Waking up at 5:45 am, walking outside to the car in the dark winter morning, and warm rain drops falling on my long grey winter coat were my first steps toward a great day. Driving to Phillipsburg, NJ with mist drifting up from the road gave me a spooky feeling. My determination and eagerness for my first professional experience kept me alert behind the wheel.
I was not sure what to expect but I was certain it would be good. I would finally meet Dr. Nicholas J. Avallone ‘97 who is an orthopaedic surgeon at St. Luke’s University Health Network. My Princeternship would expose me to his daily work. I wanted to impress him whenever I could.
I arrived promptly at 8:00 am to his office in the St. Luke’s Orthopaedic Specialists Suite 105. His wonderful staff greeted me with a cup of coffee, showed me around and introduced me to Dr. Avallone’s delightful and super intelligent physician assistant, Andrea. I liked talking with her. She taught me about shoulder shots and frozen shoulder. Finally, Dr. Avallone arrived.
I looked forward to every moment. There were 34 cases that day, which was even a lot by Dr. Avallone’s standards, and 34 cool new things to learn as a pre-med student.
The minutes flew by as I learned about carpal tunnel, foot fractures, shoulder replacements, high ankle sprains, and fractured radial disks. Meniscus tears. Arthritis. The McMurray Test. Knee Joint Aspiration. Even diabetes. Phhhheeww! There was so much for me to learn about orthopedic medicine!
I left with Dr. Avallone around noon to drive to St. Luke’s Hospital on Warren Campus. I got to go into the OR for the first time. I was super excited.
Dr. Avallone introduced me to his patients in pre-op too. I was impressed all day by his friendliness, which never changed around anyone.
In the OR, Dr. Avallone showed me a menisectomy. He also showed me a carpal tunnel procedure. I should have taken notes because there was so much to learn. I was so sleepy on the ride home. I couldn’t wait for Wednesday to come.
Day 2- Avallone office
Today I learned that there’s something special about good doctors. The night before I decided to read up on common shoulder injuries,, reading about SLAP tears, rotator cuff tears, collarbone fractures, frozen shoulder, and arthritis. I also learned about reverse total shoulder replacement. I enjoyed soaking in the knowledge, which I wanted to use to impress Dr. Avallone. I read late into the night forgetting that I had to wake up at 5:30 am.
I awoke, showered, drove to his office, and said good morning to Andrea. She told me Dr. Avallone had sixty patients scheduled! That meant he would see about thirty in the morning and thirty in the afternoon. I was bound to come across a patient with one of the shoulder injuries I looked up the night before.
I certainly had chances to ask Dr. Avallone questions based on the patients and facts I learned the night before, and I took advantage of them. But, as fun as soaking up the knowledge was, I distinctly remembered making a special note to revisit before writing my blog. It read, “He enjoys helping people.”
What did my note mean? Well, Dr. Avallone saw sixty patients that day. Half the patients knew Dr. Avallone from previous visits. Some of them knew him from his fellowship with the New York Islanders professional ice hockey team. Dr. Avallone had a humility about himself and the way he conducts his work. I am sure that he carefully presents himself that way for valuable reasons.
Dr. Avallone loves to throw in a joke too. He is sensitive to emotion. He knows how to empathize with them. Above all, he gives his patients honest explanations out of respect for their health.
When I looked at him interacting with patients, every time I thought about how special it was to learn from him. He wanted to help his patients get back to coaching, get back to exercising, get back to their active lives. He wanted to help them recover. He committed his life to helping other people. That’s what being a good doctor means.