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A Cardio Internship at the Arizona Heart Institute

By Drew Davis

Recently, hospitals have developed internships for the cream of the crop--those pre-med students who know not only that they want to do medicine but also what kind of medicine they want to do.

More and more, Medicine is a field in which the doctors are self-selected.  They stack up on science classes on high school, and they plan their college curriculum around pre-med requirements that require countless hours of lab work and more science than most can handle.  Though this doesn't seem like the most fun way to choose classes, it pays off when they go to med school and get their dream job four years later.  However, sometimes four years is too long to wait for a pay-off from taking all of these hard classes in college.  

Matthew Connolly, a senior pre-med at Syracuse University, discovered an internship program last year through Syracuse's Health Professions Advisory Program. As an ex-athlete who spends many hours in the "Loud House" cheering on Syracuse's famous basketball team, Connolly's choice of medicine was easy.  "I really wanted to study cardiovascular medicine.  More and more, they keep finding out all of these cool things that exercise does for your body twenty or thirty years down the road.  I run three times a week, so I'm my best physical subject."

Connolly perused the listings of available hospitals at Syracuse and found a near-perfect match.  "I was stoked when I came across the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation. I'm actually from Scottsdale, Arizona, so the fact that this hospital was in Phoenix was perfect.  There was enough distance between me and home that I could feel independent, but it was close enough that going home to see some of my friends was a lot easier than it would be if I had chosen the other program that I liked, which was at Columbia."

The full name of the program is quite a mouthful: The Colonel Alexander W. Gentleman Cardiovascular Summer Student Program.  The Arizona Heart Institute Foundation is one of the preeminent cardiovascular facilities in the country, and Connolly was lucky to be able to work there. "One of the nicest things was that the program was free, which is pretty rare for hospitals.  The time of doctors and researchers is valuable and a lot of facilities don't like to give it away for free.  Even though we had to pay for housing and transportation, it was well worth it."

The nature of Matt's days varied depending on what he was assigned to do that day.  Over the course of the summer, he rotated through learning about cardiovascular surgery, preventative conditioning, non-invasive screening, and cardiology rounds.  "One of the coolest things...was seeing the similarities between the hospital and Grey's Anatomy," Connolly sheepishly added, admitting it is one of his favorite TV shows.  

"When you see the interns doing rounds in the morning on the show, that's what we were doing. We would check their charts and see how their various conditions were progressing.  Obviously, we weren't left with a lot of responsibility because we usually worked in groups or with actual doctors, but we were walking in their shoes."

Connolly also got really excited at the prospect of seeing what had previously only been pictures in medical books performed in real life.  "The first open heart surgery was really creepy, actually.  The fact that we all look more or less the same on the inside is inescapable when you see them split open someone's rib cage.  But after watching a few, I realized how much of an art form surgery can be, which blew my mind.  After my first surgery, when I could predict what part of the surgery came next, I knew that I was exactly where I wanted to be."

Connolly also found a great deal of value in being able to talk to and relate to the interns and doctors of the actual hospital.  He heard stories about 96-hour shifts, 10-car pileups, miraculous stories of survival, and tragic cases of death.  "The most intense thing that I heard from anyone was when a surgeon told me, 'If you're a doctor, you will kill someone.  It is inevitable, and it has nothing to do with how talented you are, but it will happen.' I don't think I had been able to appreciate how delicate a life is when they're on the operating table.  A millimeter can be the difference between life and death, especially when dealing with the heart. But I think that's exciting; that's part of the reason that I want to be a surgeon."

Even though he loved his internship, his position in the hierarchy was clear.  "We're lower than the interns; we're the lowest rung on the ladder at the hospital.  It didn't happen often, but a few times I had to run errands for doctors and interns that got swamped in the OR or with too many patients in the clinic."

"If you're a pre-med, you're crazy to not do something like this. You get a real taste of what you'll be doing after graduation; you're a part of the real thing."  

To learn more about Matt's experience, visit or Syracuse University's website to learn more about the different experiences that they list as available.  There are many hospitals all across the country that have specialties ranging from dentistry to optometry to brain surgery, whatever fits you best.      

You give up a lot to be a pre-med major in college.  Electives are rare, free time is rarer, and your potential job is still med-school away.  Remind yourself why you're doing it, like Matt did.  As much as the hospital needs it, you deserve it, too.   

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