Externship at West Penn Hospital
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Chris Edwards

Major: Psychology B.S.
Hometown: State College, Pennsylvania

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I was looking for a summer opportunity related to medicine to gain clinical experience and bolster my resume.  My father had a contact with a Highmark employee who had connections to the director of medicine at West Penn in Pittsburgh, PA.  I called the director of medicine and he helped me to set up an 8 week externship in the Pain Institute and the Burn Center.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

In the Pain Institute, I spent most of my time shadowing the resident and attending physicians who interact with chronic pain patients.  I was also able to overhear the discussions the doctors had behind the scenes about the individual treatment plans developed for each patient based on their unique history and physical examination.  I had the opportunity to ask many questions and was surprised by how willing everybody was to teach.  I learned from a variety of people and saw that many had different perspectives on how best to treat pain.  I learned a lot about pain medication and how to handle opioid drugs to prevent addiction behaviors. In addition to standard outpatient visits, I also observed injections and spinal cord stimulator implants and learned about the technology behind the equipment being used in both procedures.  Even when I wasn’t seeing patients, simply talking to the doctors at various stages in their education was helpful to get a sense of what the next ten years will be like for me.

“Overall, my experiences in the hospital gave me great exposure to the medical field which will surely help to inform my decisions regarding my own career.”

In the Burn Center, I followed a group consisting of physician assistant students, a medical student, a physician assistant, and two general surgeons with a specialty in burns.  I saw severely burned patients and watched skin graft surgeries being performed to promote skin growth in the affected areas.  I learned a lot about proper sterile surgical techniques and the theory behind healing burns in a cosmetically appealing way while preventing infection.  I also learned from a variety of other people who specialized in nutrition, physical therapy, and social work, as taking care of burn patients is an extensive process which requires the help of many experts.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

I learned a lot about medicine from the students and professionals I had the opportunity to work with.  I saw people from a variety of educational backgrounds, including people who chose to become nurses, allopathic doctors, osteopathic doctors, physician’s assistants, and more.  This experience helped me to confirm that medical school is what I want to pursue after graduating from Penn State.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I think students should try to actively find opportunities to gain more experience in the area they are interested in.  It will help students make informed decisions about their future careers and will strengthen students’ resumes.  I also encourage people to go to a location unfamiliar to them as opposed to finding something near home.  It is a good way for people to branch out and experience living in a different city.

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