By Dayana Davila
This summer I will be interning at Penn Medicine as a clinical research assistant in a primary care setting with Dr. Carmen Guerra. Though I do not begin until July 9th, over the past semester, spring 2018, I participated in CIEE’s service-learning program through which I was able to gain valuable experience that I will apply during my summer internship. As part of this service-learning program, I was placed at Victoria Hospital, a public hospital, in order to complete the “service” aspect of my program. Though the purpose of my “service” at Victoria was to complete a research-based project, the first two weeks were dedicated to shadowing and immersing myself into the culture at Victoria Hospital.
As a pre-med student, I was beyond eager for the opportunity to shadow alongside doctors and medical students as they went along their daily duties. It is important to note that Victoria Hospital is a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Cape Town (UCT), meaning there is a constant flow of final-year medical students rotating in and out of each medical department as they finalize their clinical studies. This was of a great benefit to me because I was able to fit right in as an observer amongst all the medical students that went through the rounds each morning, although I was often confused for a medical student
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I arrived to Victoria Hospital at 7:30 am for the beginning of the morning rounds, which usually ended around 11 am. On a typical morning at 7:30 am the consultant doctor, registrar doctors, and medical students (named respectively in order of seniority) would gather around the first patient to be reviewed in the intensive care unit. Each medical student had been previously assigned patients and on the mornings of “the rounds” they must be prepared with a synopsis of the diagnosis, treatment plan, and prognosis for each of their patients. After presenting the patient, the consultant or registrar, though usually the consultant, would offer constructive criticism to the medical student on their presentation and offered advice or approval on the student’s proposed treatment plan.
My supervisor, Dr. Nasief Van Der Schyff, Head of Internal Medicine, was the primary consultant doctor for the medical students during the teaching ward rounds, except in the cases that there were visiting consultant doctors. Dr. Van Der Schyff was very enthusiastic about both medicine and teaching, and was eager to include me in as many of the daily occurrences at Victoria Hospital. Due to my lack of medical training my “participation” was, of course, strictly limited to observation during ward rounds. However, even just as an observer I learned a tremendous amount about doctor-patient interactions, the epidemiological status of the local community, and the overall dynamics between the medical staff at Victoria. Even though I am not a morning person, I looked forward to waking up bright and early each Tuesday and Thursday morning knowing that I would learn something new that day.
I continued to shadow during the morning rounds throughout the duration of my semester in Cape Town, but that just accounted for half of my experience at Victoria Hospital. My other role as a “service-learner” was as a research assistant on Dr. Van Der Schyff’s study investigating the efficacy of Victoria Hospital’s education-based cardiac rehabilitation program. During my first two “immersion” weeks, Dr. Van Der Schyff and I discussed potential projects I could take up and we eventually settled on a clinical audit of the cardiac rehabilitation program that was run by his department. In this role as a research assistant, I was able to sit in on a couple of cardiac rehabilitation sessions, pilot potential questionnaire(s) with cardiac patients in the wards, and ultimately complete a research protocol, which was submitted to UCT’s Human Research Ethics Committee for ethics review. Throughout this process, I was also able to collaborate closely with Dr. Le Roux, who will make sure to proceed with the study once ethical approval is granted.
One of the biggest takeaways from this experience was learning how to go through the process of ethical review before beginning a study, which was much longer and more complicated than I had anticipated, even for a very low-risk study. Now, however, I feel beyond prepared for my role as a research assistant on Dr. Guerra’s study on lung cancer screenings for smokers, and I can’t wait to start this summer!
Feature image In the from left to right: Dr. LeRoux, Dayana Davila, Dr. Prabash, Dr. Van Der Schyff.