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SUNY seniors get up-close look at health care

Emilee Stenson and Jacob “Jake” Traverse, who share a goal to become medical doctors, are gaining valuable on-the-job experience at Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk before receiving their undergraduate degree in Molecular Genetics at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

As patient care associate floats since last spring, they are building inventories of valuable skills – assisting patients with activities of daily living, drawing blood, performing EKGs and documenting other information, among a range of tasks.

Fredonia students on pre-health tracks have often worked at the Dunkirk hospital before applying to medical, physician assistant or other health professional schools, according to Department of Biology Chair and Professor Ted Lee, but it’s unusual to have two students working there simultaneously as patient care associates. Both also serve in the research lab of Department of Biology Assistant Professor Nicholas Quintyne.

Traverse, of Newfane, is based on the medical/surgical floor and occasionally shifts to emergency or intensive care. Stenson, of Attica, divides her time between medical/surgical floor and emergency. Both also assist patients in the COVID unit.

“I had been interested in working at a hospital for some time, and thought that this was a great opportunity. I was concerned because it was in the beginning of the COVID pandemic, but I thought that I would be able to help and wanted to get involved,” said Stenson, who has served as secretary of the Health Professions Club and Beta Beta Beta, the national honor society in biological sciences. She also has classmates who have been patient care associates at Brooks.

Traverse, president of the Health Professions Club and treasurer of Beta Beta Beta, was already familiar with duties of patient care associates, having observed them while job shadowing in the emergency room.

“This job has been a great opportunity to learn the basics in the medical field hands-on,” said Traverse, who has minors in Chemistry and Psychology. “Not only learning these skills but also watching different levels of care in multiple departments has given me perspective on what type of medicine I want to practice, as well as what qualities it takes to be a great doctor,” he explained.

Traverse notes that the doctor he shadows does an amazing job of teaching him while he works.

“It’s nice being able to interact with patients hands-on from the ground level, and then also take a step back and watch the team work as a whole while shadowing. I have also learned the emotional burden that comes with medicine, and the importance of being aware of one’s mental health to avoid burning out,” Traverse said.

Patient interaction and professionalism are among key attributes Stenson has gained so far at Brooks.

“I love to talk to people and interact with others, and I’ve really been able to refine my skills with my patients and with my co-workers,” said Stenson, who has minors in Chemistry and English. “Additionally, I absolutely love being able to work with members of healthcare at all levels. It’s really interesting to be able to see how everyone works together, and I’ve learned a lot about how everyone comes together to provide the best care possible.”

Appreciating character traits of sacrifice and selflessness that doctors, nurses and support staff exhibit represent the biggest takeaway of the Brooks experience for Traverse.

“The risks these individuals are willing to take every day to continue to care for patients is inspiring. I am proud to have started my career in medicine when I did, and alongside such hardworking people,” Traverse said.

For Stenson, the biggest takeaway is being able to define why she loves medicine and what drives her to continue in the field.

“All of us want to help people, but I thrive on human interaction, critical thinking, problem solving, talking to people, teamwork and so much more that I’ve experienced and seen in the workplace,” said Stenson, who enrolled as a music major at Fredonia.

Working at a hospital isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, Stenson acknowledges, “but it’s always confirmed my love for the field.” Great relationships with co-workers, newly acquired skills and experiences are other obvious takeaways, she added, and being able to finally truly understand what drives her to be in the field is an incredible takeaway.

While attending medical school and practicing emergency or pediatric medicine are ultimate goals, Traverse’s immediate plan is to enroll in a post-baccalaureate internship with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Getting an early start in emergency and internal medicine can only help me achieve my goals,” Traverse said.

An NIH program, conducting research on health disparities and genetics, is also on Stenson’s immediate horizon before medical school. Stenson’s long-term goal is to incorporate her love for medicine, research, teaching and social justice into a career. Working at Brooks has given Stenson foundational experiences, skills and relationships that she says she’ll need to succeed.

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