PCP Hawai'i Pairs Aspiring Primary Care Doctors With Inspiring Mentors

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At Univiersity of Hawai’i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, the PCP team pairs students interested in primary care with mentors in their chosen specialty. Second-year med student Megan Sumida tells us all about it.

During the 2014-2015 school year, the University of Hawai’i’s Primary Care Progress team launched a primary care mentorship program through which first-year medical students interested in primary care were matched with primary care physicians in the community. Mentors and mentees participated in up to six half-day shadowing experiences and communicated with their mentors outside of the shadowing experience to discuss the pros and cons of working in primary care.

The newly launched primary care mentorship program was nothing short of a success. Our chapter leader, Nash Witten, sent the application email to our MS1 class and received 15 responses from us the very same day. The process for pairing us with mentors took into consideration students’ post-graduate training; the specialty areas they were considering, such as pediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine; where they lived; their preferred practice setting, such as private practice or community health center; and personal passions.

As a first-year student in my first unit of medical school, I was excited for the opportunity to begin working with primary care physicians in the community. I was paired with Dr. Brit Reis at Reis Pediatrics. I first met her in September 2015, and in the following eight months learned invaluable lessons about how to interact with young patients and earn their trust. While the program technically ended in December, we continued meeting through the rest of the school year. It was a challenge to balance those meetings with the academic and extracurricular demands of medical school, but it was worth it. I cannot overstate my gratitude for the time Dr. Reis took to teach me.

Primary care mentorship benefits

While I learned a lot from Dr. Reis about medicine, such as clinical exam techniques and treatments, the way she interacts with her patients is something I found especially admirable. Dr. Reis creates a space in which even very young pediatric patients can share their opinions on their healthcare.

The importance of effective patient-physician relationships first became clear to me when I was serving with City Year Los Angeles prior to medical school. At City Year, near-peer mentors work in underserved communities with students who are at high risk for dropping out of their public-school system. These students encounter external challenges that affect their ability to achieve their highest academic potential. I learned how common it is for adolescents to feel they are unable to share trauma and other challenges with parents, physicians, or other adults who could help them. As a peer mentor, I often felt helpless to address the problems my students faced. As a physician, I want to be better able to address those issues that affect students outside the classroom.

That’s one of the reasons I admire Dr. Reis. She builds trusting relationships with teens and adolescents who are often difficult to connect with. I’m continually impressed with how open they are with a physician they don’t see very often. Because of the rapport she establishes with her young patients, Dr. Reis is able to address sensitive health issues that other physicians might miss. There is so much to learn from the way she engages with them – from tone, to body language, to the way she words questions – because open connection is integral to successful care. Her patients are empowered to think about their health as something they are participating in, rather than something adults control.

I was proud to recently present on our PCP team’s mentorship program at the 2016 Hawai’i Health Workforce Summit. But the program wouldn’t be possible without all the students and mentors who participated. I would like to thank those who participated in our inaugural year and subsequent cohorts. I am excited to see where this program takes us in future years and to continue promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, mentorship, and community outreach in primary care throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Megan Sumida

Megan Sumida is a second-year medical student at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu. She is interested in pursuing pediatrics and practicing in Hawaii.

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