Six Blair students experienced an eye-opening day in the life of a surgeon in mid-April when they traveled to Northwell Health’s Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, New York, to shadow gynecologic oncologist Dr. Benjamin Schwartz P’21. For a full day beginning at 7 a.m., the surgical scrubs-clad students and their chaperone, technology teacher Michael Garrant, rotated into the operating room and stood side-by-side with Dr. Schwartz and his medical colleagues as they performed robotic and conventional surgeries.
“I found the entire experience fascinating beyond all expectations, definitely an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Kendrick Ng-Yow ’19. “I shadowed a total of five different surgeries, the second one being the highlight of the day as I was able to observe a C-section birth. I was not at all expecting to hear the first cries of a child coming into this world, so that alone made the trip magical.”
It All Started at Skeptics
The chairman of Southside’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Schwartz is a specialist in minimally invasive surgery. He spoke about his experience with robotic surgery at the Society of Skeptics in October 2018 and, as part of his visit, gave students the opportunity to test the daVinci® Surgical System, a leading-edge robotic platform designed to expand the surgeon’s capabilities and offer different options for patients.
Students flocked to the Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration that autumn afternoon to try their hand at operating the daVinci® Surgical System. “There was so much interest and excitement among students that Dr. Schwartz generously offered to host a shadowing opportunity at Southside Hospital,” Mr. Garrant explained. Students eagerly applied for the available spaces, and those who were chosen experienced an up-close view of the daVinci® system in the hospital’s operating suite and much more.
An ‘Incredible,’ ‘Surreal,’ ‘Amazing’ Day
“When we arrived at the hospital, we got our visitor badges and were escorted to Dr. Schwartz’s office,” recounted Essie Pasternak ’19, whose interest in a possible medical career led her to apply for the trip. “After introductions, we were given scrubs to wear—and this is where it started to get interesting. Once we were gowned in sanitary jackets, hair caps, masks and booties, we proceeded upstairs to the operating room. Next thing I know, I’m in an OR and I’ve just witnessed the birth of a baby boy, the miracle of life…and it was absolutely beautiful.”
Throughout the day, Essie was captivated by the way the nurses and surgeons tirelessly handled their tasks and cared for their patients with smiles on their faces. “The extra time they spent with patients—going out of their way—has really stuck with me,” she continued. “At this point in my life, I am preparing for college and deciding what I would like to do with my future. After this day, I know I can change the world by becoming a surgeon, specifically in pediatrics. I now hope to change lives through medicine.”
Christina Enodien ’20 especially appreciated the opportunity to stand alongside Dr. Schwartz as he performed robotic surgeries, while Emia Musabegovic ’20 described the whole experience as one of the most incredible things she has ever done. “I observed six surgeries, three of which were done with the daVinci® Surgical System,” she said. “Having never had surgery myself, this was a new experience that I knew I couldn’t get anywhere else. Dr. Schwartz and his colleagues were excellent in answering all of our questions and explaining the processes while making sure we were comfortable. The atmosphere during the surgeries was incredible, especially for those of us with no previous medical exposure.”
Seeing how medical professionals work together as a team was a big takeaway for Madina Shabazz ’20, who is also considering a future in healthcare. “We watched surgeries from just a few feet away, but there were large screens displaying what was taking place via cameras, so we could see everything, even if our view was obstructed as the doctors all worked together,” she said. “This was truly an insightful look into the life of a surgeon, and it had to be one of the most surreal and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had.”
Mr. Garrant noted that students learned about human anatomy and physiology as they stood side-by-side with Dr. Schwartz and the nurses, physician’s assistants and anesthesiologists on the surgical teams. “They also had a chance to see how technology, particularly the daVinci® robot, operates in a surgical suite. There were many highlights throughout the day, and each student returned to Blair with amazing stories to tell.”