Thanks to a unique opportunity with national funding, three UC medical students spent this summer rounding with surgeons, seeing patients and scrubbing in to the operating room at three local hospitals.
Alex Meyer, Daniel Dolan and Rahul Handa were all recipients of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) summer cardiothoracic scholarship. The highly competitive award allows students between their first and second year of medical school to spend eight weeks on the cardiothoracic service with both clinical and research experiences.
"Most students have limited, if any, exposure to cardiothoracic surgery in medical school—so the goal of the AATS scholarship is to get them exposed earlier and spark their interest,” says Sandra Starnes, MD, John B. Flege, Jr. Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery and chief of cardiothoracic surgery.
This summer, Meyer, Dolan and Handa rotated among University of Cincinnati Medical Center under Starnes, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center under chief of cardiovascular surgery David Morales, MD, and Good Samaritan Hospital under J. Michael Smith, MD. (Morales is a professor of pediatrics at UC; Smith is an associate professor of surgery.)
"It’s a fairly intensive clinical exposure,” says Starnes. "They rotate as if they were a third or fourth year. They see patients, write notes, round with us, scrub with us and come into the clinic. It’s a good exposure and I think it puts them ahead of their peers when they come into the second year.”
Students are also involved in a laboratory research and clinical research experience, and all attended the national AATS meeting this spring.
"Ever since I decided I wanted to do medicine, CT surgery has been at the top of my list for careers,” says Dolan. "So far it has been fantastic. I’ve been surprised at how much I have enjoyed the day-to-day operations, though it was challenging getting used to the regular schedule of working 6 or 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days—with long periods, often four hours or more, of standing.”
Rising second year Meyer is grateful for the large educational aspect to the program.
"One of my favorite parts of the summer has been working with the thoracic team at UC—they are so good at teaching,” says Meyer. "The cases at Children’s were amazing as well. They are eight-hour cases and Dr. Morales works with needles so small I can barely see them. But the emphasis at teaching at UC has been the best part so far.”
The AATS typically limits participating institutions to two students per year, but with an additional application from Children’s, UC had three students apply this year—with all receiving AATS funding. "That’s a big deal for UC,” says Starnes.
To ensure future students can participate even without national support, Starnes established the John Flege scholarship to provide local funding for the program. The Flege scholarship ensures that two UC students will be able to have the same AATS experience in the summers ahead.
"Dr. Starnes has really been key to the whole thing,” says Meyer. "She got the word out about the scholarship and helped us with each application and sponsorship. It’s been a great experience and a great thing to have in our resume.”