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From the College of Natural Sciences
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In the Shadow of Giants

In the Shadow of Giants
Reginald Baptiste and studentsFor Dr. Reginald Baptiste, who is coordinating a mentorship program that allows undergraduates in the College of Natural Sciences to shadow health professionals, the value of getting an early glimpse of the medical life is evident from his own life.

“I was in junior high school when I decided I wanted to be a doctor,” says Baptiste, who’s now a cardiothoracic surgeon in Austin. “I met a surgeon at our school’s career day and ended up being able to shadow him at the hospital.”

Baptiste, who grew up in Houston, worked as a blood collector at the Texas Medical Center while in high school. While there, he observed some of the pioneers in the field of cardiothoracic surgery. By the time he arrived at The University of Texas at Austin, in 1982, thanks to that early exposure to surgery, he knew what he wanted to be.

When he was asked by Dean Rankin to join the college’s advisory council, and to chair the council’s health professions task force, he felt like he really couldn’t say no. By the spring semester, working with the St. David’s HealthCare system and Capital Emergency Associates, he had set up a program that enabled more than 200 pre-health professions undergraduates to shadow doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and physicians assistants in the Austin area.

“I didn’t think I was actually going to be in the operating room,” says Leah Kolar, a third-year chemistry major who was able to spend a day at the hospital observing Baptiste and one his colleagues perform open heart surgeries. “You know how it is on television, where students are observing from above, in stadium-style seats. I thought it was going to be like that, but we got there, and he said, ‘you’ve got to scrub up.’

“Suddenly I was in there in the room with the doctors and nurses. They had me stand at the head of the patient while they were doing the surgery. It was crazy.”

In addition to the mentoring, the students in the program meet as a class every Friday throughout the spring semester for lectures, question-and-answer sessions and panel discussions from different health professionals. Baptiste says it’s an opportunity for the students to get to ask the most basic questions about what life in the health professions is like, and a chance for the professionals to give the students a heads-up about some of the difficult choices they’re going to have to make.

“It makes sense to do something like this for the students,” says Baptiste. “UT has always offered an excellent academic experience for pre-health professions students, but we need to do a better job making sure students are on the right track career-wise. The earlier we can give them exposure, and help them make the right decision, the better off they’ll be.”

For Kolar, the program has worked as intended. She realized that she doesn’t want to be a heart surgeon, but she was inspired to reach out to a pediatrician who spoke at one of the Friday afternoon seminars. She arranged to shadow that doctor later in the semester, and now thinks that she might want to become a pediatrician and feels more confident about applying for medical school.

“I’ve become a real believer in the idea of shadowing,” she says. “You really get to see what it’s like, whether you’re inspired or turned off.”

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Friday, 27 January 2023

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