A medical trip comes full circle

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SStanding on a stepladder just beyond a protective surgical curtain in the operating room at Children’s Health of Orange County last summer, intern student Rosa Rodríguez watched the life-saving procedure unfold in front of her. The patient, just six days old, lay in the center of a group of nurses and technicians whose precise movements were orchestrated by the maestro in charge: the chief surgeon Richard Gates, director of cardiothoracic surgery at CHOC. For six hours, these experts would repair a hole in the patient’s tiny heart, ensuring a healthy future for the infant.

From his perch a few feet away, Rodríguez felt galvanized. Inspired. “The fastest, most amazing six hours of my life,” she later laughs. The experience, she says, confirmed to her that she was destined to pursue a career in pediatric surgery. And that she was well on her way to securing that future for herself, as a senior at Johns Hopkins University who took the MCATs, those very tough medical school entrance exams, before returning to campus. of Homewood from the university for his last semester.

But witnessing the operation was also, in some ways, the culmination of a journey. The last time she was in an operating room – could it have been that same room? – that was 21 years ago, and she had been the baby on the table.

The last time she was in an operating room was 21 years ago, and she had been the baby on the table.

“I don’t even have the words to describe the feeling,” says Rodríguez, who at just four months old underwent open-heart surgery to correct a ventricular septal defect in his heart tissue that was causing blood to mix in both. lower parts. chambers of his heart. Her operation had also been performed by the surgeon she now followed, Richard Gates. “It was inspiring and exhilarating and a bit trippy, to be honest.”

It was a summer that Rodríguez describes as “magical”. During his third year with the internship program hosted by CHOC’s Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute, Rodríguez spent the summer shadowing doctors at CHOC and mentoring and advising other student interns as they developed skills. summaries for new medical technologies.

And yet, the internship presented challenges that pushed Rodríguez out of her comfort zone, she says. The medical-tech aspect of the internship almost kept Rodríguez from attending — she wasn’t as passionate about technology as she was about medicine, she says, and she was hesitant about whether the internship would be a good fit. But this opportunity has shown her new ways to improve patient care and a new passion for doing so through technology. Two summers ago, after speaking with his mother about the anxiety a parent feels when their child is operated on, Rodríguez designed a virtual assistant for operating rooms that listens to a surgeon’s verbal cues and provides real-time updates to families in the waiting room. . Last year, it proposed an AI-powered pharmacist that can cross-check prescriptions and prevent doctors from over-prescribing drugs. Last summer, she helped student interns develop and perfect their own devices.

She was also hesitant to spend part of her internship shadowing Jessica McMichael, an orthopedic surgeon—a specialty that caused Rodríguez some trepidation.

“I’m not going to lie – the fact that they’re using tools that look like something I could have pulled out of my shed in the garden freaks me out,” she says.

And yet, it turned out to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience.

“It was inspiring because she’s a woman, especially in surgery, and finding a female mentor was really special for me,” Rodríguez said. “Seeing how she runs her operating room really taught me the kind of person, surgeon and leader I want to be. So while I don’t necessarily want to go into her specialty, I want to be her. Skip time with Dr. McMichael in his operating room was definitely one of the most profound experiences I have ever had.”

As she prepares to graduate in early December with a degree in molecular and cellular biology, Rodríguez is driven by this sense of purpose and drive. She plans to take a year off before medical school and find a job as an emergency medical technician or certified practical nurse to gain more real-world experience.

She is looking forward, she says, to discovering more of this magic of medicine.

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