By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Twenty-four medical interns, including Izzy Neel, a senior at Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., walked into a human anatomy laboratory in Ahmedabad, India, on a scorching June day.
Ten of the students felt faint and were helped out of the lab, leaving Neel and 13 others to dissect the female corpse lying on a table.
Neel, a bubbly 17-year-old who dreams of becoming a doctor, took part in the “Ultimate Med Internship” June 9 to 27 at a medical college and hospital in India — the Nathiba Hargovandas Lakhmichand Municipal Medical College and Sheth Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital in Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat, India.
The “Ultimate Med Internship” is offered by Youth Futures International — a Massachusetts-based non-profit that allows high school and college-age students to participate in internships around the world.
This particular internship, Neel said, allowed her to dive into the practice of medicine in a way only medical students usually do. Such an internship is not possible in the United States due to privacy laws, she said.
Neel said it took her a year to muster the courage to ask her parents for permission to travel to western India. But “a burning desire to go” led her to the “unforgettable experience,” which left no doubt in her mind that one day she will pursue a career in medicine, she said.
With only three weeks to experience as much as possible, Neel said her group was immersed right away. By the end of her first week in India, she’d witnessed four births, including one by cesarean section.
“I’d never seen a live birth before,” said Neel, the memory of the experience lighting up her face. “We walked into a room and eight women were in labor. It was surreal.”
Neel said she’s always wanted to be a doctor, but she realized she “needed to explore the profession more deeply” after a tour of Centre College in Danville, Ky. A professor there challenged her to come up with concrete reasons why she wanted to be a doctor.
“Besides a love of biology, a love for helping people and watching Grey’s Anatomy” she didn’t have any other answers, Neel said laughing.
She said she now has many reasons. She has even identified orthopedic surgery as the specialty she may pursue in the future.
In India, Neel spent hours in the operating room, as well as examining and dissecting a corpse. She had the opportunity to “dissect the left arm and look at the bone structure,” she said. Exploring the “skin and bones and internal organs” of someone who some time ago was “alive with thoughts and feelings was surreal,” Neel said. Being present as doctors performed surgery to repair bones, remove an enlarged prostate and an appendix was “breathtaking,” she recalled.
The highlight of her trip came the day she stood in the morgue, following an autopsy, and was allowed to stitch up the abdomen of a person who’d died four hours earlier. The sight of the medical examiner opening the scalp and removing the face was enough to send many gagging out the room, said Neel. It didn’t bother her.
“Being able to actually do these things that people practice in medical school for years was incredible,” she said.
Connie McDowell, who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at Bethlehem, said she’s not surprised Neel would travel across the globe for such an experience.
“She’s an ideal student to have in class,” said McDowell. “She’s enthusiastic and inquisitive. Her questions reflect a level of curiosity that is unusual in students her age.”
McDowell said she has plans for Neel to share her experiences with the class.
Neel’s experience will be invaluable as the semester progresses and Bethlehem classes study more complex issues, such as the nervous system, McDowell said. She also noted that Neel’s trip might be an inspiration for other students curious about the medical field.
Neel said that traveling to India and seeing how much the doctors there accomplish with few resources has given her a new appreciation for the medical profession.
“I realized it takes more than being smart to have such an occupation,” she said. “It takes passion, determination, ambition and a lot of self sacrifice. It’s not about your needs. It’s about putting your patients’ needs first.”