Life in the OR

Life in the OR

By Olivia Kaiss ‘15 and Kaitlyn Griffin ‘15
snhsLast evening, 76 students were inducted into the National Science Honor Society. Kaitlin and Olivia, members of this elite group, participated in the Summer Medical Internship Program (SMIP), a hallmark of NDP’s Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math (STEAM) program.

Everyone has his or her own perception of what a day in the OR looks like. On one hand, popular TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and General Hospital portray the extreme and ultra-fantasized versions of the doctors’ and nurses’ day-to-day tasks. It’s hard to compare these accounts to reality, but life in the OR can be exciting without relying on various plot twists and dramatic love triangles. Whether good or bad, the operating room seems to invoke vivid scenes, but most people cannot say they have seen its true-life events.

surgeryOver the summer, seniors Kaitlyn Griffin and Olivia Kaiss had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Donald Charney, a surgical anesthesiologist at the University of Maryland St. Joseph’s Medical Center, to discover what life in the OR is actually like by working and learning under those who commit their lives to helping others. It was a unique occasion that turned out to be the highlight of each girls’ summers as well as an unforgettable learning experience. Here are their experiences in their own words:


Olivia Kaiss and Dr. Donald Charney

Walking into the surgical waiting room, I had no idea of what my two weeks as a student-shadow would entail. Many different thoughts were running through my head as I waited to meet with one of the doctors. What would I see? What would I do? And how would I react to all the amazing things happening around me? I couldn’t tell if my stomach was filled with excited flutters or jittery nervousness. When the moment arrived that I was taken back into the winding corridors of St. Joseph Medical Center, I was immediately instructed to “suit up.” Almost humorously, this meant a blue, oversized bunny suit as well as a face mask and hair net.

Only moments after meeting him, Dr. Charney was animated and eager to show his work to me. I spent all the time I possibly could learning about all that he did at the hospital. Because anesthesia is so diverse, over the course of the two weeks I was able to see a mix of surgeries ranging from orthopedic to a major Liver Reversal surgery. I loved the flexibility and spontaneity that anesthesia brought; we could be working in a different department every day. Dr. Charney also stressed the importance of checking—and rechecking—labels as well as teaching other safety techniques. I was amazed to learn simply how much the technology in anesthesiology has advanced over the past 15 years.

OROne of the most remarkable surgeries included reconstructing the end of the digestive track for a two-day-old baby. Especially in this situation, I was able to see the fragile state of all human life controlled by the hard-working physicians. In additions to watching and assisting Dr. Charney during the procedures, I also experimented in charting, using an ultrasound, suturing, and putting on sterile gloves (it is sooo much harder than it looks!).

Another interesting part of the internship was being able to learn from the different surgeries and encounters of my classmates. Kaitlyn’s internship, though in theory the same, varied in many ways from mine.


Kaitlyn cropped
Kaitlyn Griffin in her other “blues”–her NDP Gym Meet tunic!

During my internship I was able to shadow in many different surgeries. I saw things ranging from spinal surgeries to gastrointestinal surgeries. My favorite surgeries to watch were the surgeries done with the DaVinci robots. These surgeries are laparoscopic, or minimally invasive. The surgeon sits at a giant console with a viewing screen set into it. He puts his face into the console and is able to see inside the person via a camera in one of the robots arms. He puts his hands underneath the console to grab the controls for the tools which he can move up and down and twist and turn and do whatever he wants with them as if he were holding the actual tools themselves. As he moves his hands, the robot mimics his actions. He presses pedals with his feet to switch between tools and to charge the tools with electricity if needed. During one of the surgeries I shadowed, I actually got the chance to sit at the DaVinci robot during the surgery and see what it looks like inside the console. The image that I saw was seemingly clearer than perfect vision and more 3D than real life. It was amazing and made me appreciate just how far medical technology has come.

DaVinci technology

Other than just watching surgeries, I actually got to take a part in them. I got to draw up and administer medications via IV, hook up fluids to IVs and to patients, and even help with a blood transfusion. Normally when you do a blood transfusion you can let the blood passively drip into the IV. During one of the surgeries I was shadowing, there was something wrong with the IV, and Dr. Charney had to resort to manually transfusing the blood. At one point he handed the job over to me. I also saw many intubations and was able to perform a practice intubation. It is a very careful process that you have to follow to the letter to ensure that you don’t injure the patient. Intubating patients helped me to learn about and better understand the way the throat and the respiratory system works. These few things that I have talked about are only part of what I got to see and do during my internship.

IDThis internship was a great opportunity to see everything I had learned from biology and anatomy class up close and personal. It is one thing to see pictures and drawings of the body or a particular organ or to even see the actual organ itself from some animal in a dissection, but it’s a whole other thing seeing the actual, live organ in a living person. I was able to see everything I had learned about in class in practical use. It’s much like learning the theory or equation behind something, and then going and testing it out and actually using it. I got to learn the theory of everything in class, and then got to witness it being used in real life and even got to use some of it myself.

As Olivia expressed for both girls: “We are so grateful to be able to work with Dr. Charney and his colleagues.  Being part of the interaction between the doctor and the patient before and after surgery revealed the amount of care and dedication that the physicians infuse into every aspect of their job. Thanks to NDP’s Summer Medical Internship, we were able to be years beyond other students interested in the medical field. I know that for me personally, this internship has cemented my dream of one day working in the OR. Hopefully someday soon in the future, I’ll be lucky enough to throw on faded blue scrubs every morning while paying homage to my True Blue roots and the incredible opportunities that started for me at NDP.”


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