Long Hours and Total Immersion? Interns Say, Yes, Please!
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Published on October 05, 2021

Dr Sujit Vijay Sakpal explains donor programs to interns

Long Hours and Total Immersion? Interns Say, Yes, Please!

When South Dakota State University biochemistry student Caitlynn McGregor showed up for her first day of her Avera internship, her introduction was brief – and then she was in surgical scrubs a few minutes later.

“It was a true immersion, seeing surgery, and all that goes with it, on my first day,” said the 20-year-old Salem, SD, native. That front-row seat is what she wanted, and while it was a long first day, it was worth every second.

“When you’re thinking of being a doctor, you really don’t know what the daily life of a doctor is like. That’s why this internship was perfect – it taught me so many details about what physicians do, and when,” she said. “The way the team functioned so smoothly, from conference room to the ICU to surgery – it really solidified my thinking about medical school.”

McGregor worked in long-term care and as a patient care technician before the internship, so she was familiar with aspects of health care. The program gave her front-row seating to a medical specialty.

“We’d spend time with patients and families, and see patients who were sick, jaundiced and struggling,” said McGregor. “Then we’d see them after surgery, or during the post-op care appointments, and they would be so much healthier – and happier. It was like – this is what I want to do.”

Most importantly, it cemented her thinking on what comes next in her life.

“The future can be scary or uncertain for anyone – but the time I spent with the team at Avera Transplant gave me what I needed,” she said. “For anyone considering a career in health care – this is an amazing learning experience.”

She now serves as an advanced intern since the Avera Abdominal Transplant Undergraduate Internship program welcomed another 15 students in July 2021.

Avera Internship Puts Students Face-to-Face with Health Care

Dr Sujit Vijay Sakpal meets with internsSujit Vijay Sakpal, MD, right, meets with students,
from left, Eliza Peters and Caitlynn McGregor.

McGregor was part of the program, created specifically to help students get up close and personal with medical realities – from long hours to the extreme pride of seeing patients thrive after successful treatment.

“There are a surprising number of people who complete medical school and then never want to be practicing physicians, and while there are many factors behind this reality, immersive experiences in health care can help one find true interests and pursue a career,” said Sujit Vijay Sakpal, MD, FACS, FICS, an Avera Medical Group specialist physician in transplantation, surgery and critical care. Dr. Sakpal also serves as an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine.

The program lets students spend time with surgeons and other transplant physicians, clinical coordinators, pharmacists, dietitians, social workers, advance practice providers and surgical techs work as a single, united team.

The internship program is just one way Avera is helping foster more interest in medical careers in addition to a variety of partnerships with higher education institutions.

“We’re proud to offer students from around the region these chances to plunge into patient care and specialty medicine,” said Pam Hilber, Director of Talent Development for Avera Health.

Cherishing the Chaos of a Rewarding-But-Demanding Career

Growing up with a family of athletes and a physician mom, South Dakota State University student Eliza Peters is a native of the Land of Chaos.

Because changes can happen at any time, transplant care can seem unpredictable as well. “I loved that – it was a perfect fit for me,” said Peters, a Sioux Falls native. “On my first day, I came in at 7 p.m. and left at 5 a.m. the next morning, I was still there, absorbing everything I could. The team was like ‘You need to go home and get some sleep!’”

Peters was set to go to Spain and take part in a clinical shadowing program – and then COVID-19 hit. She wanted some sort of clinical opportunity if she was going to continue her plans for medical school and beyond.

“Transplant is like its own health care universe. It was a perfect place to shadow and learn,” said the human biology major, who, like McGregor, is continuing now as an advanced intern in the program. “We were quizzed, but in an inclusive way. It was like a taste of medical school – without the overwhelming intensity.”

Since the students were imbedded with a specialized medical team, Peters said she could see how the team operated.

“There was an overarching care team approach that we got to see in action, and a lot of times that atmosphere was awe-inspiring,” she said. “Watching surgeries, the many hours of physiology and anatomy lectures and labs came to life.”

Witnessing the work of the team – in person – helped her better realize her future plans.

“There was a night-and-day difference between seeing an ill patient in ICU, then seeing them with an entirely new future after transplant,” Peters said. “I really understand what I want to do now. Any student would gain from experiences like these.”

While the 2021 program is underway, you can learn more about Avera internship opportunities.

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