by Chris Ertel
Although being a doctor is often glamorized in the media, the realities of the profession are more difficult to pinpoint. Through the Harpur College Summer Physician Mentor Program, Harpur College offers pre-health students the opportunity to experience the everyday life of alumni doctors in order to decide if the career is the right choice for them.
“Many people enter medicine with unrealistic expectations from television or books,” says Dr. Linda Rogers ’88, who is now assistant professor of medicine at New York University and medical director of the Bellevue Hospital Chest Clinic. “I think the program really helps [students] decide if the healthcare field is right for them.”
More than 160 students have participated in the program, which was created in 2000. Accepted students are matched with Harpur College physician alumni in their region, where they shadow them for at least eight weeks. During this time, they observe the typical day-to-day activities of their mentors, while also interacting with various medical students and doctors.
“The program gave me an outlook on what life really is as a doctor,” says Lauren Taylor, a junior majoring in chemistry. “My mentor was able to show me both the benefits and downsides of becoming a doctor.”
Physicians in the program often try to expose their students to many different avenues in the medical field to help them gain a wide breadth of knowledge on which to base their future goals.
“I tell them my experience, but I also introduce them to other people so that they get a more broad perspective,” says Dr. Deborah Levine ’88, who works at the NYU Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital.
Jason Elyaguov, who was mentored by Dr. Marc Arginteanu ’89 in Engelwood, N.J., expressed appreciation for exposure to a wide range of surgeons in addition to his mentor. Elyaguov graduated in 2013 and entered SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse this fall.
“I shadowed two neurosurgeons who were performing a deep brain stimulation (DBS) for a patient with Parkinson’s disease, where they essentially drill a hole through someone’s brain and stimulate various regions as a form of treatment. This was an awe-inspiring moment for me as an integrative neuroscience major,” Elyaguov says. “I was enrolled in Physiological Psychology at the time, where we had just learned about DBS as a form of treatment for some neurodegenerative disorders, so to see it live before me was incredible.”
The shared bond of attending Harpur College has also proved invaluable for both the students in the program and their mentors.
“The people you’re working with went to Binghamton, too, so they’re like you and they give you honest opinions instead of just glorifying the field,” Taylor says.
While the program gives doctors the opportunity to give back to their alma mater, it also allows them to experience their work in new and rewarding ways.
“I’ve been a doctor for so many years that certain things become routine,” says Dr. Robert Best ’88, director of medical student education in Pediatric Emergency at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of Columbia University Medical Center. “But when you’re showing someone something they’ve never seen before and you see the excitement in their face, it’s very refreshing and very rewarding. To be able to have an impact on someone like that is a wonderful thing.”
Students who successfully complete the program receive a certificate of completion and a notation on their medical school evaluation from the prehealth professions advisor. Although not all students involved in the program go on to become doctors, their experience serves the valuable purpose of helping them realize that there might be other paths better suited to them.
“By mentoring students at a young stage, I hope to help them make a decision that is truly right for them,” Levine says. “One of my students went into physical therapy because he decided medical school wasn’t for him.”
All in all, exposure to the world of healthcare helps students who want to become doctors reaffirm their path, while helping others decide that something else might be better for them.
“If becoming a doctor is something that [students] really want to do, I encourage them to do whatever it takes,” Best says. “There’s never a guarantee, but you want to know that you took the chance to try it out.”
Last Updated: 6/3/15