Enter the keywords “physician shadow” into Google’s search field and you’ll find a bevy of relevant opportunities at medical associations and universities alike. But, enter “virtual physician shadow” and the search results narrow dramatically. This is the reality that many students faced last summer: In a time of virtual-only learning, how does a liberal arts student on a pre-med path gain “in-the-field” job shadowing experience when there are so few options? 

The LSA Opportunity Hub saw — well, an opportunity. 

“At the height of the pandemic, I was unfortunately sending out a bout of cancelation notices to a handful of students who were set to shadow physicians in-person from around the country, one of which included Dr. Nikhil Verma, an LSA alum, at Chicago’s Rush Medical Center. Then it dawned on me: why not use this as an opportunity to pivot our programming to serve not just a few students — but hundreds at a time?” says Jordan McAdory, Internship Program Coordinator at the Hub.

Dr. Verma is a Sports Medicine and Shoulder physician who performs over 500 procedures per year. He specializes in the treatment of the shoulder, elbow, and knee with an emphasis on advanced arthroscopic reconstructive techniques. He is also the Director of the Division of Sports Medicine as well as Director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship Program at Rush University Medical Center. In addition, Dr. Verma serves as a team physician for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls.

Undeterred by the cancelations, Jordan re-connected with Dr. Verma and pitched the idea of replacing in-person opportunities with virtual ones. Together, they aligned on a visceral and experiential format where students could watch and observe live orthopedic surgeries. The team at Rush Medical Center quickly mobilized to actualize this idea. 

“The process was easy and seamless," Dr. Verma shares. "As Rush is an institution of learning, we already had the learning environment and all the technological platforms in place to make it happen. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we’d invite two to four students to come and shadow at the hospital but with the pandemic, the opportunity came along for us to scale these live surgeries to an even greater audience of students thereby creating more access.".

With Dr. Verma’s team focused on operationalizing these events and bringing them to life, the Hub focused on outreach efforts and getting the word out to interested students. On October 8, 2020, over 100 undergraduate LSA students joined remotely to attend a live viewing of an arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery. Students observed Dr. Verma and his team use advanced surgical techniques to fix a tear in a torn rotator cuff of the patient’s shoulder. Then on February 11, 2021, the event was repeated but this time, students had a chance to witness a left knee ACL reconstruction with BTB allograft surgery.

“The main thing that sets this live surgery experience apart from other student-focused opportunities is that the technology now allows for two-way communication. Students had a chance to ask me questions, so some of that mentoring was ongoing during the surgery. Then, we had a debrief post-surgery that opens a space for deeper engagement and learning,” says Dr. Verma. 

As the lead of the Hub’s job shadowing efforts, Jordan is no stranger to the power of mentoring. Her current role has her coordinating opportunities for students interested in white-coat medicine, healthcare, and public health and she’s witnessed a fair share of short-term connections that have netted out positively for students. 

“These professional experiences are only possible because of the partnerships we’ve developed with our top supporters. Many folks think financial contributions are the key to unlocking these opportunities — and of course, that’s part of the equation — but it’s the time and talent that alums and employers provide that makes all of this a reality for students.”

LSA undergraduates about to embark on new Hub-provided experiences typically meet with Internship Program Coordinators like Jordan for one-on-one coaching and reflection before, during, and after. This is what one student attendee shared post-experience:

“The surgery was incredible!! Almost felt like I was there myself. Thank you so much for letting us know about this incredible opportunity and really look forward to more in the future.”

For Jordan and many others at the Hub, this is the kind of feedback that drives their work and motivates their service to students.

“It’s affirmation that we’re doing something right. Think about the value proposition here: LSA students get unprecedented access to observe surgeries that use leading technology in the field. They also get a chance to ask the physician questions and gain insights about this work more broadly — life as a physician, how elective surgeries get handled during a pandemic, and medical-related questions — all in the pursuit of knowledge. This knowledge is what helps them discern if this is something they really want to pursue as a job function, career, or vocation.”

The Hub’s partnership with Dr. Verma, and by extension the team at Rush Medical Center, has grown since. This summer, LSA students competed to participate in a special internship program that provided an exclusive 8-week opportunity to shadow Dr. Verma in-person, in a clinical setting, and in the operating room, while also working on orthopedic medicine research. 

“Both my parents were passionate about education and in large part responsible for my success, and so along with volunteering my time, my wife Shaila and I have funded an endowed grant in their honor that will help provide financial support for students to take advantage of these summer opportunities,” Dr. Verma shares.

When asked why he thinks other LSA alums should get involved with undergraduate students, Dr. Verma shares:

“When I was an undergrad, opportunities like this were hard to come by. Invariably, there are usually a small group of individuals who took the time, and made the effort to share an experience with us that provided the spark to ignite our passion. For me, it was a general surgeon at U-M who involved me in research and introduced me to the world of the operating room. It’s important for alums like me to help undergraduate students, who are 19 or 20 years old, with critical decisions like career choices. Now, it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and provide similar inspiration to today’s LSA students. All of us have a passion within us, it just takes the right mentor and opportunities to make it shine. If I can impart a passion for orthopedic sports medicine into just one student attending an event, it’s been a success in my mind."

For LSA alums who are interested in engaging but are unsure how their contributions could be shaped, Dr. Verma has some final advice for that too:

“My biggest message to them would be, ‘It’s easier than you think.’ The staff at the Hub are amazing and passionate about what they do. They are creative and willing to work with you to find win-win opportunities that are achievable. We are all busy in life, and if the lift is too great, most times it won’t get done. With the Hub, they make it easy to get engaged, and when you see the excitement you can generate in students, the returns are tangible.”

To start working with the Hub on creating student access to experiential learning opportunities, we welcome you to reach out to lsa-opphub@umich.edu and get connected with an Regional Alum Engagement Manager.