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Regional Academic Health Center opens clerkship in surgery

Alia Irshad assisted Dr. Giovanna Ghafoori on a cancer excision, an ear reconstruction and a hernia repair late last fall during the final day of her sub-specialty clerkship in plastic surgery at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC). The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) operates the RAHC's Medical Education Division in Harlingen.

Irshad is one of six third-year medical students from UTHSC who participated in the first RAHC surgery clerkships. She opted for the rotation at the RAHC in Harlingen after spending her obstetrics and gynecology clerkship in the Rio Grande Valley city.

"Regardless of what procedure is being done, we get a bird's-eye view of surgery from start to finish, one on one with the attending," Irshad said. "Dr Ghafoori is very particular about stitches because so much finesse is involved."

Irshad has had lots of "sewing" practice under Dr. Ghafoori's guidance, but that's not all. "As first assist, you're doing retraction and suction along with lots of sutures," she said.

Marsha Griffin spent three weeks in cardiovascular surgery with Dr. Marion Lawler III. "I inserted a chest tube during an open-heart surgery. The anesthesiologist told me, 'You're getting to do resident stuff.' It's very satisfying," Griffin said.

"You're with the attending physician all day, every day. You're expected to read additional books, know everything from top to bottom, and see patients," Griffin said about her rotations with Dr. Lawler and orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jeff Cartwright. "It's very challenging, a lot of responsibility, and I love it."

Griffin said the attending physicians in Harlingen are setting extremely high standards for RAHC students. The payoff for her was assisting with several surgeries, including an exploratory laparotomy done on a patient who had received internal injuries.

Often, clerkships in surgery sub-specialties offer more opportunities for hands-on assisting than general surgery does. That proved to be the case for the three students rotating with general surgeons at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen.

"When we're on call, we get better experiences and better exposure to surgery because we deal with whatever comes in," said Rene Perez, a medical student from Harlingen. He and fellow student Edgar Rodriguez said their routine includes doing rounds of patients and presenting the cases daily to the attending physician.

Rodriguez and Perez observed that the prevalent disorders in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly gallbladder problems and complications of diabetes, show up in the number of related surgeries.

In 1997, the Texas Legislature authorized The University of Texas System Board of Regents to create the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC). The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio is appointed to operate the RAHC Medical Education Division in Harlingen and the RAHC Medical Research Division in Edinburg.

Contact: Will Sansom or Aileen Salinas