Wearing white coats and hospital badges, Ryan Elshimali and Amelia Huynh eagerly joined Dr. Kenneth Nakamoto in the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center (PVHMC) emergency room this spring. But the two are not doctors—at least not yet.
Both members of the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) Master of Science in Applied Life Sciences (MS) program Class of 2020, Elshimali and Huynh were there to shadow the physician as the first students participating in a new partnership involving MS program and PVHMC. The shadowing program expands the relationship between KGI and the healthcare institution, which already serves as a pharmacy practice rotation site for KGI’s Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students.
Elshimali and Huynh want to pursue careers in medicine and had prior exposure to other hospitals. Elshimali volunteered at West Hills Hospital in Los Angeles for two years, while Huynh had spent time in a pediatric emergency room at the University of California, Davis; a pediatrician’s office in San Francisco; and the musculoskeletal unit at the University of California, San Francisco. Yet the PVHMC emergency room was unlike anything they had experienced before.
“There were a lot of trauma incidents in one day, and I saw how fast you need to be in diagnosing whether a patient needs surgery now,” says Huynh. “It gave me an opportunity to see the challenges an emergency physician has, and the need for critical thinking and problem solving.”
Elshimali notes, “At Pomona, I saw things I never saw in two years at West Hills. Shadowing an emergency room physician was very exciting to me and made me more aware of what goes into emergency medicine.”
During their 10-hour shifts, the students were able to observe Dr. Nakamoto as he interacted with and treated patients, and to ask questions about his medical practice. That gave them new insights into both patient care and their professional direction.
“Dr. Nakamoto was really helpful in explaining why they’re doing a procedure and why they’re asking certain questions of patients,” says Elshimali. “And every patient he sees gets the same standard of care, even when he’s had a 10-hour shift and is exhausted. It’s remarkable to see and what I carry with me.”
For Huynh, the shadowing experience reinforced her decision to choose a career in medicine. It also broadened her view of her professional options.
“I mentioned to Dr. Nakamoto that I’m interested in pediatrics, and he advised me to be open to other specialties because there’s a lot I haven’t yet experienced,” she explains.
“I’m thankful to be given the opportunity to not only see what it means to be a doctor, but also become more open-minded in my career choice.”
Dr. Nakamoto, who serves as PVHMC’s vice president of medical affairs in addition to practicing emergency medicine, considers the shadowing program a mutually beneficial experience. He explains that he enjoys educating and hearing the perspectives of students who are mature and serious about a career in medicine.
“The students are very bright, committed, and interested. It’s a pleasure to have them here,” he says.
Huynh has since shadowed another PVHMC emergency room physician, Dr. Eric Sechrist. Elshimali has completed a second shift with Dr. Nakamoto and is scheduled to shadow him again in May.
“When you learn information in class and then hear it again in the emergency room, everything just clicks. It solidifies what you’re taught when it’s displayed in action. Also, ultimately, I’ll be applying to medical schools, and they want you to have this kind of clinical exposure,” says Elshimali.
Huynh looks forward to seeing other MS students at KGI gain similar benefits from the new partnership with PVHMC.
“Shadowing at PVHMC was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It was a great opportunity for personal growth and deepened my understanding of the demands, rewards, and challenges of the medical field.” says Huynh. “To see the realities of patient care firsthand leaves a major impact.”
MS Program Director and Professor Anastasia Levitin also sees the tremendous benefit that students receive from the partnership with PVHMC.
“A lot of the KGI MS students are pursuing a career in healthcare and many are focused on becoming physicians,” Levitin says. “By partnering with PVHMC, we can provide the students with an opportunity to get valuable hands-on experience while they are mentored by a practicing physician.”