If you’ve visited Kaiser Permanente’s Clovis Medical Offices this summer, you may have seen some rather young assistants listening to your child’s heartbeat alongside their pediatrician, or handing your obstetrician paper towels and gel during your ultrasound.
Students from Selma, Caruthers and Sunnyside high schools are in their sixth and final week of a job shadowing component of the UCSF Fresno Doctors Academy Program.
Doctors Academy is a challenging school-within-a-school program that helps Latino students in rural and urban areas explore career paths in various medical specialties, said Diana Cantu, clinical coordinator for UCSF Latino Center for Medical Education and Research.
About 100 students are enrolled in the program, with around 70 completing a six-week clinical and research component this week, Cantu said. The clinical portion is definitely a highlight, she said.
“This is a way to immerse themselves and find out, ‘Is this what I really want to be?’ You may find that you don’t. You may find, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how different it was once I’m behind the scenes,’” she explained.
Students are shadowing pharmacists, oncologists, family practice doctors, physical therapists, pediatricians, obstetricians, dentists and more, Cantu said.
What the students learn and see is up to the health care provider they follow.
For Selma High School student Brianna Colado, that can include watching the births of several babies, and the draining and extraction of a 17-centimeter ovarian cyst.
Dr. Lissa Yu practices obstetrics and gynecology at Kaiser and was thrilled to sign up as a provider to be shadowed, especially when she was told that what the student got to see was up to her discretion.
“So I said, ‘very good; she’s going to go where I go,’ ” Yu said. “So Brianna has been on the labor floor, she’s seen C-sections, vaginal deliveries, hysterectomies, a cystectomy -- the whole nine yards.”
Colado, 16, said she has enjoyed shadowing Dr. Yu and thinks being an OB/GYN would be an interesting and satisfying profession.
“In the OB patients, it’s really nice being able to see when they come for their first ultrasound in their pregnancy, how excited she is to see that there’s a little heartbeat beating inside of her,” Colado said. “Especially the dads, that’s a cool thing to see because they just stare at the ultrasound like, ‘That? That’s a baby?’ It’s cool. That’s been memorable.”
Students work on a research project simultaneously during the summer. Colado chose to focus on factors here in the Valley and around the U.S. that increase the risk of preterm birth in African American women between the ages of 16 and 30.
Both components have motivated her to pursue a medical career, she said.
“It has helped me to see that OB is something I could do later on,” she said. “Dr. Yu said it’s 8 to 10 years. For something that long, people tend to lose motivation to finish. I am motivated and I feel now that seeing the type of environment that it is, I can see in the end it’ll be worth it, and this program has helped me see that.”
Lisa Romero, a 17-year-old Caruthers High School student, found through the program that she’d rather be a pediatrician than an emergency medical doctor.
“My friends were placed in the ER and they’ve told me stories about everything, and it’s some pretty strong stuff which I’d rather never see,” she said. “But in pediatrics, you see the same people every day, so you know the staff pretty well… And I discovered that I like working with kids.”
Romero is in her sixth week of shadowing Dr. Lorraine Lopez, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente’s Clovis location. Lopez has been a longtime advocate and participant in the Doctors Academy program.
“It’s an opportunity for me, I feel, to give back to the community and help out with the students because I come from farm-working parents, I’m Latina, and I just feel I need to help out the students,” she said.
Lopez has worked with Romero, who is typically shy, with her confidence, while showing her what day-to-day life is like for doctors.
“Their role here is to shadow us and to see our everyday life and just see if they like it,” Lopez said. “We’ve had some students come through and they realize they don’t even like it, this is not what they want to do. So it’s a great opportunity to see if they even like this world.”
The summer program will conclude with a symposium at UCSF on Thursday, where students will present their research projects related to the specialty they’ve been exposed to in the clinical component, Cantu said.
“It’s ideal to bring them all together because they get to know each other,” she said. “Of those 70 that are going to graduate, a good 4 or 5 percent are going to be going to the same college. When they do, they can be their own support team when they go to that university.”
The Doctors Academy program started in 1999, with its first graduating class in 2003. More than 700 students have graduated from the program, and the USCF staff are anxiously awaiting their return to the Valley after medical school, Cantu said.
Already, one DA graduate has returned to finish up her pharmacy residency at Valley Children’s Hospital, Cantu noted.
“Our goal is to grow health professionals. We can’t do it alone. We’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have Kaiser be a part of that with us,” she said. “I think we as the community will reap the rewards when we see these kids coming back.”