By Gabriela Soto-Canetti ‘19
Jaharis Primary Care Pre-Medical internship at Fundación de Investigación
Last winter break, I began to learn about the Jaharis Pre-medical Internship, an opportunity I knew was unmissable and useful to any pre-med student. I had a small idea on how it worked and I had attended some information sessions where past Jaharis fellows gave tips about this internship, but I had no idea how to actually find my internship setting. I had already looked at the past settings where other students had volunteered, but I was sure that I wanted to go back home to Puerto Rico for this experience and none of the past settings were even close. I searched for clinics in San Juan that were accepting volunteers to no avail. It was shocking to discover that primary care facilities in Puerto Rico were very difficult to come in contact with. Nevertheless, I continued my search and almost when I was about to give up, I remembered I had a contact from a clinical research facility that I had interviewed at last summer. Immediately, I called my contact and asked if I could work as a student volunteer during the summer and if she would connect me with the person in charge of the clinical research clinic. And thus started a long email exchange with the clinical operations director and the CEO where we panned out my summer at Fundación de Investigación.
There was one small problem, however; the Jaharis Pre-medical internship specifically required students to be working in primary care and not research, so I had to be specifically placed in the clinic where patient interviews were conducted. At first, it seemed as if I was going to be working in research, with no patient contact. However, I was able to clarify the purpose of the internship with my host and convince the admissions committee that I would not be working in research and would be centered in the ambulatory clinic where treatment is given. I was finally accepted as a Jaharis Fellow in an unusual setting, which made me feel very nervous, but excited, as I was not sure what to expect.
This summer, I volunteered as a Jaharis Pre-medical intern at Fundación de Investigación, a clinical research facility where patients receive treatment, as part of clinical trials, for liver diseases and cancer. I was fortunate to shadow two internal medicine physicians and learn about the clinical trial process. The most interesting part of this internship was learning about diseases I had never heard of before, such as NASH or Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. A typical day at Fundación de Investigación consisted of shadowing one of the two physicians in their practice and learning from their patient interviews. I learned how to take a full patient history and the importance of listening to all of the patient’s experience. According to one of the physicians I shadowed, carefully listening to the entire patient interview will give you all the information needed to make a diagnosis. This was only one of the many things I learned from volunteering at Fundación de Investigación, since every day something different happened that further enriched my experience.
At the beginning of my search I had already decided that I wanted to do the internship back home in Puerto Rico. It is important to chose a setting that sparks your interest or at least challenges you in some way. For me, volunteering in Puerto Rico was important because I was eager to learn more about the crumbling healthcare system and at Fundación de Investigación I was completely submerged into the faults of the system. For example, I saw how the physicians were often forced to reject critical patients with Hepatitis C because their government health insurance would not cover the insane costs of the Hepatitis C drugs. It was very disheartening to see how much people cannot receive existing treatments because of the failing healthcare system that is lacking enough funds. This was crucial for my experience, since it strengthened my decision of going back home to practice medicine after I receive my degree.
Although I was only there for five weeks, my experience at Fundación de Investigación was especially contributive to my pre-med experience, since I learned numerous tips on primary care and public health. While I was faced with unfortunate cases where patients had no way of receiving treatment, I was also able to experience patients being cured from diseases they never thought they would get rid of, such as Hepatitis C. This part of the experience shed light to the hopeful side of medicine and showed that research and medical breakthroughs may prove to be successful even in the worst of times.