In Fall 2021, the Career Center collaborated with two MDs from Stony Brook Medicine to develop a one-year externship for underrepresented students interested in exploring the wide array of career opportunities in healthcare. The course, EXT 488: Pathways to Healthcare, is co-facilitated by Robert Nocito, MD PGY-3, administrative chief resident, Department of Emergency Medicine, and David Cohen, MD, associate dean of Student Affairs and associate professor of Emergency Medicine.
Drs. Nocito and Cohen were recognized at the Career Center’s Annual Partnership Celebration on May 11 as the “Career Readiness Partners of the Year,” before a packed Zoom room in virtual space.
This pilot is timely, as student demand for healthcare experiences is increasing. In early 2021, a Career Center survey of pre-health students found that 77 percent wanted more course-based applied learning experiences to prepare for a healthcare career. The Pathways to Healthcare pilot launched in Fall 2021 with 30 students who were introduced to more than a dozen clinicians and researchers, learned clinical procedures, visited cadaver labs, and gained the latest perspective on the admissions process to medical school and other healthcare professional programs from Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine and School of Health Professions leaders.
Before enrolling in the pilot course, students shared the reasons why they felt this program would benefit them. They told very personal stories about what drove them to become passionate about medicine, and for many first-generation students, the ability to create a better future for themselves and their families.
Joli Vidal ‘22 shared, “As I continue my journey through medicine, I believe this course will provide insight on today’s clinical professions and how they have been transformed over the years, and how in the future I can be a leader in transforming medicine further. Learning more about cultural competence can help me build character to where I can work on a diverse team and build close relationships with patients in the future.”
This unique experiential program taught by two medical professionals was very attractive. Nadia Ashraf ‘22 explained, “I plan on going to medical school. I am passionate about diminishing healthcare disparities, specifically in women’s and children’s health. Unfortunately, I do not have actual in-person experience in the clinical setting or shadowing experience. This class would expose me to options and prepare me for a career in healthcare from a professional who has already gone through the process. Also, having a structured class with topics such as cultural competency allows me to ask questions in an open, uninterrupted space among other students just like me who are trying to navigate pre-med. I look forward to diving deeper in the medical school/doctor profession process with the insights of medical staff and students.”
Pathways to Healthcare would not have been possible without the support of Stony Brook Hospital and the two physicians who spearheaded the project in collaboration with the Career Center. This is a shining example of East Campus and West Campus coming together to support pre-health students.
Dr. Nocito, who also earned his bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook, remarked, “This [course] gives students the opportunity to meet and ask questions to healthcare professionals from all different areas of healthcare, from the dean of admissions in the medical school, to various MDs, nurses, PAs, NPs, EMS personnel, social workers and beyond. In addition to gaining exposure to and connections with doctors and nurses, it gives students the opportunity to also learn basic first aid and clinical skills and to tour various areas of the hospital, such as the anatomy department and simulation center.”
Dr. Nocito and Dr. Cohen found it extremely rewarding to work with future healthcare professionals. Dr. Nocito also hosted Doctor in Residence drop-in hours at the Career Center (in the Melville Library), open to any Stony Brook students. More than 50 students took advantage of this special opportunity to access face-to-face individualized professional guidance.
The Career Center staff who coordinated the program included Marianna Savoca, assistant vice president for career development and experiential education, and Urszula Zalewski, director of experiential education. Zalewski frequently attended class to ensure that additional Career Center resources relevant to the course topics were presented.
“The priority for us in the Career Center was to give pre-health students the ability to gain real working experience alongside medical professionals. We are so excited about this collaboration between us and Stony Brook Medicine and how we can build a stronger connection for students to the other side of campus,” said Zalewski.
Savoca noted that the program was purposefully designed to introduce students to an array of healthcare roles; not limited to medical doctors, and Nocito and Cohen tapped their extensive networks of professionals to participate. Moreover, the hands-on activities made all the difference. Students were extremely receptive to this style of learning and shared positive feedback about these aspects in their final evaluations of the course.
From among many glowing evaluations: “The class was an eye opener as I have gained a lot of new knowledge from each person that came into the class. Dr. Cohen and Dr. Rob both put in a lot of effort to help get some experiences that only medical students have the ability to experience such as suturing, putting on a cast, learning how to read an X-ray, and participating in a simulation in the cadaver lab.”
Post-course evaluations showed 100 percent of students reporting that the course allowed them to learn how to articulate their specific interest in healthcare and helped them create a plan for next steps in their careers. Over 90 percent agreed that the experience instilled more confidence in them to do advanced work. Another student shared, “I believe this course helps students think more about their future after graduating. For students who believe they know exactly what path they want to follow, this course opens them up to other professions they could potentially consider.”
The Fall 2021 pilot is only the beginning; this cohort of students returns for a second semester where they will meet healthcare professionals, participate in hands-on activities, and obtain a significant shadow experience in departments throughout the hospital. Drs. Nocito and Cohen will continue to facilitate and coordinate, with ongoing support from the SBU Career Center.
“We are so thrilled with the outcomes to date and expect that this semester will be even more impactful for the students,” remarked Savoca. “Our only concern is that we will have to figure out how to scale this program to accommodate more students in the future.”