Northwestern Medicine internship program benefits both student and physician
Premed student Katrina Maktaz is on track to earn her bachelor's degree in biology next spring from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
At that point she'll look toward potential medical careers in cardiology, pediatrics, and dermatology. Or perhaps otolaryngology, the ear, nose and throat doctors.
That's a diverse group of specialties. Her interest in them was piqued this summer in what the Wheeling High School graduate called a "unique opportunity," the Northwestern Medicine premed summer internship program.
Led the past four years by Glenview resident Dr. Micah Eimer, a cardiologist and the medical director of Northwestern Medicine's Glenview, Deerfield and Evanston outpatient centers, the 8-week paid program provides premed students the chance to shadow mentoring physicians, attend lectures and work on a clinical project.
They're also able to rotate to different specialties on a weekly basis; Northwestern Medicine offers 45 different departments, Eimer said.
For Maktaz, the first in her family to attend college, her clinical project was the multidisciplinary integration of continuous glucose monitors in primary care -- for us lay people, a study on diabetes management. She'll continue in it even after she returns to Nova Southeastern on Aug. 16.
"I think this program really allowed me to see medicine from different aspects. I think it gave me that inspiration but also verified my passion with medicine," said Maktaz, who joined Eimer at the Glenview Outpatient Center and at Lake Forest Hospital, among the six regional hospitals hosting the program.
"Seeing different doctors at Northwestern made me understand that this is what I really wanted to do, and see into my future studies. It's an amazing program, I'm very lucky to be a part of it," she said.
The internship's appeal is shown by the number of students applying for a small number of spots, from across the country plus Puerto Rico and Canada. This year's class of 51 -- a large increase from 15 in the program's debut six years ago -- reflects only about 4% of approximately 1,200 applicants, Eimer said.
Students for this session came from 21 colleges and universities, including Brown, Chicago, Cornell, Howard, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, and Northwestern.
Including this summer's class, 194 students have gone through the program since Northwestern Memorial HealthCare President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Howard Chrisman started it.
"We have several key focuses," Eimer said. "One of them is getting them into medical school, so we talk about what it takes to be a physician and what medical schools are looking for.
"But we also talk about just the field of health care and how important teamwork is in health care. As doctors we don't always appreciate all the other team members that make this happen, so we spend a lot of time talking about nurses and social workers and administrators and physical therapists -- the whole team required to make this thing work."
The curriculum can extend to minutiae -- but minutiae students need to take the next step. Eimer said he taught students who are expert at sending text messages how to properly compose emails in order to communicate better with doctors.
For the past three years, Eimer said, a goal of the program is to extend it to a wider range of candidates. Embracing diversity, the internship has increased its participation of what Eimer called "URM," or under-represented medicine. These are students who are Black, Hispanic or, like Maktaz, first-generation college students.
Of the 51 students who attended this year's summer program, 39% of them were in this group. Their ability to shadow physicians and participate in studies, which Eimer said is mandatory for applying to a medical school, is crucial for candidates such as Maktaz who lack contacts in the field.
"An interesting twist," Eimer said, is the internship program also seems to reinvigorate participating doctors. Eimer equated it to exercise: No matter how busy one is, one feels better having done it.
"I think the issue is that the system is overburdened at the moment, and physicians can get overworked and sort of lose track of the joy of medicine, and why they went into it in the first place. I don't think there's a better way to reclaim that than to step back and mentor a student and see how excited they become hearing about medicine."
That was the case with Maktaz. Though she put in the equivalent of an 8-hour day she found that between working with "wonderful" doctors and participating in the diabetes study, the program struck a "perfect balance" while it also clinched her decision to become a physician.
"The hands-on experience that I gained really pushed me to love medicine even more, and pushed me to fight for this career," she said. "It made me fall in love with medicine again."