Be a Med Student for a Day: Congressional Staffers Learn the Ropes in Project Health Education

Congressional staffers Sarah Gilbert, Kichelle Webster and Sean McCabe are trained by anesthesiology resident Dr. William Fox in a simulation session. Photos by Les Todd
Congressional staffers Sarah Gilbert, Kichelle Webster and Sean McCabe are trained by anesthesiology resident Dr. William Fox in a simulation session. Photos by Les Todd

If you’re going to set health care and health education policy, it helps to have some inside information about how it works. For the ninth year, the Duke University Health System and the Duke School of Medicine open their doors to eight congressional staffers for a two-day workshop that turned the staffers into medical students.

Project Health Education is part of a nationwide program hosted at many academic medical centers and endorsed by the Association of American Medical Colleges. These programs offer new and experienced congressional staff an on-campus experience to see the missions of education, research, clinical care and community health in person.

The students are first enrolled with a traditional white coat ceremony. They then went through simulation training in the Surgical Education and Activities Lab and Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center, received on call pagers (and yes, they got paged at night!) and shadowed physicians during real clinical rounds at Duke University Hospital.

Andy Vogt from Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions tries on his white medical coat. Assisting him is Dr. Caroline Haynes, associate dean for medical education at the School of Medicine. Photo by Les Todd
The program also included time in a National Institutes of Health-funded lab learning about the impact of research funding at an academic medical center.

The staffer/students also met with Duke Health leaders to learn their perspective on health education and health care policy. Dr. Catherine Kuhn, Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education, and Dr. David Turner, Associate Director of Graduate Medical Education, discussed graduate medical education and financing. A simulated Match Day experience put the staffers on the emotional roller coaster that real medical students go through in seeking a residency. A few of the staffers didn’t “match” with any program, just as hundreds of medical seniors annually go without a match to a first-year program. 

New this year was a partnership with UNC-Chapel Hill, where participants spent an afternoon at the UNC-CH School of Medicine and Adams School of Dentistry. There, they looked at dental education, participated in more simulations and meet with school leaders.

Dr. Mary Klotman, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for health affairs, discusses medical education with the class.