Shadowing the doctor shadowing program - May 25, 2017

Courtesy of Chicago Tribune • May 25 11:17 am

By Jerry Davich • Contact Reporter • Post-Tribune

One after another, the long-established physicians stood behind the podium to repeat the same mantra to the fresh-faced medical students.

Be passionate about your career, they insisted. Be compassionate with your patients, they added. And above all else, be human with everything you do.

I didn’t expect such a warm message at an otherwise technical-minded orientation for the summer shadowing program at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.

“If you’re going into medicine for the money, please don’t. Go sell stocks and you’ll make more money than here,” said Dr. Vijay Dave (pronounced Dah-vay), director of the long-running program.

“It’s very, very important to be a human being first and foremost,” he told the students. “It’s more important than anything else. You will learn this, and I hope that all of you will live this, too.”

“If you don’t like looking into a patient’s eyes, you’re in the wrong career. If you don’t like holding their hand or finding out what ails them, don’t waste your time here,” Dave said.

Now in its 38th consecutive year, the internationally known program has educated more than 1,100 medical students from across Northwest Indiana and from several countries including Germany, Spain, Mexico. Nigeria and Macedonia.

The program invites aspiring doctors to study under established physicians for rigorous training in real-life hospital situations. This includes serving as a second assistant in surgeries, and other serious healthcare circumstances.

“When you study medicine, do it with passion,” insisted Dr. Thach Nguyen, who co-directs the program each year. “It should not be a chore to study medicine. It should be a passion of yours. Use it to be a leader to pull everyone around you together.”

This year’s class of 31 students includes 13 third-year med students from Vietnam, who introduced themselves to the others in a customary humble, modest tone.

“Speak up! You need to be loud and clear,” Dave told them from behind the podium in the hospital’s auditorium, named in his honor.

The Vietnamese students, from Tan Tao University’s School of Medicine, will learn critical thinking from different perspectives, and new sensitivities to other cultures, religions and gender issues.

“They also will learn the most advanced aspect of medicine, and how to deliver it in a cost- and time-effective way,” Nguyen said. “The greater challenge is how to communicate with patients, doctors and other students in order to move things further. Success is effective communication.”

The two doctors, with assistance from other healthcare officials, outlined the eight-week program and its challenging goals, followed by a tour of the hospital.

Today’s column will be the first in an occasional series as I shadow these students through the program. It partners with The Methodist Hospitals, Indiana University Northwest’s School of Medicine and the Northwest Indiana Area Health Education Center, which serves eight counties in this area, among other medical groups.

“You will learn that sometimes a hug, a smile or a sincere thank you from a patient is worth more than a paycheck,” Sandra Behrens, AHEC’s director, told students. “You guys are our future. We want to train you and we want to keep you in Indiana.”

Most of the pre-med students here are from Northwest Indiana, from communities as diverse as Gary, Munster, Schererville and Valparaiso. They’re attending either Indiana University or Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

“It is a challenging and eye opening experience for many students,” Nguyen said.

“For the first- and second-year U.S. medical students, it is a reality check of what they learned in academia, and the real world of medicine from patient care to cost effectiveness and affordability,” he added. “The students have to apply the theories they learn in school to the real patients and the raw reality they face.”

The Vietnamese students have even harder challenges ahead of them.

They will also participate in the highly publicized cadaver prosection course offered by Dr. Ernest Talarico at Indiana University School of Medicine Northwest in Gary. This course has blossomed into international fame since I first wrote about it several years ago.

“The Vietnamese medical students are hard-working students,” said Talarico, who recently returned from Vietnam to train students and physicians there. “They enter medical school directly out of high school, and often without a medical college admissions test or an interview.”

“Students there also begin to see patients in the hospital during the first year – many with full-shifts,” said Talarico, associate professor of anatomy and cell biology at IUN. “All of this, combined with English not being their primary language, these students must be at the top of their game.”

The Vietnamese students here are the best of the best from their vaunted school. Some of them will obtain residencies abroad, though most will remain in Vietnam where there is an increased need for trained medical professionals, public health, and access to health care.

“They are very interested in how the United States is doing things,” Talarico told me. “In many ways, the Vietnamese model their anatomy education and medical school curricula from U.S. medical education programs.”

During orientation, Talarico told all the students that some of their patients will badly need their medical help, some will refuse their help, and some will no longer be able to be helped by modern medicine – despite doctors’ best attempts.

“Be professional at all times,” Talarico reminded them. “More importantly, do not forget your passion. Don’t forget why you chose medicine, and translate what you learn here into your practices.”

Even the hospital’s CEO, Janice Ryba, echoed the doctors’ repeated refrain: “You need to be extremely passionate about your calling in life.”

Nguyen added, “Be a leader. Don’t be just another chicken in a chicken farm.”

Dave warned them to expect long hours, long days and long faces at times.

“You’re not done until I am done,” he said. “And finally, don’t believe what we tell you. Question it. Question everything.”