Nov 20, 2015 1:00 AM

Author: Natalie Dicou


An assortment of human hearts sat on the table in front of Rep. Sophia DiCaro. The state legislator who represents northern West Valley City appeared to steel herself as she snapped powder-blue surgical gloves around her wrists, her eyes widening as she took a seat. Blood and guts are not DiCaro’s thing: She’s even been known to feel a little “strange” touching a piece of raw chicken. But this was a unique opportunity for the local leader who studied public administration to experience a day in the life of a University of Utah medical student.

“I don’t think I’ll ever do that again in my life so I might as well try it, right?” she said of overcoming her squeamishness and gamely examining a once-ticking heart in the Health Sciences Education Building alongside medical school professors and a handful of her colleagues from the Utah State Legislature.

The thought of knowing it belonged to a human weirds me out a little bit,” she said, adding: “It was nice to see what a healthy organ looks like versus an unhealthy organ. More people would probably take care of their bodies if they could see the difference.

It was the most memorable part of Project Medical Education, an event designed to educate local leaders about what it takes to become a doctor. During a crash course that smashed four years into four hours, DiCaro “caught a baby” delivered by a laboring mannequin-mom, toured the aging medical school and Newborn ICU, and learned that she’d been awarded the pediatric residency she’d been coveting. Well, OK, she didn’t know she’d been coveting it. But, to conclude the experience — which began with each legislator donning a white coat and being presented with a stethoscope — the lawmakers were given a taste of the dramatic moment when graduating students tear into their Match Day envelopes and discover where they’ll be spending the next years of their lives.

“It reminded me of missionary callings,” DiCaro said after reading that she’d landed a residency at the U., as other legislators announced “Michigan!” and “Baylor!”

Of course, these “callings” come with a heftier price tag than missionary service. Along with the location and specialty of their residencies, the legislators found out how much they owed in student loans for their mock-educations. DiCaro faced $208,272 — a daunting amount, especially considering that 6 percent of U.S. students aren’t able to match on the first try and must scramble to find a spot.

“After working that much and knowing that you’re going into that much debt and sacrificing that much of your life, it would be hard not to match,” DiCaro said. “I feel for people who don’t match.”

Jennifer Middleton, a third-year medical student, hopes that the nine legislators walk away with a glimpse into her world — from the rigorous study to the debt to the in-or-out intensity of Match Day.

“I think some of the biggest takeaways are that there aren’t enough residency spots and that we need more facilities for students to learn,” said Middleton, who plans to go into pediatric palliative care and help parents of dying infants make memories in the short time they have together.

Middleton wasn’t always the strong-stomached health care provider-in-the-making that she is today. In fact, she relates to DiCaro’s feelings about touching a human heart.

“I have to admit I actually passed out in cadaver lab my first week,” she said, laughing. “Dr. (David) Morton gave me a juice box, and I was back in there the same day. There’s no mercy.”  

It’s all part of the process of becoming a physician.

Said DiCaro, “I gained a greater appreciation for the students who get in because it’s already hard enough to get in, and then to go through the program, and then to graduate, and then to find the right job and then to get through your debt, and then the demands of being a doctor on top of that — you really have to want to do it. It’s got to be in your heart.” 


Natalie Dicou

Natalie Dicou is a Communications Specialist in the Office of Public Affairs. Follow her on Twitter @NatalieDicou.

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