TV viewers can get their fill of fictional hospitals, doctors, and diagnoses to imagine what the medical world is like. But five Hamilton students had the opportunity to shadow real doctors at different stages of their three-year residencies for a week before spring classes began. For 15 years the St. Elizabeth Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program in Utica, N.Y., has given Hamilton students interested in health professions the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the medical profession.

This year, Avery Lum ’22, Katherine Neilsen ’22, Ajla Karabegovic ’21, Ashley Thayaparan ’21, and Yaa Pokuaa ’21 joined the approximately 130 Hamilton students who have participated in the program since it began in 2006.

“This program benefits our students by providing them with first-hand exposure to the practice of medicine, which is something that medical schools desire/expect so that applicants can make an informed decision about the profession of medicine before pursuing it,” said Leslie Bell, Hamilton’s director of health professions advising.

Shadowing residents is somewhat unique, Bell said, providing students with a rare glimpse of that stage of the medical education process and a chance to gain insight and advice from those who recently finished medical school. She said she is grateful to Dr. Mark Warfel, St. Elizabeth Family Medicine Residency Program director, for assistance with the shadowing opportunity.

“I was able to sit in on a surgery, spend time in the ICU, and observe prenatal care at the Women's Center in addition to shadowing at the family medicine clinic,” Lum said. “As someone who is interested in medicine but unsure of what specific area, this was an invaluable opportunity to envision myself in different facets of the medical field.”

Lum added that shadowing made him feel that medicine would be a fulfilling career choice, but he doesn’t see himself going into family medicine. “And that's okay,” he added. “At this stage in my educational journey, being able to see what I wouldn't like doing for a living is just as beneficial — if not more beneficial — as discovering what I would like to do.”

Ajla said participating in the program helped solidify her decision to become a doctor. “Getting to see the residents in action was helpful because they showed me how day-to-day life can vary in several rotations and helped me evaluate which specialties I have more interest in,” she said. “Getting to see procedures that most students are not exposed to until well into their medical school studies was an amazing opportunity.”

Thayaparan has shadowed physicians before, but never residents. “Because the residents had a wide range of experience, I was able to gain a lot of different advice and perspectives,” she said. “With a huge refugee population [in Utica], I encountered a lot of patients with translators, which I hadn’t seen before.”

Thayaparan said she also learned about different healthcare problems within the community such as the need for transportation to pain management for people addicted to opioids. “Wanting to go into medicine can sometimes seem daunting, but shadowing with the residents, seeing their dedication, and hearing some of their stories — that was really inspiring,” she said.

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