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Oct 21, 2015 · Brains at the Beach

by Amelia Van Handel

As I left my parked car behind and started running along the beach, my shoes and socks were instantly filled with gritty sand. It was mid-April and the weather was a balmy 75 degrees, even in the late evening. I could smell the briny salt in the air and was so distracted by the sun setting over the ocean skyline that I nearly stepped into a blobby pile of grey gelatin on the sand in front of me. When I paused to investigate this potential slipping hazard, it turned out to be a dead jellyfish. Dorothy, we’re not in Minnesota anymore.

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At this point, you may be wondering how I found myself running along the ocean in mid-April in the middle of my third year of medical school at Mayo Medical School in Rochester, MN. This exotic experience was made possible because of an off-campus clerkship rotation at the Mayo–Jacksonville location. In planning for my third year, I had indicated on my schedule that I would be willing to do off-campus rotations at the other Mayo sites in either Scottsdale, AZ or Jacksonville, FL, and I had the good fortune of being assigned to do my neurology rotation in Jacksonville.

When I left for Jacksonville, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the experience. The hospital was technically still Mayo, but it wasn’t the Rochester “mothership” location; would the culture still be the same? Would the caliber of teaching be maintained across several hundred miles? Should I still bring my suits with me? Would I still be able to focus on studying for the shelf when the weather was 40 degrees warmer?

When I turned up on the first day at the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic—another marvel of modern architecture with beautiful, sprawling grounds impeccably maintained—I was relieved to find that the culture shock wasn’t all that dramatic. There were plenty of be-suited physicians walking in from the parking lot, and as I walked into the atrium I was greeting with another Chihuly sculpture suspended from the ceiling over the elevator; just enough reminders of Rochester to make me feel at home.

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The inpatient neurology team I was assigned to work with was made up of two junior residents, one senior resident, and a consultant, all of whom greeted me with excitement. “We don’t get many medical students here, so it is always exciting to have one on the team!” the intern gushed as I grappled with finding my way around the unfamiliar EMR. Before I could figure it out, it was time to start table rounds, where all the patients on the inpatient service would be discussed at length. Although I was new to the team, the consultant and senior resident engaged me in the discussions about the patients, going through their stories at length to familiarize me with the census. Although I was put on the spot a few times about localizing lesions or explaining pathophysiology, it never felt like a sin to answer incorrectly. Even though these physician-educators didn’t have much experience with medical students, they were able to quickly establish where my knowledge base was and how they could teach me in the upcoming weeks.

After table rounds, the team did bedside rounds, seeing each patient individually and explaining the plan for the day. The same patient-centered care I had always appreciated at Mayo-Rochester was out in full force, with each patient’s situation meticulously explained to them and their loved ones, the plan for the day made with their needs in mind, and the various healthcare team members working together to provide the best possible care. The social worker for the unit accompanied us on rounds, filled us in on disposition statuses, and which medications or services would be covered by a patients’ insurance; the pharmacist pushed a computer-on-wheels to easily investigate possible neurologic medication side-effects and suggest antibiotics to cover exotic bacterial meningitis on a patient who had been airlifted from the Caribbean. The diversity of pathology was striking, everything from textbook stroke syndromes to myasthenia exacerbations; post-operative neurosurgical patients to newly diagnosed demyelinating diseases. This was further evidence of the comparison that could be made between different Mayo sites: everything from the everyday to the exotic, all treated with excellent, patient-centered care.

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Despite the similarities inside the hospital, being in Jacksonville offered a significantly different social and dining experience. Five beaches within driving distance of my apartment, salsa dancing three nights a week, reggae music festivals, and fish tacos on every menu filled my free time and my stomach. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, St. Augustine (the oldest city in the United States), and Amelia Island—yes, you read that correctly!—were just a day trip away. Several of my classmates were in town completing other clerkships and were all too happy to explore with me. At the end of my three week rotation, my only regret was that I hadn’t had enough time to do everything on my bucket list.

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So if you ever get the chance to visit Mayo-Jacksonville for a rotation, selective, or even to complete all of your M3 and M4 clerkships there, I would encourage you to take that opportunity. And be sure to watch out for jellyfish!

Amelia Van Handel is a 4th year Mayo Medical Student from Little Chute, Wisconsin. She can frequently be found ballroom dancing around Rochester, baking sweets in her kitchen, or working out at the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center. She is currently in the process of applying to plastic surgery residencies and will graduate in May 2016.

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