Mentors expose students to hard work of hospital medicine

September 15, 2014

At his first knee-replacement surgery, Kevin Anderson was surprised to see tools as basic as hammer and saw put to blunt use with a force that launched a small bone chip into his plastic face shield.

Anderson was thrilled to be within what he called the surgical "splash zone." Recalling the operation from two years ago, Anderson said, "I absolutely want to be a part of this. Doctors help people. To me, it's pretty simple."

That's a good attitude for an aspiring future medical student.

Mentor and Student
Premed student Kevin Anderson, left, with Dr. Robert Moss, coordinator of the student mentoring program at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, Calif.

In early August, Anderson, 20, completed his third summer with a student mentoring program at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, Calif.. Later this month, he starts his junior year at the University of California at Los Angeles, majoring in physiological science in a premed sequence that might lead him to a career in orthopedic surgery.

This was the first summer in the mentoring program for Hannah Hurd, 17, who is a senior at Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria. On day one, she donned her program-issue blue lab coat and witnessed diagnostic and procedural laparoscopies.

"I was amazed to see the surgeons so calm and having such confidence in their skills," Hurd said. "Everyone in the room was doing their little jobs and working smoothly as a team. I'm a sponge to see more."

Try, try again
Dr. Robert Moss, a general surgeon at Marian, organized the summer program 13 years ago with seven students and three fellow physicians. This summer, 60 students shadowed 72 participating doctors and saw what they really do up close.

"Kids might think they want to be in medicine, but they don't know anything about what we do," said Moss, 66. "What they know is from TV and movies. They don't know that we work long hours, get up early and do calls at night. We take them into the operating rooms; they see what happens in the ER. It gives them a better sense of what they want to do."

Mentor and Student
Dr. Robert Moss, coordinator of the student mentoring program at Marian Regional Medical Center, works in a recovery room with Hannah Hurd, 17, a senior in high school who has her sights set on medical school. The hospital’s summer program gives students a chance to see medicine being practiced up close.

Moss got his own first sense of medicine in a hands-on way. Raised in Crawford, Neb., he joined the Army and served as a Special Forces medic in Vietnam in 1969 and '70. Back in the U.S., he worked as a nurse at a hospital in Anaheim, Calif., before he decided to seek a medical degree. He has been on the staff at Marian for 28 years.

Fourteen years ago, he was lamenting with fellow doctors that students often don't have a clue about the profession they claim to want. He had suggested the mentoring idea back when he was a student, but his instructors brushed him off. The second time around, his Marian colleagues said yes.

Steady build out
Formally known as the Dignity Health Central Coast Physician Mentoring Program, it recently was expanded to include a sister hospital, Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, 10 miles up the Pacific Coast from Santa Maria.

Over the years, about 50 of the more than 600 participants have entered medical fields. A member of the first summer class recently was hired as a physician to work in Marian's emergency department. Another is in a plastic surgery residency at Harvard Medical School.

The mentoring program is open to high school students at least 17 years of age through college. Students apply to enter, and high school students need a recommendation from their counselors. Moss' wife, Donna, coordinates volunteers who assist the program. Erin Stevens, manager of education service at the hospital, handles scheduling.

The program runs for seven weeks. Attendance is rotated so that each student is in the hospital for five of those weeks. They report to the hospital at least three days in each of those weeks, and some put in five days. Donna Moss pairs each student with a different doctor every week. Program leaders issue the young people their lab coats and send them on their assigned rounds. Students go into the operating rooms and behind the curtains in emergency departments. Participating nurses, physical therapists and people in other related fields also show the students what they do.

Contagious enthusiasm
Anderson's father, Dr. Thomas Anderson, is an anesthesiologist who retired from Marian. The younger Anderson said he has wanted to be a doctor since he was a boy, and the mentoring program has whetted his drive. "The experience is unbeatable. I have a much more realistic feel for what it must be like to be a doctor," Anderson said.

Hurd's parents are dental hygienists. She, too, has been interested in medicine since she was a little girl. Family friends who knew about Marian's mentoring program urged her to apply.

She said she might want to be an anesthesiologist, although she first has to graduate from high school. Right now, she is intrigued "by how vast the field of medicine is."

Moss feeds off the students' enthusiasm. He describes the program with a youthful passion of his own.

"I think doctors are built-in teachers," he said. "The program is great PR for the hospital, and I know the doctors have a good time. It takes them back to their own days when they were just getting started.

"For me, it's a fulfillment," Moss said. "It's wonderful to see these kids with their big eyes and all their questions."


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.