In honor of Valentine’s Day, I figured a post about the heart was appropriate. In recent years, medicine has moved forward to such an amazing point when it comes to caring for the heart. There are many opportunities students can have to observe how physicians treat heart-related conditions.
Here are a few examples of ways to gain heart-related clinical experience:
1.) Observing cardiac catheterization - This is when a catheter is inserted through an artery or vein in the groin area and then moved all the way to the heart. It can be used either to identify heart problems or can be a part of the treatment itself. The University of Maryland Heart Center has a brief, interesting article on this: http://www.umm.edu/heart/cc_lab.htm
2.) Observing heart surgery - Several students of mine had the chance to scrub in and see heart surgery. Some saw an endoscopic heart surgery, where the physician only created a few small holes to gain access to the heart whereas others saw a traditional heart surgery where the chest was opened and the beating heart was clearly visible. Medline Plus, an information service through the National Institute of Health (NIH), outlines this topic in more detail:
3.) Assisting cardiologists with clinical research - Former students of mine have also helped perform clinical research on heart-related topics. One student worked with a pediatric cardiologist on heart issues in children whereas others helped do retrospective chart studies where they would review numerous patient cases to look at trends such as recovery rates.
How do you get connected with these opportunities?
Your first step is to find a physician who is willing to let you shadow him/her. There are a few ways to do this:
1.) Visit the websites for local hospitals and look for a directory of cardiologists and/or cardiac surgeons
2.) Often through your insurance company, you can access an online listing of physicians and get contact information that way
3.) Ask your pediatrician from when you were growing up or your primary care physician if s/he could put you in touch with any cardiologists and/or cardiac surgeons they might know
4.) Visit http://www.cardiosmart.org/, which has a searchable directory of cardiologists
After creating a small list of potential physicians to shadow, reach out to them. If you have their email address, write them a brief note expressing your interest in learning more about the heart and speaking with them about why they chose that specialty. If you only have a phone number, then call and express the same ideas. You can then discuss what days/times might work for the physician to have you observe him/her.
Observing treatments for the heart can be a fascinating way to continue exploring the field of medicine!