When the COVID-19 pandemic took opportunities away from pre-health students, Alyson Moriarty created her own.
Moriarty, student director and Medi-Gators co-founder, created the Medi-Gators Virtual Shadowing Program, which offers job shadowing and mentorships to students. The program helps expose participants to healthcare professions. Its virtual format on Zoom makes shadowing more accessible for underprivileged students and parents providing for their families while fulfilling academic obligations.
Regardless of their background, Moriarty gave everyone studying medicine at UF the chance to not only discover their career goals but learn different perspectives and make an impact on healthcare.
Students interact with professionals from the College of Medicine and other hospitals. Faculty present case studies, show videos from the operating room, describe career paths and discuss topics like diseases and disorders.
Moriarty said she coordinates faculty to give hour-long presentations. Two presentations are given three days a week. Most speakers are women, and nearly half are from minority backgrounds.
“We do that purposely so that students feel like they have someone that represents them in healthcare and they can see themselves there in the future,” Moriarty said.
The program is a free service compatible with any device with internet access, and participation doesn’t require a specific wardrobe or involve transportation challenges.
Moriarty said she struggled to find shadowing last Fall as a pre-med UF student because of pandemic restrictions. As a first-generation college student, she didn’t have connections to shadowing.
“It’s accessible for any student regardless of their background or where they come from,” Moriarty said.
While about 360 students participated in Medi-Gators its first semester last Fall, the program grew to welcome about 1,200 students over the second and third semesters, Moriarty said. About 1,500 registered this Fall. Moriarty estimated more than 4,000 students have participated.
The executive team might work with UF to make Medi-Gators a required course for pre-health students, Moriarty said, so they can make more-informed career decisions and have more access to mentors and research. But tuition for the course would limit its access. Medi-Gators might also allow students outside of UF to participate.
The program gave shadowing access to Vanessa Ramos, a 19-year-old UF nursing sophomore who broke her leg two months ago in an electric scooter accident. She said she wasn’t allowed in the hospital for shadowing because of her injury, so the virtual program filled that void.
While she was considering going into orthopedics before her injury, after being a patient, she was set on it. Her surgeon was a colleague of the orthopedic oncologist surgeon who was interviewed by Medi-Gators in the summer, giving her someone she could eventually shadow.
“It gave me a really good background, and just in general someone to reach out to,” Ramos said.
While Medi-Gators could later add an in-person format, Moriarty said its executive team is focusing on ensuring the virtual aspect is accessible enough. If in-person experiences are offered, the virtual aspect will remain.
Even after in-person shadowing becomes more available, Moriarty said Medi-Gators will continue. Students shadow 30 and 40 faculty in six to seven weeks, which is nearly impossible to do in-person.
Dr. Pouya Ameli, Medi-Gators co-founder and assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery in the Division of Neurocritical Care, said he discusses diagnoses in his field and his daily life. He emphasizes the importance of different roles coming together to care for patients.
“Finding — if you’re interested in a healthcare career — the role that’s most suitable for your goals is really the core goal of Medi-Gators and the biggest motivation for any of the presentations,” Ameli said.
Medi-Gators is focused on enhancing access for underrepresented and underprivileged students, Moriarty said.
The program features faculty speakers from underrepresented backgrounds to increase representation in healthcare and help students understand healthcare disparities, said Sionika Thayagabalu, an 18-year-old UF nutritional sciences freshman. Her time as outreach chair this Fall made her realize healthcare is an inclusive field, showing students have the potential to make change.
Listening to speakers from different backgrounds and specialties makes students from minority backgrounds feel welcomed and gives students diverse perspectives, Thayagabalu said. When they work in medicine, they’re more understanding of different views and can better cooperate with others in a diverse environment.
“Being able to do that is just incredibly rewarding,” Thayagabalu said. “It’s something that is really promising for the future of Shands and also Gainesville and local communities.”
Contact J.P. Oprison at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.
JP is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in history. He is currently the health reporter for The Alligator, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting Alachua County and the thousands of students in Gainesville. In his free time, JP likes to exercise at the gym and relax on the beach.