Learning the 'care' of healthcare (page 2)

Five students have had compelling internship opportunities with Dr. Richard Kraig ’71, director of the University of Chicago Medical Center’s Cerebrovascular Disease and Aging Laboratories. One former intern impressed Kraig so much he hired her to work in his lab. Kraig also realized that with One-Course-At-A-Time, he could even coteach a course in neurobiology with Christie-Pope, driving to Mount Vernon to teach every Monday for one block last year.

Dimensions, he said, begins the process to building a true health care professional. “You can’t be taught compassion, but you can be shown how others do it and emulate it as your personality fits it,” he said. “You teach with the Socratic approach: how to listen, talk, and how to interrelate with a vocabulary consistent with the environment.”

That environment, for 14 carefully selected students since 2005, has included medical mission trips to El Salvador, China, Nicaragua, Peru, Vietnam, and Guatemala as part of Operation Walk. This nonprofit medical mission started by Dorr provides free joint replacement surgery for patients in developing countries and the United States.

Operation Walk was an overwhelming experience for Zuccarelli, who spent 10 hours in an operating room in Nicaragua and learned how to read X-rays and prep a patient for surgery and post-operation care. Beyond the excitement of the OR, though, Zuccarelli’s experience was heightened by being bilingual.

“The practice of medicine requires a thorough understanding of the sciences, but in order to be a successful physician, who is able to fully address the biopsychosocial as well as the physical needs of each patient, other life skills are necessary,” she said. “On Operation Walk, I learned how valuable my ability to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients will be. And my ability to speak Spanish enabled me to communicate with everyone, which taught me that medicine is all about teamwork.”

Kent Lehr ’06 said the highlight of his Operation Walk trip to El Salvador in 2005 was delivering soccer balls to children at an elementary school. “Operation Walk is unique because it becomes part of a culture, and its volunteers expand beyond the walls of a hospital. Operation Walk is the epitome of what Dimensions is all about: the science, culture, art and compassion of health care,” said Lehr, a Cornell young trustee and secondyear M.B.A./M.H.A. (master of health administration) candidate at the University of Iowa Tippie School of Management.

On an Operation Walk trip to Lima, Peru, last October, Jepson, who was thinking of going into physical therapy, instead discovered a passion for the operating room. “The trip gave me a lot of confidence I didn’t have before,” said Jepson, who observed surgeries, talked with physicians, and saw the end results during a visit with a patient’s family. “The family was so happy, and I realized that even though we were helping one patient, we were affecting an entire family.”

It was also Jepson’s first trip outside the county, and she and fellow Operation Walk intern Nate Olafsen ’08—who majored in anthropology and biochemistry and molecular biology and is now a medical student at the University of Missouri—traveled to Machu Picchu. It gave Olafsen a chance to use his Spanish skills, and both of them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture.

“Being there, seeing the mountains, and talking to people really brought history alive,” Olafsen said. “Through Operation Walk I was able to participate in a culture vastly different from my own. I saw history, daily living, and in particular, the culture in a medical setting. It was the perfect trip to tie together all my interests—a love for science and a fascination for people and how they work culturally and socially.”

Students like Olafsen who entered Cornell in the past four years are part of the first generation completely embraced by Dimensions. While full measurements of the program’s success are still a few years away, early reads show positive improvements.

“We’ve seen our MCAT (Medical School Admissions Test) scores rising,” said Bentz. “We’ve also noticed many more students are getting interviews with professional schools in a variety of health-related fields. We see this as a direct result of the experiences we are providing students via Dimensions while they are at Cornell, and of our health professions committee that works with students during the application process.”

The students’ enthusiasm also generates excitement in their professors.

“I’ve seen so many lights go on,” said Christie-Pope. “You can take a liberal arts degree from Cornell College and get to the pinnacle of your field.”

Jepson, who will take a year off next year to prepare for medical school admissions, knows the value of what she’s been given. “I would like to meet Dr. Dorr. I’d really like to thank him,” Jepson said. “I’m impressed because he puts his money in Cornell, his undergraduate institution. He’s kicking it back to people who really need it.”

And she plans to pay it forward. “There’s no way you can take from a program like this and not want to give back.”

Norton, who is thinking about pursing pediatric hematology/oncology, agrees. “I hope I can achieve the dreams I’ve set for myself, and someday fund a program through Dimensions,” he said.


For more information on visit the Dimensions Web site.

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