Summer Journeys: Career Confidence

Kaitlyn Macdonald ’19 held the manual resuscitator over baby Joseph’s face, while one colleague administered chest compressions and another monitored his vital signs. He was not breathing on his own.

“We worked very hard as a team,” says Kaitlyn, “we tried everything, but it did not seem like we were going to be able to save him. It was a bit overwhelming—and very frightening—to know that we held the life of this two-year old boy in our hands.”

Kaitlyn and her team were able to revive baby Joseph, a hi-tech medical mannequin. It was one of the more powerful and meaningful moments of her summer program at Harvard Medical School.

“We were working in the simulation lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, under the guidance of a pediatric nurse who works in the emergency room there,” Kaitlyn explained. “She prepared us for the real possibility that we wouldn’t be able to revive the baby. She talked about how that is part of being a doctor, and how it is something that every doctor has to be prepared for. No matter what happens with this patient in this moment, there is another patient waiting for you in the next room who needs you to be present, and attentive, and who needs you to be your best.”

Kaitlyn is thinking about a career in medicine. Her time in the Harvard Medical School MEDscience program helped her more fully understand not only what it means to be a doctor, but the many paths a journey into medicine can take. Program participants heard from a doctor who was once a lawyer, and a nurse about to enter medical school. They toured some of the Longwood Medical hospitals—including Beth Israel Deaconess and Boston Children's. They also received plenty of hands-on training. 

Each day started with teamwork exercises and information sessions with the doctors and nurses who ran the program, then moved to the simulation lab, where medical mannequins would present with a range of symptoms for the student doctors to diagnose. The mannequins could breathe, had beating “hearts,” and could even “speak” to the students in the space filled with microphones, cameras, and medical equipment.

“We worked to solve cases as though we were emergency room physicians,” says Kaitlyn. “We evaluated symptoms, ordered tests like CT scans, and proposed diagnoses and treatments. Initially, we used the base of knowledge we came into the program with, and our best problem-solving skills and intuition. We had a whiteboard where we wrote down the patient’s symptoms, complaints, social history, name, age, and weight. Our list of potential diagnoses was sometimes 30 items long! When we had exhausted our efforts, the instructors would shut the sim down, and come out and teach us about the actual condition our patient was experiencing—things like heart attacks, Type 1 diabetes, and both forms of Type 2 diabetes. We learned about causes, symptoms, and treatments.”

Kaitlyn and her peers also learned technical—and highly practical—skills: how to suture lacerations, start IV lines, and intubate patients. 

“I learned so, so much during the program, not just about medicine, but about myself,” says Kaitlyn, “about how I work in teams, about how what I do affects other team members, and about how we have work together to make each patient ok. At the end of the session, the program director complimented me on the way I handled everything, and said she could really see me becoming a pediatrician. That was amazing for me to hear; that feedback—and the whole experience—has given me  the confidence to continue on this journey.”

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 Kaitlin's summer experience was made possible in part by a Meg Page '74 Fellowship.To honor her commitment to compassionate health care, this fellowship is awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.