I would fare during operations.  Sure, I have experience with dissecting mice and other creatures, but this time, it would be a human being – something I could easily identify with.  After this experience, not only can I now say that I am positive I can handle being in the OR, the specialty of surgery has been pushed to the forefront of my current career interests.

I would certainly like to thank Dr. Sher and every other medical professional I interacted with during my shadowing experience and would certainly recommend that others take part in a similar experience.

Tamir Zitelny – Long Island Jewish Medical Center

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I could not have predicted how I would respond to seeing a surgery for the first time. I expected nausea, or dizziness at the sight of someone being opened up before me. I did not expect, as I stood one foot away from Dr. Isenberg laparoscopically removing a woman’s cancer, I would be so calm. There I was, day one, thrown right into the OR, watching surgeries and colonoscopies back to back. Instead of feeling freaked out, and looking away, I looked right into the woman’s body. If not for a medical student, I would have been clueless as to what was going on. He was also following Dr. Isenberg at this time in his rotation. He answered my questions when Dr. Isenberg could not, pointing out the anatomy as we watched it on the screen. It was like watching the images in my textbook come to life, there was the liver, brick-red, the small intestine, stuffed like yarn into a thimble, the gallbladder, almost hidden under the liver, and the large intestine winding around it all. As strange as it sounds, the large intestine is beautiful; it doesn’t look like a large ribbed tube, it’s center is smooth and salmon-colored, with tons of fat sacks attached to the sides hanging like droplets. The doctors who were performing the surgeries—I followed around three doctors in the colorectal department—would move through the colon using bowel graspers to hold these fat pockets and separate the colon from the connective tissue that kept it in place. I found myself in awe of how the doctors knew exactly what steps were needed in order to help the person lying on the table in front of them. I saw many surgeries my first week, but only two types of surgeries: those for colitis, and those for colorectal cancer. If a person has ulcerative colitis removing the entire colon will cure that person. When the colon is removed, the person will generally get  “J-pouch,” which is when the small intestine is used to create a new rectum. When this procedure is done, the person will also often be given an ileostomy, having a bag temporarily attached to their side to collect the excretion so it doesn’t pass through the area that is healing. I’ve seen about three of these surgeries, and each time I am astonished to see the colon outside of the person’s body. It looks so different, and so large, and when I look back at the person lying there, they seem so skinny without it. The procedure to remove a cancer generally does not result in removal of the entire colon. The doctor will remove the tumor and affected area. I was allowed to feel this after it was removed, with gloves on of course. I pressed my hand on the unaffected part of the colon, then worked my hand down, pressing until I reached a lump. It was about the size of a golf ball under the mushy exterior of the colon, and it definitely felt like it should not have been there. It was the strangest feeling. Somehow I was angry at this ball of cells, it was wrong and because of it, this young woman had to go through such a big surgery, with her parents waiting there, nervous should anything go wrong. She had to be lying there, allowing an anesthesiologist to intubate her, allowing a doctor to cut, and cauterised, and inject to save her from this incorrect ball of cells. There she was, though, at the end of the surgery. Dr. Isenberg helped save her life.

When I follow around Dr. Isenberg, watching as he diagnoses and heals patients, it’s hard not to wonder how I would feel if I were the patient. What would I do if I had to have a bag attached to my side because I couldn’t use my colon properly? How I would react, I can’t even imagine. Even more, I think about how our bodies work. Watching a piece of someone’s body being completely isolated from themselves is unreal. It’s terribly scary to think that all we are is extremely complex biological machines, cells working together to maintain our survival. Watching someone being cut open, I am in disbelief that this is what is inside of me. I feel distinct, as everyone does. Everyone is told that they are special. We don’t see the insides of ourselves, and like we can create what we look like on the outside, it almost seems like we can create what is on the inside too. Our our pain, our love, our gut feelings make what lies inside feel more like a magical space, where light and darkness, life and happiness, angst and fear congregate. It is a hollow pocket in the world that belongs to us and only us. But seeing each person opened up, seeing their inside, textbook pictures becoming real, I am unsettled. At that moment, I feel unprotected; at that moment, I feel exposed and insecure, as if it is me on that table and I am looking inside myself and see nothing magical, nothing special, nothing but my machinery. I don’t even know how I feel about it, or how I’m supposed to feel it, but in some way, in the city of Philadelphia, all by myself, I feel a little less lonely. Everyone around me is the same on the inside. Behind whatever is on the outside we all have the same machinery. The same organs, the same body; we all are searching for meaning, trying to fulfill that magical space inside.

-Rachel Saunders, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

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Pre Departure (Avital)

I’ve been interested in surgery since my first high school biology class and I am so excited to finally observe it for the first time. I have been working towards my dream of going to medical school and becoming a surgeon for over five years now and I have never stepped inside an OR. If I were to be nervous about any aspect of the experience, it would be being matched with a doctor that isn’t very interactive and enthusiastic about teaching. However, being a pre-med student at one point, I’m sure most doctors can empathize with our desire for clinical experience. I expect to have a more solidified perception of my ultimate goal of becoming a surgeon. My dream would be more of a reality, which will give me even more purpose in my journey. I also expect to learn a lot about surgical procedures and protocols. My goal for the summer is simply to become even more familiarized with the clinical aspect of health care, which is invaluable to a student such as myself working toward a career in medicine.


Avital Simone – The Surgery Group, Los Angeles

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Midway Point

This past week and a half observing in both the operating room and in clinic both confirmed some suspicions and completely refuted others.  For example, the operating room (contrary to Hollywood movies) tends to be a relaxed and happy environment when dealing with operations typically associated with lower risk and complexity.  Further, the health codes and necessary protocol followed in the operating room is as highly regarded and followed as anticipated.  In clinic, I have been granted a unique opportunity to interact with patients from pre-op to observing their operations to post-op recovery and check ups.

The operating room is everything I hoped for and more.  The seamless interactions between the medical professionals and the direct, immediate impact doctors have on their patients is mesmerizing.  Further, being here has proved my worries from before the start of the program futile.  Observing surgery has been nothing short of incredible, and I have truly been too captivated to worry about myself handling the surgeries.

Observing medicine differs greatly from that of learning in a classroom environment.  While both relate in the information used, this shadowing opportunity has shown me the application of medical knowledge in a practical setting, using that gained in the classroom to actively help others.  In clinic, there is no consulting a text-book when a patient needs a diagnosis.  When applying medicine, there is little room for faltering or error.  Further, when practicing surgery, while one can be taught the steps needed to succeed, it is an art that truly requires a form tangible interaction and firsthand practice to build the skills to aptly perform surgery.


– Tamir Zitelny, Long Island Jewish Medical Center

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And They’re Off!

Some of our summer shadows have started their shadowing experiences! Stay tuned to read about how they’re doing!

Happy Blogging 🙂


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This summer, I have been granted the opportunity to shadow a Northwell Health LIJ Colorectal Surgeon, Dr. Marc E. Sher.  This immersive experience where I may peer into the world of a surgeon excites me as, for the first time in my academic career, I will be allowed to observe the art of surgery firsthand.  Being that I am highly interested in pursuing surgery as a future profession, this experience will be perfect for either affirming or reestablishing my interests within the medical field.

Ironically, while I am most excited to observe surgery, the surgeries are also what make me the most nervous.  Being that this opportunity marks my first exposure to surgery outside of a laboratory setting, I am not sure how I will fare as they become more lengthy, complex and risky.

Throughout this shadowing experience, I hope not only to gain insight on what areas of the medical field interest me most, but also gain a newfound appreciation of all the work that doctors do “behind the scenes”.  As a shadow, I will not only observe surgery, but also accompany Dr. Sher in his clinic, interacting with patients in a pre-op and post-op setting. Further, I hope to expand my network amongst professionals in the fields I hope to one day join and also accumulate exposure to the medical field through a point of view not typically available to me.


Tamir Zitelny – Long Island Jewish Medical Center

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Rachel, Pre-Departure

When does summer finally feel like summer? As a kid, it officially felt like summer when my parents sent me to summer camp. We would all pack the night before and then in the blink of an eye I would be alone at camp. Since college, of course, I have grown used to the idea of being without my family. I have never, however, been fully alone. Today, it feels like summer. Last night I packed my bags, and today I am in Philadelphia, alone. In the blink of an eye, I am suddenly without friends or family in a city that I hardly know. For me, someone who has never done anything like this before, it is nerve-wracking to say the least.

I will be having all new experiences for these next four weeks, including shadowing Dr. Gerald Isenberg, a colorectal surgeon at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. I find myself imagining what these next four weeks will be like, how amazing it will be to wake up every morning and spend the day watching and learning behind the scenes at a hospital. As a freshman, I haven’t done anything medicine-related other than my biology classes. This program will be my first. As the school year winded down, I began imagining myself walking down the halls of the hospital, watching Dr. Isenberg attend to his patients. In doing this, I discovered that perhaps my biggest fear is not the shadowing itself, but what I will take away from it. “Doctor” has always been my future title; “Doctor” has always been the path I was creating with every class and every test I took. When I imagine myself in medicine, however, it is all in theory. This summer is reality, and what if I leave thinking, “I don’t enjoy medicine as much as I thought I would?” What is my future then? I would not know.

Although that possible revelation scares me, it also calms me. This month, I get the opportunity to see if I really do enjoy medicine as much as I thought I would. If I can leave this program with just a little more or just a little less confidence in my future, I can begin to really form that future. My biggest fear this summer is my own doubts, but when I get past that, there is a world of opportunity at my fingertips. This summer will not be easy, I’m going to face challenges I have never faced before. I have found, however, that the experiences we struggle with the most, are the experiences most worth the struggle. I can’t wait to start shadowing and learning both about medicine, and about myself.

– Rachel Saunders, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

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Pre Departure

As a rising junior, I will be shadowing at The Surgery Group in LA this summer. I am very grateful to the Pre-Health department at Brandeis for offering this opportunity to me. I have little experience with varying perspectives in medicine, let alone reasons as to why become a doctor.

I am most excited to observe how various surgeons operate in their daily schedules. Surgery (or even patient interaction) is arguably the most exciting aspect of their careers, but there are other experiences or factors to consider like team dynamic. Moreover, medicinal research and healthcare continue to expand and develop, and doctors often learn and perhaps apply this novel knowledge to their profession. Just considering these details alone and how they fit together in a surgeon’s schedule is very fascinating.

I am most nervous about fulfilling my expectations and possibly shattering my views of medicine (and thus a potential career shift). My expectations are understanding why I would become a surgeon or physician and the impact of healthcare (like the recent government policies proposed) on a clinic or hospital. I do not have much exposure to surgery, other than my participation in my high school’s anatomy and physiology course. It is possible that after shadowing, I will no longer want to become a surgeon or a physician. Still, after talking with Dr. Nasseri and perusing through his surgical center’s website, I know that I will be deeply ingrained in medicine so my decision to choose a job in or not in this industry will be firmly grounded.

A few of my goals include networking with the staff and becoming more acquainted with procedures and terminology used. Moreover, I hope that I can establish long-term relationships with Dr. Nasseri and the other surgeons. Thank you for reading my blog post, and I will update you as the program progresses!

-Trevor — The Surgery Group of Los Angeles

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This summer, I have the opportunity to shadow and work on a clinical research project at Massachusetts General Hospital under the supervision of Nurse Practitioner Lieba Savitt and Dr. Liliana Bordeianou. I’m incredibly excited for this experience because I will be exposed to a new hospital environment and a patient demographic. Last summer, I had a similar opportunity at Boston Children’s Hospital in which I got to see what it meant to be a pediatrician, an anesthesiologist, and a clinical researcher all at the same time. After some of the coursework I completed this year (ie, American Health Care, Physiology, and Human Genetics) and deep reflection on what I wanted to do after Brandeis, I realized just how little I understood about the medical field and what a career would entail.

I hope that this opportunity will not only allow me to apply what I have learned but also further expose me to the many different medical specialties as well as the intricate teamwork all healthcare professionals are involved in. My previous clinical experience revolved around pediatrics, and I would like to see how the same physician roles that I saw at Boston Children’s are adjusted to a different hospital environment and culture such as Mass General. While I’m a little nervous that I won’t be able to meet expectations, I’m confident that this experience will give me more insight and a much better perspective to help me figure out if medical school or another allied healthcare career path is better fit for me.

~Sherry – Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

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Pre Departure (Ariel)

Today marks the end of spring semester, which is bittersweet. However, I am extremely excited for the summer to come. I am very grateful to the Brandeis Summer Shadowing Program for allowing me the invaluable opportunity to shadow Dr. Cataldo, a renowned colon rectal surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

I am most excited to shadow in the OR this summer, as it will be my first exposure to surgery here in the U.S. This is a perfectly timed opportunity, as I have just taken the Anatomy course with Professor Jim Morris at Brandeis. During the course, I dissected many organisms, including fetal pigs, perch, and frogs, and studied the various anatomical features of the organisms firsthand.Therefore, I expect to apply many of the things I learned to my observations in the OR.

I am most nervous about making the most of my experience in the shadowing program, as well as doing my part to be a good representative of Brandeis. I am worried that the program will not meet my expectations or that I will not meet the expectations of my project site. I have, however, already spoken with Dr. Cataldo a few weeks prior and he was unbelievably nice and accommodating so I am not nervous about meeting him in person.

My expectations are simple. I expect to be exposed to the inner workings of the hospital environment as well as to learn more about not only the technical aspect of clinical care, but also the human aspect of patient-doctor communication. I have already had a few shadowing experiences abroad, so I look forward to drawing comparisons between my experiences abroad and my shadowing experience at Beth Israel.

My goals for this summer are to:
– Network and develop good relations with Dr. Cataldo and all of the hospital staff
– Apply skills and knowledge from my college courses to my observations in the clinic and OR
– Compare and contrast American and foreign healthcare systems
– Identify gaps or areas for improvement in the American healthcare system
– Learn more about patient-doctor interaction and the anthropological aspect of treatment of illness
– Most importantly: as an aspiring doctor, to learn from Dr. Cataldo about what it truly means to be a healthcare practitioner and to better prepare myself for a future career in medicine

That’s it for now, and I will check back in with you once I have settled into the program. I wish you all a lovely summer!

Ariel – Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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