ECU Honors College student Leela Goel operates the da Vinci Surgical System as part of an internship with the East Carolina Heart Institute. (Contributed photos)

Honors students intern with ECU physicians in summer program

Aug. 13, 2014

By Jessica Nottingham
ECU Honors College

With their eyes focused on careers in medicine, two East Carolina University honors students saw first-hand the experiences of physicians through a six-week summer internship at the East Carolina Heart Institute.

Honors College and EC Scholar students Leela Goel of Raleigh and Ryan Baucom of Marshville shadowed cardiothoracic surgeons, pediatric cardiologists and interventional cardiologists during patient appointments and surgical procedures. Surgery was the primary focus of the internship requiring three to four days a week of observation in the operating room.
Left to right are Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood Jr., director of the East Carolina Heart Institute, with EC Scholars Leela Goel and Ryan Baucom. Goel holds a plaque with the names of other Honors College students who have completed the ECHI internship program in previous years.

“They have gotten to observe exactly what the surgeon is seeing,” said Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood Jr., director of the ECHI.

“This experience helps decrease the learning curve and increases patient safety and efficacy. [The internship] is high-level, fast learning and involves biology, chemistry, physiology and pharmacology—what they’ve learned in class. It doesn’t all click until they get to work with a patient.”

Beyond witnessing patient treatment planning, surgery and recovery, the students discovered the integral role of advancing technology in patient care. In the ECHI Robotic Surgery Center for Training and Education, Goel worked closely with operators and engineers of the da Vinci Si Surgical System, a minimally-invasive robotic system controlled by surgeons.

“As a biomedical engineering major, I was fascinated by all of the medical technology,” said Goel, a rising junior. “I was especially interested in the medical imaging technologies used, as well as the instrumentation for the da Vinci and the hand tools the surgeons used. This internship has helped me refocus, and now I know that I want to pursue medical research as a physician-scientist.”

Patient interaction and communication were new aspects of medicine for Goel and Baucom. “Throughout the week we would shadow various physicians to see how they evaluate patients and communicate complex medical conditions in ways that patients could easily understand,” said Goel.

To complete the internship, Goel and Baucom selected a procedure to research and present to the ECHI surgical team that would demonstrate their understanding of a particular case and the patient’s treatment.

“The presentation gave us the opportunity to research a case that was interesting,” said Baucom, a senior biochemistry major. “I learned a great deal about hepatocellular carcinomas invading into the right atrium during my research and we are planning on trying to get this case study published.”

The ECHI and the Honors College have partnered to provide two spots each summer in this internship program for ECU honors students. The Honors College facilitates the competitive application process for ECU students annually. ECHI also accepts Park Scholars from North Carolina State University and students from Hampton-Sydney College each year to participate in the program.

“This internship is very unique and it is something that I would not be able to do anywhere else,” said Baucom. “If not for the Honors College initially setting up the summer internship, we may have never gotten an opportunity to work with some of the best surgeons in the country. This internship has strengthened my desire to go into medicine.”

Goel and Baucom participated in an internship that included an introduction to surgeries completed using the da Vinci robotic surgery system. The two are pictured with components of that system.