The first day of the Princeternship I walked through the revolving doors of Staten Island University Hospital full of anticipation. This was one of the few times that I had been inside of a hospital because thankfully my friends and family have not been ill enough to require hospitalization. I walked through the long maze-like halls looking for the radiology department while simultaneously taking in my surroundings and wondering if I could see myself working in a medical facility like this later in life. After getting lost a few times and asking for directions, I finally arrived in the ultrasound area of the radiology department and met Dr. Sanjiv Bajaj ‘02. After a short introduction, Dr. Bajaj offered me a seat and gave me a crash course on radiology. He pulled up patient ultrasound scans on the four computer monitors in front of him, rotating the views in order to see different organs such as the liver, kidneys and lungs from different angles. He explained that ultrasound works by focusing sound waves through a person’s body; bright areas on the scan corresponded to solid locations where the sound can not travel through easily while dark areas showed soft or fluid regions. While this seemed simple to grasp, I was completely lost when I stared at the computer monitor. Although Dr. Bajaj and I were looking at the same images, we were seeing two different things. I saw an endless sea of grey while he was viewing detailed images of various organs. Eventually after seeing enough images, organs began to immerge from the grey.
Dr. Bajaj then shifted to explaining the diagnostic ability of radiology, the aspect which had drawn him to this field. After reading the descriptions of a patients discomfort, he was able quickly list possible causes of the discomfort and find the actual cause in a patient’s image. We viewed many patients possessing gallstones, kidney stones, and fatty liver, a problem which was rapidly becoming more prevalent in the United States due to our diets. Although he never came in contact with the patients during my visit, due to a broken leg, Dr. Bajaj played a vital role in their treatments through his diagnoses, showing me the importance of radiology, a field that previously, I didn’t even know existed.
Around noon Ruina, the other Princetern, and I went upstairs to the conference room to have lunch with residents and attend their noon conference focusing on spinal images. Examples of patient images were displayed by a projector, and one after another the residents located minute details and diagnosed the problems present in each image, describing the diagnoses they would log into a Dictaphone. It was interesting to see a different phase of the radiological track and realize the time, effort and repetition needed to go from a medical student to a certified doctor.
The next day of my Princeternship I viewed more images with Dr. Bajaj, but I also asked questions about the medical school, the medical field and life in general. He was open and honest with me and gave me the good and bad aspects of the medical field. He explained that being a doctor was a very rewarding experience; his work had an important impact in the lives of his patients and he had a genuine interest in the work that he was doing, but he noted that it took a long time and a lot of effort to reach the point that he was at. He told us that we should find something that we love and interests us and pursue it. If we were just enticed by the money and prestige, there were many different career paths that could accomplish that goal. This information was reiterated by his mother, a retired radiologist who had stopped by the hospital and many of the other doctors and residents who we encountered.
During one of our conversations, Dr. Bajaj came across the amazing ultrasound image of a baby demonstrating a possible case of anencephaly, a disorder in which a fetus develops without a brain and a large portion of its skull. This was a topic covered in Practical Ethics, a class that I had taken that semester and Dr. Bajaj had also taken when he was at Princeton. This led us into a conversation about the moral dilemmas present in medicine such as the available options for an anencephalic fetus and the complexity of the transplant system in the United States.
On the third day of the Princeternship, we shadowed Dr. Omar who was focusing on neurological radiology and Dr. Sperling in the Emergency Room. Both were experienced in the clinical side of medicine but had different views on it. Dr. Omar initially enjoyed clinical medicine but was disturbed by the small amount of time that could be allotted to each patient. He felt that this was a very impersonal system of providing care. On the other hand, Dr. Sperling loved clinical medicine. He enjoyed talking to patients, even if it was for a limited period of time and believed that patients benefited from being able to share their concerns with a professional if even for a short time. Even though we were in the ER for a short period of time, it was obvious that radiology differed from it greatly.
This Princeternship was my first shadowing experience and I am very thankful to Dr. Bajaj, Mrs. Bajaj and the kind staff of the Staten Island University hospital for sharing their workplace, time, knowledge and advice with me. I also appreciate Princeton Career Services for making this possible. I got a lot out of my Princeternship, but the two most important pieces of advice I took from the experience were to find something that interests me and pursue it, and to enjoy my time at Princeton, not allowing pursuit of medical school to dominate my life.