Better Physicians - One Student At A Time
Maribeth Morral, a third year medical student at Penn State College of Medicine, shares that her first exposure to rheumatology was simply the product of a chance encounter. In the first year of medical school at Penn State, medical students are assigned to track a chronically ill patient throughout the year as a learning experience. Morral’s patient happened to be an 11-year old girl diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
What started out as a chance encounter soon turned into an enriching summer experience and a possible career.
“Before I was matched with my patient during that first year, I hadn’t really given much thought to rheumatic diseases and I didn’t really know all that much about them. I didn’t really even realize that young children could develop arthritis,” explains Morral. “After spending the year meeting with my patient and her family, I was really struck by how great an impact this chronic disease can have on those who have to deal with it and I started to develop an interest in pediatric rheumatology. I knew I wanted to learn more.”
With her interest sparked, Morral set her sights on a summer research project in the area of pediatric rheumatology. She connected with Barbara E. Ostrov, MD, a pediatric and adult rheumatologist, who agreed to let Morral participate in Ostrov’s clinical research project – a study exploring the risk factors leading to pseudoporphyria, a condition linked to NSAID therapy in young patients that can cause chicken pox-like scars on the body.
While Morral was working on the research project, Dr. Ostrov – a long-time mentor quite familiar with the REF Preceptorship awards program – encouraged her to consider the ACR REF/Abbott Medical Student Clinical Preceptorship.
“Even though it would mean a really busy summer for me, the timing was perfect,” recalls Morral. “Dr. Ostrov’s research project was clinical. The Preceptorship experience would be clinical, and more importantly, Dr. Ostrov would be my Preceptor. I already enjoyed working with her and knew she had lot to teach me. Plus, this would be the perfect crash course in rheumatology, still affording me an opportunity to explore other specialties and subspecialties during future summers.”
Maribeth Morral and Dr. Ostrov applied for and were accepted to participate in the ACR REF/Abbott Medical Student Clinical Preceptorship program. So, at the same time Morral was working with Dr. Ostrov on the pseudoporphyria research project, she also shadowed Dr. Ostrov while Ostrov saw patients – a cross-section of patients representing a mix of both adult and pediatric cases – as part of her Preceptorship.
“This was my first clinical experience,” recalls Morral. “Dr. Ostrov was amazing at dealing with her patients, striking a great balance between friend and physician with them. I really learned a lot about successful patient/physician interaction. I also gained a great deal of confidence in my own emerging bedside manner. As the summer progressed, Dr. Ostrov let me see some of her patients on my own, without her initially being in the room.”
Another highlight of Morral’s summer experience came when she got to spend a few days with Dr. Ostrov at a pediatric rheumatology summer camp for children and teens. Ostrov. “That was such an illuminating experience. To see kids who are dealing with rheumatic diseases getting to be kids and finding out that they aren’t alone, that there are other kids out there with the same conditions, made the work that I was doing on the research and during the clinical rounds all the more meaningful.”
Even though the clinical rounds portion of her Preceptorship experience was now complete, Morral attended the 2006 ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, DC, in November of that year as the final part of the program. Morral still keeps in touch with Dr. Ostrov. The two talk or e-mail weekly and Morral considers Dr. Ostrov to be one of her most trusted advisors.
Maribeth Morral is certain that her Preceptorship experience will have a lasting effect on her medical career, though she’s not yet sure the direction her career will take. “The summer Clinical Preceptorship was an amazing experience and I learned so much about rheumatology and how I might build a career for myself in this subspecialty. It’s definitely at the top of my list of possibilities, but there are a few other areas I want to explore before deciding on my path,” admits Morral.
And, although she isn’t quite ready to commit to a future in rheumatology, Morral did have this to say, “I now understand that rheumatic diseases literally affect nearly every part of the body. Diagnosis of these diseases can be challenging, often involving many differentials, and successful treatment can be equally complex. Yet, the opportunity to provide chronic care for these patients seems so rewarding to the rheumatologists I’ve encountered. What I learned from them about diagnosis, treatment and bedside manner will make me a better physician, no matter what subspecialty I decide to pursue.”
Maribeth Morral is a third year medical student at Penn State College of Medicine. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Richmond.
About the Award
The ACR REF/Abbott Medical Student Clinical Preceptorship, part of the REF awards portfolio, is designed specifically for students who are between the first and second year of medical school and introduces these students to the specialty of rheumatology by supporting a full-time, three-month clinical experience. Both Preceptors and students may apply for this award.
Funding for this award is made possible through the Abbott Endowment for Rheumatology Development.