By Tom Donahue
If some of the people in white coats at Olean General Hospital look too young to be physicians, they are. But give them time. Many will be putting “Dr.” in front of their names in a few short years.
For now, these St. Bonaventure University students are participants in The Experience in Clinical Medicine, a program that gives students a close-up glimpse of life in a community hospital.
The brainchild of Timothy Finan, president and CEO of Upper Allegheny Health System, the parent company of Olean General and Bradford Regional hospitals, and Dr. Michael Domboski, creator and former director of the Franciscan Health Care Professions program at St. Bonaventure, the hospital program has been in place since October of 2008.
The semester-long experience includes six clinical rotations at Olean General. Students visit the hospital once a week for observational rotations in the emergency and operating rooms, the lab, the cardiology and radiology units, and with hospitalists — physicians making inpatient rounds.
“It’s an opportunity for premedical students to see what real medicine is like and how it is practiced,” said Finan. “Most students won’t receive this level of exposure until they are already in medical school.”
Hospital officials were surprised when they started looking for programs to model theirs after, said William Mills, senior vice president of quality and professional affairs at OGH.
“We did a lot of Internet searching and I talked with several folks around the country who did similar things, but no place really had a kind of structured approach to this,” said Mills.
“Our thought was that this would not only be an opportunity for combined degree students in St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Health Care Professions program to see things firsthand, but that it might serve as a differentiator on the medical application of a traditional premed student.”
The Experience in Clinical Medicine is a shadowing program, but with a shot of adrenalin.
“We refer to it as an observational experience, but it really goes deeper than that,” said Mills. “For instance, when students go into the operating room they’ll change their clothes and go to the sink where one of the staff will teach them how to scrub, and while they’re doing that they have a list of objectives that they’ll talk about: why they’re scrubbing, what sterile procedure entails. After they’re scrubbed they’ll go into the OR and observe whatever’s going on, from colon surgery to putting tubes in a kid’s ears to an orthopedic procedure of a joint replacement.”
In addition to the hospital component, the program includes classroom sessions back at Bonaventure led by University Ministries team members in which students are asked to consider their hospital experience “through the lens of Franciscan values,” said Dr. Allen Knowles, who succeeded Dr. Domboski as director of the Franciscan Health Care Professions program in 2008.
The program continues to be reshaped, said Knowles, and there are plans to change it from a voluntary offering to a credit course. “Having that hospital connection, being able to put people in there in several venues, is important,” he said.
Hospital CEO Finan, who sits on the university’s Board of Trustees and whose father, Professor Austin Finan, taught finance at St. Bonaventure for 42 years, agrees. “I’m thrilled with it. It’s great for St. Bonaventure students and it adds a lot of vibrancy to the hospital,” he said.
Alice Georgitso, a senior from East Amherst who plans to pursue a master’s in public health after she graduates from St. Bonaventure, then apply to medical school, said the program is helping her chart her future.
“The most effective way to learn about what area of health care interests you is to be immersed in that environment, and the OGH experience does just that,” she said.
Sophomore James Lee of San Marino, Calif., a combined degree student headed to Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) after Bonaventure, said the program has helped him zero in on the kind of physician he wants to be. “I was fortunate enough to experience many departments in Olean General,” said Lee. “In the Emergency Department, I shadowed the attending physician who was compassionate and professional at the same time, which I really admire and hope to emulate.”
The program is making a difference, said Mills.
“You can’t really sell the idea that if you take this course you’re going to end up in med school, but I know for a fact that it helped one of the students now at LECOM,” he said. “I had a conversation with the dean there who said that the student was able to articulate some of the things she learned from our program and it bumped her up off their wait list to an accepted position. It made a difference because it showed that this was a motivated student who wanted to go above and beyond.”