Nathan Suek ’17, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Nathan-SuekI left for my Princeternship in New York early in a morning shrouded in dense, white fog. As I chugged along in the dinky train, I couldn’t help but wonder what kinds of interesting things I would be able to see today. What kinds of patients? What kinds of diagnoses?

My Princeternship was at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with Dr. Ariela Noy ‘86. My excitement grew as I continued to mull over the possibilities for the day. After an hour-long train ride, I arrived at Penn Station and experienced, for the first time, the fast-paced style of NYC. As soon as I stepped off the train, everyone was off. Unfamiliar with the local terrain, I trudged my way through bustling crowds of people, bumping into strangers as I focused on the notebook paper with a hastily drawn diagram I called my map.

It was my first experience commuting to work. After walking to the wrong subway station and a few stops downtown instead of uptown, I finally arrived at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Perfect timing. Lauren, Dr. Noy’s extremely warm and friendly assistant, greeted me. That morning, Lauren informed me, I needed to complete a few mandatory medical tests required of all employees before beginning. Adventuring from building to building to complete these tests, I couldn’t help but stop and try the local eateries and food carts as my stomach growled when lunchtime neared.

At noon, I was all cleared to go. That day was an incredibly busy day for Dr. Noy’s office. The early afternoon through late evening was filled with back to back visits with patients. I think one of the most interesting things about Dr. Noy’s work was how she combined her two backgrounds as a physician scientist together. As we continued to see patients, she sometimes commented on how the diagnosis of certain patients particularly fit her research interests. And while she let me look at several of the patient’s medical documents, I did not completely understand everything. It was interesting for me to try to piece together parts of the diagnoses as words like platelet and white blood cell count floated across the screen.

We had one patient in particular that seemed to fit Dr. Noy’s research profile perfectly. The patient had a history of both HIV and cancer. I went in to see the patient with Dr. Noy, not knowing what to expect because apparently, the cancer had gone into remission but seemed to have recently come back. Thankfully, upon Dr. Noy’s examination, everything was fine. It was great news considering that it was the patient’s marriage anniversary that day!

All in all, this Princeternship was an incredible experience being able to see how Dr. Noy blends her research with her work as a physician. For a long time, I have debated between pursuing a career in medicine versus research, but now I am sure that I won’t have to pick one over the other. It is equally interesting and rewarding to be able to do both. I am so grateful to have been able to shadow the incredible Dr. Noy. This Princeternship has definitely given me a clearer direction in the pursuit of my future career.

Sofia Gomez ’16, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Sofia-GomezDr. Ariela Noy ‘86 is a hematologist and medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, NY, who focuses on treating lymphoma patients and researching HIV-related lymphomas. After reading about her work, I finally arrived at her office on the morning of January 22 to begin my day-long Princeternship. Dr. Noy greeted me with enthusiasm, and quickly began updating me on her daily routine and current patients. Stories rolled off her tongue about patients’ diseases and platelet counts, but the stories remained centered on their personal experiences as patients, demonstrating how much she truly invests in her patients’ care and quality of life. Before even seeing any patients, Dr. Noy had shown me a new perspective on medicine by making it clear that treating a disease is different from treating a patient.

Soon after arriving, I followed Dr. Noy to a clinical research meeting with about twenty of her colleagues, where they presented and discussed prospective clinical trials and specific patient cases. The doctors challenged one another, asking presenters tough questions about the data they displayed, and tossing out ideas about how to improve trials or individual patient treatment. I was surprised by the exchange of ideas and debates that constituted the meetings. Observing their interactions made me realize that these meetings are truly what guide their daily work in research and medical care. Those who presented ideas welcomed the criticism: it seemed to be something they knew would only strengthen their abilities as doctors and researchers.

Dr. Noy and I left the meeting early, as she was working at the clinic that day, and had her first patient coming in at 12:15 pm. We arrived at the clinic, where she began responding to the dozens of e-mails she had received in the last few hours—messages from hospital administrators, fellow doctors, assistants, nurses. Her work ranged from analyzing patients’ PET scans to rearranging meeting times due to her busy schedule. She seemed to be working on hundreds of things at once, but kept me updated all along. At this point, it seemed to me that Dr. Noy’s job was both exciting and overwhelming, but she seemed constantly enthralled by her work.

For the rest of the day, I shadowed Dr. Noy as she interacted with patient after patient, quickly absorbing the background information she gave me about each before walking into his or her examination room door. The spectrum of patients she saw was wide: some had just been diagnosed with lymphoma, others were in the middle of their treatment, and still others had been in remission for years. Dr. Noy welcomed patients to her office, performed the necessary exams and procedures, and gave them time to tell her of any health complaints. She was consistently honest and frank with patients who asked her about their diagnosis. She expressed to me the importance of retaining a calm and relaxed persona while interacting with patients suffering from lymphoma, but said the truth was always shared openly. Although it was hard for her to share bad news, she did so whenever she had it. She was candid with patients who she felt had a cancer that was life threatening, emphasizing that making sure patients fully understand their condition is crucial.

After observing her with a few patients, I asked Dr. Noy if she ever feels overwhelmed by the bad news that seems to inevitably come up in her job. She responded, “Yes, but that’s why I come to work every morning.” I realized, after hearing her response, that the work she does is difficult and heart-breaking, but it’s importance extends beyond that. Her attitude towards her work is one I would like to have in my future career endeavors. The Princeternship made me confident that I would like to pursue a career, perhaps similar to Dr. Noy’s career in medicine, that challenges me daily and that rests on a commitment to help others. My experience at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was incredible and eye-opening, exposing me to a field of medicine in which I have always been interested.