It was 7:30 in the morning. I’d been up since 4:30, had nothing to eat except for a cup of coffee, but was absolutely elated as I watched a total laryngectomy (larynx removal) unfold in the operating room right before my eyes.
While most college students spend their spring breaks in Cancun or New Orleans, I had elected to participate in an intensive externship program at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey. This externship, hosted by Swarthmore alum and Cooper Medical School professor Dr. Joseph Becker ’66, offered nine other Swarthmore students and myself a glimpse into the lives of doctors. We were able to shadow pediatricians, hospitalists, trauma surgeons, radiologists, and (my personal favorite), view surgeries in the operating room.
As a pre-med student, this experience was hugely fulfilling. Even though I understood less than a quarter of the medical terminology thrown around during rounds by the attendings, residents, and med students, they were all receptive to my questions and helped to translate the “doctor lingo.”
That isn’t to say that I was completely useless. When I was shadowing pediatric residents in the clinic, I was able to translate a couple of visits from English to Spanish. And during a study presentation in the trauma department, my practice reading chemistry and biological journals meant that I understood the presentation.
The program was also a chance for me to make new friends with the other Swatties in the program. We would eat lunch together in the hospital cafeteria and exchange stories about our days. When our shadowing shifts ended, those of us staying at Swarthmore would carpool and grab dinner in Chinatown.
A final highlight of the externship came at the end of the week, when Niki Machac ’11, a fourth year med student at Cooper, came to talk to us about going to medical school after Swarthmore. It was fantastic to learn that the critical thinking and analysis skills that Swarthmore emphasizes offers an advantage to Swarthmore students looking to become physicians.
If I’m going to be completely honest, my spring break was not relaxing—it was invigorating. Not only was it amazing to witness clinical practice and incredible medical procedures first-hand, having the support of other Swatties—both current and former—was a winning combination for the perfect spring break.