Biology Students Assist Surgical Team in Austria

Song Gao
Nergess Taheri

Corynne Dignan and Nergess Taheri pursued their dreams of careers in medicine by spending the summer in Graz, Austria, where the students assisted a medical team of transplant surgeons at Landeskrankenhaus(LKH) hospital.

Dignan and Taheri, biology majors at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, were the most recent students from Nova Southeastern University to participate in this unique, hands-on internship developed and coordinated by Mark Jaffe, D.P.M., associate professor at the college’s Division of Math, Science, and Technology. This past summer, the students were mentored by Robin Sherman, Ph.D., associate professor and associate director of the division.

Taheri, a senior in the Undergraduate Honors Program, and Dignan, a junior in the Dual Admission Program, assisted a medical team in multiple-organ transplant and explantation surgeries. They also were responsible for daily hospital rounds and assisting doctors with research projects. Recently, the two students spoke to the college about the experience.

Song Gao
Corynne Dignan and Nergess Taheri with
Michael Sereinigg, M.D

What was your typical day like at the hospital?
Taheri:  I was primarily assisting in a number of different surgeries. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and started my rounds at 7:00. My rounds consisted of doing blood work and giving patients their intravenous medication. This would take about an hour and a half to complete. Afterward, I would check to see what surgeries were scheduled for that morning and where I could assist. Each surgery differed in length. By 4:00 p.m., I was usually assisting other doctors with research projects in the zoology research department. This research took about three to four hours each day.

Dignan: Every morning, we reported to the surgical ward at 7:00 a.m. to observe and participate in rounds and collect blood work. By the end of the internship, we were able to take blood from patients on our own. Usually our days were spent on the operating floor, either observing or assisting in multi-organ explantations and implantations. This included heart surgery and many other amazing procedures.

What were some of the challenges of this internship?
Taheri: On my first day, I was given a phone. This was how the hospital contacted me for surgeries. I was on call 24/7. I was called in the middle of the night and during meals. But, I enjoyed being on call because it allowed me to experience the life of a surgical resident. One day, I was called to assist in an emergency multi-organ explantation in another city. I took a two-hour ambulance ride and assisted in a five-hour surgery that removed the liver and kidneys from a 74-year-old donor. My experiences in Austria are things I will never forget.

Dignan:  I was able to shadow a team and live the life of a surgeon for six weeks in a foreign country. Not only was I learning about medicine, but I was adapting to the culture in a foreign country. This internship allowed me to assist in the operating theatre, an opportunity that I will not see again until I am a surgical resident.

How was this experience beneficial to you?
Taheri:  I had planned to enter the field of medicine. But this internship gave me the opportunity to assist in research experiments. Now, I have come to enjoy both professions: medicine and research. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I learned things that I would not normally learn until medical school, and this opportunity gave me practical, hands-on experience. It has strengthened my goal to succeed in my studies and motivated me to pursue a future in medicine.

Dignan: This experience helped me decide if medicine is the right career choice for me. I can now honestly say that I plan to attend medical school and become a surgeon. Words cannot express how lucky I am to have been given this opportunity. I wish everyone could experience this rare chance to be exposed to something they only dream about as an undergraduate.