I arrived at Digestive Disease Consultants in Rockville, Maryland at 7:30 am. After signing a confidentiality agreement, I met Dr. Julia Korenman ‘78, a gastroenterologist. Dr. Korenman showed me around the office and introduced me to the staff and other doctors, who were very friendly. She asked me about my interests and my previous experience with medicine. I told her that I was trying to decide between medicine and computer science. I hadn’t had any exposure to medicine besides my physical exams, so I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to shadow her.
Dr. Korenman had a busy schedule of appointments. Before each one, she asked the patient if I could observe the appointment. I’m grateful that every patient said yes. It was very interesting to listen to patients describe their symptoms, such as stomachache or constipation, and observe how Dr. Korenman identified potential causes and ordered tests or prescribed a treatment. From my experience with routine physicals, I hadn’t appreciated how important it is for a doctor to comfort patients who are anxious about serious illnesses. I was truly inspired by the honest and reassuring guidance that Dr. Korenman gave her patients. I was surprised to find that a big part of a doctor’s job is convincing patients to take her medical advice. When a patient didn’t want to take the recommended drugs or have a screening colonoscopy, I admired how Dr. Korenman presented alternatives while stating that they are less effective.
Between appointments, Dr. Korenman made calls to patients and entered patients’ paper medical records into the new electronic medical record system. Because I’m also interested in computer science, Dr. Korenman highlighted the connections between computer science and her work as a doctor. She pointed out aspects of the system that were inconvenient from a doctor’s perspective and told me that there’s a lot of room to improve health care technology. I learned that it’s very important for a software developer to directly consult the users of the product to find out what they need.
I really appreciate that Dr. Korenman explained in detail what she was doing at every step and answered all my questions. She told me that the class she took at Princeton that helps her most now is Spanish, because she offers appointments in Spanish. This surprised me, encouraged my Spanish studies at Princeton, and proved how useful speaking a second language is in any field. Dr. Korenman also told me that the most rewarding part of her job is the relationships she develops with her patients. As a gastroenterologist, she gets to know her patients well because many patients have chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease. In each appointment, I definitely saw the bond that she formed with the patient through honesty, trust, and compassion.
On the second day, I met Dr. Korenman at the procedure center at 8:00 am to observe colonoscopies and endoscopies. Dr. Korenman introduced me to the anesthesiologist and the technician who were her team in the operating room. The first procedure of the day was a colonoscopy, and I saw that it was definitely a team effort. Again, I really appreciated that Dr. Korenman explained every step of the procedure in detail.
I admired Dr. Korenman’s meticulousness in checking out every inch of the colon and cleaning it out when the prep was imperfect. She saw polyps that were almost invisible and deftly removed them. Thoughout the day, I observed four colonoscopies, one endoscopy, and two “doubles” (colonoscopy and endoscopy). It was fascinating to see the inside of the colon during a colonoscopy and the esophagus and stomach during an endoscopy.
Dr. Korenman told me that she enjoys gastroenterology because it provides a mix of hands-on work and appointments that allow her to connect with patients and that present the mental challenge of figuring out symptoms. We also had an interesting discussion about women in medicine. Dr. Korenman told me that many women prefer to see a female gastroenterologist, but most gastroenterologists are men, so female gastroenterologists are at an advantage in getting patients.
After she finished the procedures, we returned to her office, where she saw two more patients. One was a patient with Crohn’s disease who had come in the previous day, feeling terrible and almost needing to go to the hospital. Dr. Korenman prescribed steroids and he returned the second day, feeling much better. It was amazing that in just two days, I saw how a doctor really helped a suffering patient.
This Princeternship was an extremely valuable experience because it exposed me to both sides of being a doctor, performing procedures and conducting appointments, and introduced me to the fascinating specialty of gastroenterology. I would like to thank Dr. Korenman for patiently explaining everything she did, answering all my questions, and giving me great advice. I would also like to thank all the staff, doctors, and nurses for being so welcoming and Career Services for giving me this incredible opportunity. I have not yet fully decided between working in medicine and computer science, but I now have a much better understanding of medicine to make that decision.