Medical interns get a leg up

Program with Spine Colorado gives students an up-close look

Tracey Williams, a senior majoring in biochemistry at Fort Lewis College, says shes excited about the broad experience she will get from her new internship at Spine Colorado and Durango Orthopedics. Its the only internship where you can do research and simultaneously be in a medical setting, Williams said. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Tracey Williams, a senior majoring in biochemistry at Fort Lewis College, says shes excited about the broad experience she will get from her new internship at Spine Colorado and Durango Orthopedics. Its the only internship where you can do research and simultaneously be in a medical setting, Williams said.

Students set on a career in medicine or those simply sorting out options can get their feet on the ground as interns in a program established by a Durango spine surgeon.

Dr. Jim Youssef, who is co-founder of Spine Colorado and is known internationally for his research, began mentoring students in 2003. Five years later, Youssef created Resources for Medical Education and Collaboration, which absorbed the internship program.

An internship, which can last from a semester to a couple of years, fosters interest in medicine, shows what the practice of medicine entails, particularly in a rural area, and provides experience that can help gain admittance to medical school or related graduate programs.

This is a nice opportunity for students to get real-world exposure to medicine, Youssef said last week. Its an exposure that often is available only to students in places like New York or Los Angeles.

Youssef said he strives to return the reception he received as a young medical student.

I worked with a pediatrician at the University of California-San Francisco, Youssef said. He was so gracious and accommodating that I want to give back.

Interns come from varied backgrounds and have many interests.

Caitlyn McCullough, executive director of Resources for Medical Education and Collaboration, said the interns receive a broad education.

They observe surgery and clinical work, contribute to research, learn how a diagnosis is made and see the dynamics of a doctor/patient relationship, McCullough said.

Mira Emmanuel-Ogier, a Durango native, interned with Youssef in 2007-08. She also worked for a Seattle clinical research organization on spine-device trials, a special interest of Youssefs.

Emmanuel-Ogier, who graduated from Colorado State University in 2007 with a degree in anthropology, is applying to graduate schools with the hope of earning a degree in public health/medical anthropology.

She has a wealth of practical experience. She will leave soon for her fourth visit to Kenya and Uganda, where she is involved in efforts to prevent and treat HIV-AIDS. The work is through the International Clinical Research Center, part of the University of Washingtons Department of Global Health.

Im there usually for two weeks, visiting nine clinics in the two countries, Emmanuel-Ogier said.

Jessica Branson interned with Durango allergist Dr. Don Cooke from January to May.

I loved it, said Branson, 21, who will graduate in December with a degree in general biology from Fort Lewis College. Im not a surgery person, but Im interested in allergies and immunology.

Branson worked with Cooke, gathering data on chronic sinusitis, specifically testing whether low doses of the antibody immunoglobulin G had an effect on sinus inflammation.

I interviewed patients and worked up case histories, Branson said. Its helping me in school because Im hearing familiar words.

Tracey Williams, a Navajo student from Keams Canyon, Ariz., started a two-year stint at Spine Colorado last week. Shell monitor any of 10 surgeons there and at Durango Orthopedics, and do research.

Williams, 23, a biochemistry major at Fort Lewis College, will participate with other spine clinics in establishing a database of surgery outcomes for the Society of Lateral Access Surgery. The goal is to document the effectiveness of minimally invasive surgery.

I dont have any specific field of medicine in mind, Williams said. I like the hands-on work in the laboratory, and I like to deal with patients.

McCullough works closely with career-service coordinators at Fort Lewis College to inform students about internships.

Mary Nicholson, the internship program manager, said doctors are generous with their time in mentoring students. She estimated each student gets 40 hours a semester of personal attention.

Its an extraordinary gift, Nicholson said. They care about young minds that dont understand yet the level of commitment medicine requires.

Resources for Medical Education and Collaboration also manages a program to educate and train spine surgeons in Belize and an osteobiologics registry. The latter documents the application and efficacy of manufactured materials in promoting healing of fractures and bone defects.

Earlier this year, the program sponsored its seventh annual spine summit.

The summit, held in Park City, Utah, had 43 presenters and an attendance of 200 medical practitioners from a couple dozen countries and 50 medical-industry representatives.

daler@durangoherald.com