Cameron – Pre Departure

“When the fireflies are gone, the ponds have dried up and the plants are wilted, weary from being so green. It’s no longer really summer but the air is still too warm and heavy to be fall. It’s the season between the seasons” (Dry by Augusten Burroughs, 74).

Here, Burroughs describes the hot August days that comprise what he calls “the season between the seasons.” Summer break has just started, so have I picked the wrong passage? In the context of his memoir, Burroughs uses this feeling of the in-between as an analogy for his uncertainty and tentative excitement for the future. As I’m sitting down to write this post, I too feel in the in-between, and I too feel both uncertainty and excitement for this summer.

This summer I’ll have the opportunity to shadow and work in clinical research under Dr. Liliana Bordeianou and Nurse Practitioner Lieba Savitt at the Center for Pelvic Floor Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. As a student interested in the intersection of research and medicine, I’m most excited to learn about the inner workings of clinical research. I’m hoping to see what work goes into data collection and entry from charts, and how that data eventually reaches the potential for publication. I’m also looking forward to shadowing in the OR, and seeing how doctors and nurses collaborate during surgeries.

Since I haven’t started at MGH yet (this post is pre-departure after all!) my main focus is to gain the most from this unique opportunity offered through the Pre-Health Advising Office. As a rising senior, I’ve spent the past three years working in research at Brandeis. Looking forward to next year, I hope I’ll gain more insight into both clinical research and healthcare professions from this summer. Hopefully my midway point post will be filled with more new and fascinating experiences, and those experiences will quench my uncertainty and excitement as I’m thrust out of the in-between and into this new season.

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Penh – Pre Departure

The Brandeis summer shadowing program has given me the opportunity to shadow Dr. Cataldo at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. I am extremely excited to witness what goes on “behind the scenes” in a hospital. Prior to this, I volunteered at the emergency room at my local hospital where my duties mainly revolved around assisting patients. I witnessed very little patient-provider interactions. Furthermore, my previous hands-on clinical experience was gained through my training as an EMT and an internship working on physical therapy with brain injury survivors. As someone who would like to become a physician in the future, I think it is important to understand what it truly means to be a doctor through shadowing one. I am excited to see the motives behind clinical decisions and observe the human aspect of patient-provider relationships. 

This will be my first exposure to a hospital’s OR and my first time shadowing a doctor. Therefore, I am nervous that I would not be able to meet my own expectations as well as those of the healthcare team. My expectations are pretty straightforward. I want to observe the inner workings of a hospital to understand the complexity of healthcare delivery. Taking what I learned in the classroom regarding biology and healthcare, I hope I can apply some concepts to my observations in the OR. After focusing on translational medicine during my semester abroad, I realized that a career in medicine is not at all glamorous. My goals for learning this summer include networking with Dr. Cataldo, analyzing the complexity of patient-provider interactions and applying my academic knowledge to my observations. Ultimately, I hope that this shadowing experience will allow me to understand what a career in medicine entails and further reinforce my aspiration to become a doctor. 

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Myles – Pre Departure

This summer, I will be shadowing at Stony Brook University Hospital under Dr. Paula Denoya, Colorectal Surgeon. I do not necessarily know what to expect. I have shadowed here and there, but never have I done it for more than a couple of days or even all day. I have previously had the opportunity to shadow Haitian doctors and nurses the rural clinics of Léogâne, Haiti with Brandeis’s YourStory International Chapter.

Getting on the plane to come here, I tried to think of some of the things that I would be observing, but I could only seem to think about the many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy that I’d watched which is not necessarily an accurate representation of what it means to be a surgeon. I’m not necessarily sure what to expect because I have never shadowed in a hospital setting, but I am interested to see all of the working parts of a hospital in action.

I am most excited about being able to watch surgeries because I am interested in pursuing a career as a Pediatric Surgeon. I’ve visited the cadaver labs at Tufts School of Medicine, but I am excited to finally see surgeries being done on someone who is alive. I am interested to see what I may know a lot about or what I know absolutely nothing about regarding surgeries and clinic. I am interested to be able to see what a surgeon’s role is outside of surgery because I think preconceived notions about what it looks like to be a physician in general is typically misinformed and over exaggerated. I am glad that I have the opportunity to see what the day by day is for a Colorectal Surgeon.

There’s not too much that I am nervous about because I am really excited to learn so much. In emailing back and forth with both Dr. Denoya and her senior administrator, they have gone the extra mile to help accommodate me throughout the duration of my experience. I truly believe that this experience is going to inspire and strengthen my current passion for medicine.

A few of my expectations going in are to be able to shadow on a wide array of surgeries. I hope that the shadowing environment cultivates a space for me to learn and ask questions seeing that I am not quite yet well-versed in the field of medicine. While being able to learn about medical practices is important to me, I also hope to gain more insight on the process of entering a career in medicine.

Some of my goals:

  • To better understand the medical jargon specific to colorectal surgery.
  • To gain a better understanding of what it looks like to be a surgeon.
  • To challenge myself to apply what I already know and expand my knowledge.
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Final Thoughts – Ariel Lee

It’s been a few weeks since I left Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and said goodbye to Colorectal surgeon Dr. Cataldo. I am still reeling over how incredible this experience has been and how much personal growth I have achieved throughout the eight weeks of the program. This experience has far exceeded any expectations I had going into shadowing. Before starting the program, I had set a few goals for myself to, including: to develop good relations with Dr. Cataldo and all of the hospital staff, and apply skills and knowledge from my college courses to my observations in the clinic and OR, etc.

Now that this program has ended, I can safely say that I have achieved all of these goals and so much more. The most surprising discovery I’ve made in my experience has been the contrast between the cold, formal atmosphere I expected in the hospital and the actual warmth and relaxed environment of the hospital. Everyone I met, from the OR nurses and nurse practitioners to the surgeons, was very gracious and had a genuine heart for their patients.

This shadowing experience has without a doubt been the apex of my pre-med career, and has only solidified my passion to pursue my own career in health care as a physician. Seeing Dr. Cataldo in practice has given me invaluable insight into the real life of a doctor; and after spending so much time with him, I can confidently say that I have a clear understanding of the life of a doctor and therefore the confidence to pursue this path.

If another pre-med student were to ask me for advice about shadowing at Beth Israel, I would advise him/her to look on the BIDMC website to look up the contact information of the physicians/specialties they would like to shadow. After collecting this information, they should draft a (short!) polite and formal email (personalized, would be best) to send to each of the doctors asking for a shadowing opportunity (be sure to specify dates, times of availability). I would say that most doctors are more willing than one would assume to allow a pre-med student to shadow them because they have been there themselves and therefore understand the importance of shadowing. This advice would apply to any position in healthcare that a student is interesting in shadowing.

I would say that my proudest accomplishment this summer has been putting myself out there and making the most of this incredible opportunity to shadow Dr. Cataldo. I must admit that early in the experience, I was very nervous and shy and worried that I would ask a dumb question or draw unwanted attention from the hospital staff. But as the weeks wore on, I was truly able to come out of my shell and ask relevant questions to learn as much as possible from Dr. Cataldo. I also began to feel a lot more comfortable around the hospital staff and (often intimidating) surgeons. I even met a few Harvard medical students who surprised me by how humble and willing to offer advice they were. By the end of the eight weeks, I truly felt like a member of the Colorectal family and was sad to say goodbye.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the Brandeis pre-med advisors for setting up this program for Brandeis pre-med students and for placing their trust in me to represent Brandeis at BIDMC this summer. It truly means so much to all of us and will be an unforgettable experience for the rest of my life. I would also like to thank Dr. Cataldo and the rest of the BIDMC staff I had the pleasure of meeting this summer for welcoming me with open arms and giving me the best experience I could ask for!

Ariel Lee – Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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Final Thoughts

This program completely exceeded my expectations. I went into the program unsure if I even wanted to pursue health care, but I came out of it really motivated to continue on the pre-health track. After going into the operating room and seeing what work the doctor must do, it was really invigorating, and it made me want to leave the same impact on others by doing the same thing. I sat in on the removal of part of the colon, an appendix, a HUGE hernia (she waited 13 years before getting it removed), and a gallbladder. I thought that I would be fainting left and right at the hospital before actually going in, but after being put in scrubs (and placed a bit of distance away from the action), I kept wanting to get closer to see what was going on. No other thoughts were floating in my head besides wanting to see more.

For those wanting to shadow Dr. Sardinha from Northwell Health, I highly suggest it! The organization is very open, the staff keep things entertaining even if you’re just standing for eight or more hours, and you really do experience new sights and smells. I hope to shadow more in the future, hopefully in other fields. Following a colorectal doctor is kind of jarring at first, since it’s such a private area, so you’ll definitely experience many new things.

I’m most proud of figuring out my direction for my remaining three years at Brandeis. Before shadowing, I didn’t even know if I was going to stay in the pre-health track, but after going through shadowing, I do plan on staying on the pre-health track, and hopefully get into med school to become a doctor or physician’s assistant. It feels great to finally have a goal for the future.

~ Alice G. – North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center

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Final Thoughts

Pictured above is Trevor Lee with Dr. Yosef Nasseri of The Surgery Group of Los Angeles.

This experience definitely exceeded my expectations! While I was not able to shadow most of the procedures due to restricted hospital privileges, I learned about the culture of a private practice. At my office, each staff member is assigned specific duties, and we needed to clearly communicate with each other. For instance, if there were patients waiting in the lobby, the front desk receptionist needed to inform the medical assistants to room them.

This experience helped me to better understand careers in the medical field and what type of work that I might be interested in. Before shadowing, I thought that the staff in the operating room consisted mainly of surgeons. For more minor procedures, there were only a few doctors — (sometimes) the anesthesiologist and one or two surgeons (the second assisting the main one). There were a lot of nurses and a few surgical technicians that floated in the room because much preparation is required before and after the procedure. Even if you decide to not become a surgeon, you can still largely observe and understand these surgeries and procedures. My colorectal surgeon jokingly asked for a nurse in the room to watch the colonoscopy screens for polyps due to her sharp eyes, and she did point out a polyp! No role in the medical field, especially in the OR, is unimportant.

In terms of specific work, I would like to explore the realm of primary care. Surgeons certainly see patients in the office, and although that sort of work may not be as intriguing or challenging as surgery, it is essential. Furthermore, surgeons’ schedules can be overly demanding (let alone any doctor!), and I’m not sure if those specialties would be the right fit for me as a future doctor.

For a student interested in shadowing, I would encourage them to take risks. If you don’t understand a procedure, read about it and ask your doctor questions. You can even ask the staff as well since they likely know how to answer them. In my host organization, ask for responsibilities! Interact with everyone (unless they’re occupied and the conditions certainly are inappropriate) and develop relationships, even if they might not “benefit” you in terms of landing another internship. At SGLA, everyone is very friendly and patient.

I’m most proud of all the relationships that I’ve built both in the medical field and outside! Aside from the skills and knowledge that you acquire, you develop bonds with others that you can hopefully cherish onward.


Trevor Lee – The Surgery Group of Los Angeles

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Final Thoughts (Taisha)

I decided that I wanted to become a doctor very early in life, even before I knew what that truly entailed. I believe it was after I read one of my father’s medical encyclopedias during a moment of boredom. Over the years, as I matured and gained more knowledge in science, that desire to become a doctor was strengthened by my growing love for science yet I still had no idea why exactly I wanted to go into medicine. Then, the unthinkable occurred in my life. A normal Tuesday afternoon was turned into one of the darkest, if not the darkest day of my existence. My country experienced a tragedy that left many dead, including people who were very dear to me. I witnessed people suffer, die, and become mutilated because of a severe shortage of medical professionals in my country. I knew then beyond the shadow of a doubt why I wanted to become a doctor.

While the tragic losses that I have witnessed made me more resolved to pursue medicine, I still only had a very generic idea of what being a physician is like. In my mind, I imagined only the medicine aspect of it and saving lives. What I learned this summer, is that being a doctor goes far beyond science and the desire to save lives, it requires empathy and tolerance. I am a very reserved person and am often reluctant to show emotions, therefore learning how to take down some of the walls around me in order to understand the patients was no easy task and I am still learning to do so. This summer, I started out the Brandeis Summer Shadowing Program mostly expecting to learn about medicine, which I did, but I also learned the intricacies of the profession that I chose to purse all these years ago on a whim.

-Taisha Joseph – Cambridge Health Alliance

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Midway Point (Taisha)

While I anticipated that I would feel somewhat nervous on my first day of shadowing, I had thought that my previous shadowing experience would help ease me into this new shadowing position. That was not the case because though it has been only three years since the last time I did this, it feels like a lifetime away. As a senior in high school, shadowing on the surgical floor at the Whidden, I was sheltered and guided in everything that I did. Our instructor who arranged the shadowing experience for us gave us strict instructions on what to do. This shadowing experience turned out to be different in that I was given more freedom to do what I wanted to do. I had thought that I would be only shadowing Dr. Sheth during the summer, but I actually had the opportunity to shadow many surgeons in various specialties. While I have mostly shadowed general surgeons, I have also had exposure to urology, vascular surgery, podiatry, ENT (ear, nose and throat), gynecology, and even orthopedics. Furthermore, because of my interest in neuroscience, I also had the opportunity to shadow a neurologist.

As I progressed further into this shadowing program, I continued to compare it to my experience three years ago. As I mentioned before, my previous shadowing experience was very sheltered since it was a high school program. I did not have the liberty to decide which specialty I wanted to see and I was not able to observe the surgeons directly in the operating room. This summer, I not only was able to meet many patients and observe various unique cases, I was also able to observe many surgeries, some of which were routine surgeries, others were more complicated and interesting. The first surgery that I saw was two weeks after I started, during my OR orientation when one of the PA’s was teaching the do’s and don’ts when I am in the OR. While she was showing me around the operating rooms, one of the surgeons that I have shadowed before during clinic allowed me to stay and watch a laparoscopic appendectomy. Although this was a very routine procedure for everyone else, it was the first surgery that I had observed and the experience greatly strengthened my resolve to go into the surgical field in the future. The most interesting surgery that I watched during my shadowing experience this summer was a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication, a surgery done to treat GERD. It was performed by Dr. Fellinger in the CHA Everett Hospital. The way the surgery works is by repairing the mechanical dysfunctions around the lower esophageal sphincter that cause GERD symptoms. First, she closed a hole between the diaphragm and the stomach, then she did what she explained as a “hotdog in a bun” procedure in which she essentially wrapped the stomach around the esophagus. It was a relatively long surgery but it was very interesting to watch. I have already learned much from this experience and as I continue to shadow surgeons of different specialties, I am becoming not only more interested in medicine, but I am also realizing that there are many specialties that I would love to do besides neurology which had been my first choice going in.

-Taisha Joseph – Cambridge Health Alliance

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Midway Point

MGH has been an incredibly fulfilling experience. While my experience is focused on the clinical research aspect in colorectal surgery and pelvic floor disorders, I was lucky enough to have my first day be spent shadowing in the OR with Dr. Bordeianou. I was worried that I would feel lightheaded like I did the last time I had shadowed. I felt that I knew what I had to do – put scrubs on, enter the OR, don’t touch the blue sterile area, try not to faint, don’t be a bother – but I was pleasantly surprised when the circulating nurse gave a brief orientation and everyone in the room quickly introduced themselves before returning to the patient. I felt comfortable and was happy to have another undergraduate student shadowing with me in the same room. While the patient was prioritized first, everyone made an effort to make sure that this shadowing experience was a positive learning one too. At one point, an attending radiologist and her team of residents came in to set the equipment up for intraoperative radiation therapy for the patient. The operating room was filled with about 15 people, and every single one of them was doing something, whether it was positioning the patient, clearing the area off, or closing the doors. It was amazing to see this teamwork in action, and it goes to show that healthcare is not a one person job.

Shadowing was a great start to my experience at MGH, but the real duties were focused on the clinical research. Lieba would explain the gist of the project and tell me what exactly had to be done – enter the past 2 years of patient survey responses into the RedCap databases, confirm procedures and diagnoses were done using patient chart records, or prepare and mail out surveys and letters. I was involved in every aspect of the data collection, and while it was mostly grunt work, it showed research at its finest. Research – laboratory or clinical – takes time, and it’s not always time interestingly spent. Because Lieba was always seeing patients, I was fortunate to be able to ask Linda, Lieba’s secretary, or Caitlin, the clinical research manager who sits next to me for help or clarification. There is a lot of independent work, but there is plenty of guidance to ensure that I’m doing things correctly. I’m amazed by how involved the surgeons are in clinical research – they are able to manage and prioritize their work, so that no day is ever really the same and what needs to get done is done. There is no room for procrastination or even time to waste. Every second makes a difference. So far, this experience has been positive and rewarding, and it has reaffirmed that the healthcare field is where I want to be after graduation.

Sherry Chen – Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

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Midway Point

The first day of shadowing didn’t happen too long ago, but after that first day, I felt pretty put off. The doctor that I’m shadowing is a colorectal doctor, so there wasn’t much I could do to prepare myself for what I was going to see that first day. They jumped right into having me follow them around, without needing to sit around and do paperwork for them or anything, which was pretty exciting. I was pretty surprised by how open the patients were since it’s an extremely private area that the patients come here for. Most of the time, there wasn’t much when it came to bodily fluids, besides occasionally smelling the stool when they emptied out coloscopy bags, but for the final patient, they decided to cut open an infection and sew it back close, and that’s what really put me off. I knew I was kind of weak to blood before, but seeing that much really startled me. Thankfully, no fainting occurred, but that was probably the weakest I felt in a while. I remember going home and not feeling the appetite or energy to do anything.

The second day of shadowing came and it was a lot better. We got to sit in on colonoscopies, and at first I was a bit nervous, thinking about watching the tube disappear into someone and examine their insides, but when I finally saw it happening, it was actually pretty incredible. The doctor even described it as “playing video games”, which didn’t sound too inaccurate, seeing the device used to control the camera. Each colonoscopy was cooler than the last, seeing the doctor remove polyps was really interesting.

As the time went on, I started to really realize how much work doctors truly needed to do. Don’t get me wrong, I always knew it was a big job, but I didn’t know just how much was done. In their offices, there was always leftover paperwork needed to be done and calls to other doctors needed to be made. They didn’t just focus on their own field, they needed to analyze test results from other doctors, call and make sure medications were correct, and much more. In university, I just needed to focus on whatever I was learning, but doctors need to check everything for their patients’ safety, it was pretty incredible.

By shadowing and following the doctors, I’m learning about how I need to properly interact with others to build good relationships, not only for friendship’s sake or anything, but also for the sake of their lives. I also realized how much more focused I need to be in everything. If they’re distracted for one second, they begin falling behind schedule or falling behind more paperwork. I’ve definitely learned a lot more on etiquette in studying and learning.

Next week, I’ll be allowed to actually join them in the operating room, which I’m pretty excited and extremely nervous about, seeing how my adverse reaction to blood was on the first day, I can’t really imagine how bad I would be in the future.

All in all, I’ve become more firm on my decision to join the health field, which is what I wanted to achieve with this program, which is great. Hopefully after visiting the operating room, I can see what I want to do specifically.

~ Alice G. – North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center

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