Unique summer scholars program educates next generation of providers
Like most things, the annual JACK’s Summer Scholars Program looked quite a bit different this year due to the pandemic – but the experience was unforgettable, as always, for everyone involved.
The unique JACK’s program, developed and led by Dr. Karen Hendricks-Muñoz, provides students working toward a career in medicine with an intense, 6-week experience learning from our neonatology team as they provide patient care and conduct research.
Inspiring tomorrow’s medical leaders
In years past, JACK’s has been open to undergraduate rising seniors, rising second year medical students and nursing students, with 10 applicants from throughout the country selected for the competitive program. Due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, only three VCU medical students could participate – virtually. Gigi Rotyliano-Sykes, was one of them.
“I had an interest in pediatrics and specifically neonatology even before starting medical school. When I learned there was a program where I could get a first-hand experience with the NICU team, I knew it was how I wanted to spend my summer,” said Rotyliano-Sykes. “Shadowing physicians, something many of us did before starting med school, is a great way to get an idea of what a specialty is like, but it can’t give you the kind of insight working within the field every day for six weeks can bring.”
The JACK’s program is committed to the development of medical professionalism in clinical care, medical education and research and aims to provide outstanding students with a foundational knowledge of quality improvement. The scholars are placed within ongoing health system teams to experience the collaboration needed to provide safe, patient-centered care.
A comprehensive virtual experience
Each student was paired with a senior neonatology fellow and received team guidance from Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz and her faculty colleagues. The virtual curriculum included observing weekly case management presentations in the NICU to learn about neonatal medicine cases, as well as the opportunity to participate in telemedicine visits in general pediatrics and the neonatal continuing care program.
I love working with young future physicians to help them explore the reason they want to be physicians so they will continue to keep that resilience, fortitude and dedication as they go forth in their training. This year’s students were frankly incredible! Because we were doing the program virtually for the first time, we had to do many things differently. It was evolving and developing before their eyes.
Dr. Karen Hendricks-Muñoz
Each scholar also led a quality improvement-focused research project based on the knowledge gained during the program and presented it virtually to their peers and mentors. Topics included:
- Assessing seizure risk in hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy affected infants – Vahnee Garimella
- Optimizing postnatal growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes of preterm infants – Manasi Mahashabde
- Identifying factors to predict ECMO circuit health – Gianna Rotyliano-Sykes
In addition to the in-depth neonatology experience, organized clinical rotations allowed the scholars to gain insight into other pediatric subspecialty areas, including hospital medicine, general pediatrics, emergency medicine, ENT, plastic surgery, orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery.
All in honor of Jack
The JACK’s Summer Scholars Program is funded by the Jack Cary Eichenbaum Fund, which was created in 2004 in honor of baby Jack who was born too soon. Jack’s parents supported the development of the program by Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz at her previous institution, and then a second program when she came to CHoR. Their goal is to foster clinical care and medical education excellence so that every family is provided the exceptional, compassionate and supportive care that they experienced with their son.
Jack’s mom, Karen Eisenberg, is as passionate about the program today as she was when it first began.
You have allowed Jack to make a difference in a world where he never took a single breath on his own. You have brought life to Jack. I am so proud – so blessed – to be part of a program that gives back to both the medical community and the community at large.
JACK’s continues to evolve under the leadership of Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz, advancing health care improvements and growth for the scholars as well as for every faculty member, fellow and resident involved.
“Everyone benefits from JACK’s as we work on improvements for real-life hospital and clinical challenges. JACK’s work has contributed to the science of neonatal medicine with developments in early warning tools for sepsis that are used at other centers in the nation, identification of unintended consequences of sedation in the preterm infant, and methods to decrease unintended extubations and blood transfusions to name a few. It’s a win for not only our patients, but for all patients,” said Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz.
Gigi Rotyliano-Sykes views her participation in the program as a win for her future medical career as well.
“JACK’s lived up to my every expectation and then some. Neonatology is such a collaborative field. Not only are you working with a full team of specialists, from respiratory therapists to dieticians, but you’re intimately involved in getting to know these families. For them, being in the NICU can be one of the most terrifying experiences of their lives, and it’s everyone’s job to make them feel as comforted as possible. For me, JACK’s confirmed I’m on the right path, and I hope to continue to grow and learn about this incredible field,” added Rotyliano-Sykes.