Week 5:
Exploring the Unknown

Dimensions Fellow in Orthopedic Research

Children's Hospital Colorado | Aurora, Colorado

July 14, 2019

A view of my favorite mountain in Colorado Springs, Pike’s Peak. The elevation on at the top is 14,115 ft.  Imagine exploring the unknown of the West and finding the Rocky Mountains!

I think that all of us have experienced the fear and anxiety of what life will be like after graduating college; entering the “real world,” but after these past few weeks, I am full of excitement for this unknown future. I  love coming to work each day and learning more about my project, how clinical research is conducted, my own goals and aspirations, medicine, doctors, healthcare in general, and how hospitals operate. I think that a lot of fear stems from the unknown, but I have realized more and more that it is exciting to traverse this uncertainty and attempt to understand and embrace what we don’t know.

The Muskuloskeletal Research Center volleyball team! We won our first two games.

Part of my excitement is a result of the discovery that I  enjoy cooking and buying food for myself and creating my schedule outside of work hours. I love going to the gym, meeting new people and forming new friendships and relationships with my RA’s, fellow interns, and doctors. I have stepped into the unknown frequently this summer. This week was the first day of grass volleyball with the MRC team which was a fun way to get to know the RA’s outside of work while also getting to spend time outside. We won our first two games and the weather was perfect!

It has been a new challenge buying healthy groceries and prepping my food for the week.

This week in the hospital, I got to learn more about the brain while shadowing Dr. Bernard in the neurology department. He is the director of the Pediatric Stroke Clinic and has interests that span from blood and clotting disorders to childhood CSVT (cerebral sinovenous thrombosis). I was able to observe him and his resident, Dr. Wood in clinic. The first patient we saw was a girl only a few years younger than me who has been through so much in her life. Dr. Bernard had to leave the room to get his laptop to look up a research study to answer one of the mother’s questions, so I got to talk with the patient and her mom for 15 minutes. I really enjoyed asking her questions and hearing more about her story and how much she has overcome to be where she is today. She had been epileptic for most of her childhood and her excitement was palpable when she told me her last seizure was two years ago.  The mother and the patient were incredibly sweet and I was inspired by their happiness and positive outlook. I also felt confident talking with them and asking/answering questions; especially since I frequently talk to families as a tour guide at Cornell.  From this encounter, I was awed by how much Dr. Bernard cared about this patient, and I could tell how close their relationship was. I was also able to observe how pediatric medicine can be vastly different depending on if you are a primary care physician, or a specialized field such as neurology.

There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic is a result of less oxygen than normal reaching the brain from an obstructed blood vessel. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened vessel ruptures.

Shadowing Dr. Wood was also a privilege and gratifying experience. Dr. Wood is from Colorado and attended Anschutz medical campus after taking a few gap years. She explained the whole case to me before we saw her patient (who was an adorable baby that was only a few months old). I got to watch the exam and discussion Dr. Wood had with the mother before we returned to the office to look at the baby’s MRI and chart information again. Dr. Wood also let me participate in the diagnosis of the patient; asking me what I had observed and if I had any ideas of what might be occurring. I felt very motivated to think critically about the case and what I know about the brain to elucidate some ideas. I simultaneously felt as if I was making an impact, even if I didn’t know everything and I was not making the actual decision. She became excited by some of my suggestions and then walked me through how she decided to order an EEG for the baby and schedule a follow up appointment before coming to any definite conclusions. Sometimes, more information is needed to decide on a course of treatment or diagnosis. It was fascinating to see how all of the information we read about and saw in the physical exam translates into a plan for care and treatment.

Overall, I think that pediatric neurology is a difficult specialty because so many of the cases are complicated and sad, but also because there is so much that we still don’t know about the human brain. There are endless questions and frontiers of exploration in medicine, but the brain is especially mysterious.

Penny had her journal club presentation this week and she did awesome. She even went into depth about the statistics in the paper to better explain the results.
My mom came to visit me for lunch!

This week, I also got to talk to Brandon, who is the medical student working through patient charts with me this summer. He left at the end of this week, so it was incredibly valuable to have the opportunity to talk to him. We touched base on the project, and he gave me some great ideas for directions to go with my project for the final presentation. I also got to ask him some questions about medical school and his advice for applying.

I recently decided to apply to medical school next year, and I always appreciate advice and input from current medical students. I have learned so much from the many conversations that I have had with people in this field including med students, doctors, nurses, EMT’s, PA’s, professors and more. I really enjoy collaborating with like-minded people and others who are as passionate about medicine and patient care as myself. Brandon said that the biggest thing he thinks that medical schools look for is passion. “Everyone is smart, has good grades, and works hard, but some students just go through the motions.” His advice was to “do what you love and it will show.” 

Always good to see some of my old friends.

At the end of my weekend, I got to meet up with my friends from club volleyball in high school and talk about our lives. My friend Abigail is planning on going to PA school, my friend Aubrey wants to be a PT, and Mary plans on owning an elite athlete gym and wellness center in the future. It is always special to see old friends and exciting to hear about where our paths are taking us, and even more exciting that we are all pursuing careers in health. This coming weekend I have a lot of hiking planned and I am excited to get up to the mountains! Ready to explore the unknown!

Alicia Phillips '20

Alicia is a biochemistry and molecular biology major and a psychology minor from Colorado Springs, Colorado.