The Doctor Is In

Motivated students welcome medical experts to the Ramaz pre-med club.

‘So, you want to be a doctor?” That question — or some permutation thereof – has been posed by many of the speakers who have come to address the pre-med club at the Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. Well, I do want to be a doctor and I’ve decided that the road to medicine begins with some modest first steps. 

In the beginning of junior year, I proposed creating a pre-med club. The goal was to bring the exciting world of medicine to students who already had an interest in the field as well as to those who were less sure of their career goals.

I was a bit apprehensive about the chances of success for such a club especially when I posed the idea to the school administration and was told that 30 students would need to sign up in advance to indicate their interest in the club.  To my surprise and delight, more than 60 students signed up and at that point it was full speed ahead.  Geena Frumkin, a senior at Ramaz, was one of the first to sign up. “I joined the pre-med club because it seemed genuinely interesting and fun and since I’m definitely considering going into medicine in the future, the pre-med club is a great way to learn about the various fields,” she said.

In the first eight months of the club’s existence, from October 2008 to June 2009, we had the privilege of hearing from 16 unique representatives of the medical field. Speakers are identified from medical literature, through summer programs I have attended and through personal connections with students at Ramaz. I contact each doctor and no fee of any kind is paid. I’m grateful to all of them for being so generous with their time.

The club meets each week after school and we have speakers approximately every other week. The inaugural speaker was Dr. Steven Silbering, director of Pre-Health Professions and Advisement of the BA-MD program at Brooklyn College in conjunction with SUNY Downstate Medical School. Silbering gave us our first real glimpse into the world of medical school and the vast choices available within that world. 

Brooklyn College’s program is an eight-year one. Silbering noted that being part of a combined program lessens the stress associated with pre-medical studies and the application process. And it has been harder and harder each year to get into a U.S. medical school, he added.

Rabbi Dr. Richard Weiss is the spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Hillcrest in Queens and a specialist in medical ethics. Rabbi Weiss led a spirited discussion with the club members centering on medical ethics in relation to infertility and end-of-life care. What was especially exciting about Rabbi Weiss’ talk was that he engaged the entire group and the experience really stimulated us to think about Jewish ethics and how these apply to medical practice.

Another fascinating speaker from last year was Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of The World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at Mount Sinai Hospital, and a world-renowned specialist in occupational and environmental medicine. Moline discussed the health problems that have been identified in many of those who worked at Ground Zero.

“The most important task ahead is securing funding to make sure that these programs stay alive,” she said. “It would be inhuman and a disservice to those who selflessly volunteered or worked down there in that situation to abandon them and not to continue monitoring their health status in years to come.”

The pre-med club has been fortunate to hear practitioners from a diverse range of medical specialties.  “Hearing from all kinds of doctors in different specialties gives me an honest look into the world of medicine and what I might one day like to pursue,” said Davida Herschkopf, a Ramaz senior.

One of the most intriguing fields in medicine is plastic surgery and to explore that arena we invited Dr. David Rapaport, a plastic surgeon in private practice in Manhattan. Rapaport shared with us vignettes about the life of a surgeon and the art that underlies plastic surgery. He explained that a surgeon always has to be excited about going into the operating room. “You have to love it,” he said. 

Dr. Emily Senay, a specialist in general preventive medicine, the director of the Master of Public Health Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a long-time medical correspondent for CBS News, spoke to the club about her unique path. After graduating medical school, she trained in internal medicine and then went on to a distinguished career in broadcast journalism.  She described her work with students as being fulfilling for her as she is especially committed to teaching.  The members of the club enjoyed listening to Dr. Senay answer questions about being on television and the experiences she has had on-air.

The concluding speaker of the school year was Dr. Julia Smith Ph.D., director of the Breast Cancer Institute and Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention Program at New York University-Langone Medical Center and a member of the NYU Medical Oncology Associates. Smith told us that we are responsible for taking care of our bodies and she recommended ways to ensure that we are effectively protected against disease. She stressed the need for healthy diets and exercise schedules, saying that these are the two best ways for teenagers to take care of themselves.  

Sarah Adler, a Ramaz senior who is involved in nutrition and health, was inspired by Smith’s presentation.  “I was interested in understanding what Smith experiences in her practice on a daily basis and getting an inside look into issues surrounding women’s health and breast cancer.”

For the upcoming school year, I am planning a full array of new speakers. “The diversity of the doctors is what makes the club so special,” said junior Shalti Serels. “It gives us all an insight into the world of medicine from several angles on a week-to-week basis.”    

I was inspired by our speakers to found “raMEDz,” the first-ever medical journal of the Ramaz Upper School published in conjunction with the pre-med club. This publication, written by students for students, represents a truly collaborative effort on the part of a number of Ramaz high school students. The journal features reviews of medical topics from the news and from medical publications as well as summaries of presentations by pre-med club speakers. raMEDz will be published in hard-copy every two months this year, following the large (25 articles) inaugural issue that was completed in May.

So what has been the upshot of exposure to all this medical talent? We’re not sure who will be lucky enough to make it all the way to medical school but we are surely going to do our part in trying to become well-informed and knowledgeable pre-med students. 

Diana Zarowin is a senior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan.

This article is reprinted from October 30, 2009