Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This spring break, I saw a woman get her uterus surgically removed. I didn’t even know uteruses could be removed.
Sponsored by alum Joseph M Becker ‘66, MD, MS, FCPP, this externship at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey allows students to shadow doctors in a different department each day: trauma, radiology, surgery, pediatrics, and hospitalists. Those who stayed on campus over break carpooled for a 40-minute commute.
Prior to the externship, students had to have a tuberculosis skin test at Worth Health Center, fill out forms, and read up on patient confidentiality laws and hospital procedures.
My week started off with a Monday in the trauma department. While it was no Grey’s Anatomy, I did see a senior citizen have his clothes cut off in the trauma bay after a serious fall resulting in a spine fracture. Upon being asked, one resident in the trauma department replied that nursing young rape victims was among her most challenging cases.
The first things the residents told me in the trauma department was not to go into medicine. They proceeded to play a round of misery poker, with each resident naming how much he or she owes in student loans. But at the end of the day, the real takeaway is simple: despite how grueling the process is, if you love it, it’s all worth it. So only do it if you love it.
Even by the end of the week, all the residents I met seemed to love medicine, despite how tiring residency can be. In the pediatrics department, all of the residents fondly reminisced about their time in medical school. Laughing and sharing stories about the emotional breakdowns they had in medical school, the pediatricians tried to assure me that it’s a difficult time of your life, but that’s the case for everyone in medical school.
The externship itself was rather informal. Though students had to wear business casual clothing and wear an I.D., we could just sign in each morning, go to our rotation, and leave anytime in the afternoon, depending on our personal schedule and interest in the rotation.
The only rotation that had more guidelines was surgery. Students had to wear scrubs, masks, and foot and hair covers before entering the operating room. We could not be too close to the sterile operating table or the surgeons, but all questions were welcomed and readily answered. Besides the removal of a uterus, I also saw a successful laparoscopic gallbladder removal, where four small incisions were made in the abdomen and carbon dioxide was pumped to puff up the skin and allow a camera to be inserted inside to visually assist the surgeon.
I came into this externship not seriously considering medicine. And after this externship, I’m even more confused. The work is fascinating, admirable and diverse, but the process is gruesome. However, this externship offered me previously unconsidered views on the medical field. Dr. Becker also offers this externship over winter break, so sign up!