Hands-on, up close, real life ed

Matt Wallace ('12)

Matt Wallace (’12)

After Matt Wallace graduated from JMU in 2012, he spent a year continuing research on a project he began as an undergraduate. You can read all about it in a story by Eric Gorton ‘(’86, ’09). Recently, I learned that Matt, who will enter medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University later this summer and plans to train as an otolaryngologist (ENT), also worked as a scribe in the emergency department of Rockingham Memorial Hospital. The scribe program, developed locally by Harrisonburg physician Dr. Claire Plautz grew out of the RMH-JMU Collaborative. It offers JMU undergraduate students an opportunity to work in a hospital setting in a pivotal and important role.  Here’s what Matt had to say about his experience — his hands-on, real-life, up-close-and-personal education:

BTC: How did you get involved with the Scribe program?

Dr. Babcock and the Pre-Professional Health Office do a tremendous job in keeping pre-professional health students up to date on various opportunities to get involved in the community. I first heard about the scribe program through the PPH Office’s weekly e-mails my junior year. With classes, extracurricular activities, and my undergraduate research thesis, I didn’t feel as if I had enough time to fully devote to the scribe program just yet. Two of my friends started in the program before I did and had been receiving wonderful clinical experiences, so I applied during the fall of my senior year and was hired shortly thereafter.

BTC: What did you find most interesting and challenging about the experience?

The most interesting aspect of working as a scribe in the Emergency Department is witnessing the wide variety of cases. Equally as interesting in Emergency Medicine is the diverse group of patients from different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses that seek treatment. I’ve been able to witness a wide variety of cases from traumas, strokes, and myocardial infractions to headaches, broken bones, and infections to various psychiatric complaints. You name it, I’ve most likely scribed for it. The most challenging aspect of scribing is the pace of the Emergency Department. People come into seek treatment in the ED for serious ailments and therefore need immediate medical treatment. The ED Physicians do an extremely efficient job in treating each and every patient that comes into the ED. We as scribes help this process because we are able to handle the documentation aspect for the doctors so they are able to better focus on providing excellent care for their patients.

BTC: Is it what you expected? Or did it change your perspective?

I had prior Emergency Department experience so the scribe job is what I expected for the most part. As a scribe, I get to work side-by-side with Emergency Department physicians and it has been an eye opening experience to learn the ins and outs of Emergency Medicine. Working as a scribe in addition to my previous medical experiences has molded my perspective on the future of medicine in America. There is a growing population of chronically ill patients who come into the ED for treatment for diseases that could have been prevented with close primary care management. I think we as a country need to get serious about providing incentives for more medical students to enter the primary care field.

BTC: What is the most valuable lesson you took away from the program?

The most valuable lesson I’ve taken away from the program is how to form a complete medical document. I will have a significant leg up in medical school when it comes time to learning how to take a full History of Present Illness (why the patient is visiting the doctor’s office). Another advantage will be conducting the physical exam as a medical student. Likewise, formulating differential diagnoses (hypotheses on what is wrong with the patient) in medical school will be less foreign to me. Through scribing, I have witnessed thousands of different physical exams and have learned a great deal on how to pick apart normal from abnormal physical findings and how to properly document them.

BTC: Tell me about the time and length of your “scribe-ship.”

I have worked as a scribe for just over a year and a half. We work with a group of physicians so our schedules are dependent on theirs. We may work a single shift a week or some weeks we work four shifts, it is all dependent on the ED doctors’ schedules. Shifts vary with some of the earlier times beginning at 7:00AM and ending at 3:00PM to the graveyard shift, which is an overnight shift.

UnknownBTC: Do you think it made a difference in your acceptance to med school?

There is no doubt that scribing made a significant difference in my acceptance to medical schools. With more applicants applying each year, acceptance into an allopathic medical school is only becoming more competitive with acceptance rates in the low single digits. Scribing certainly gave my application another dimension that a lot of other applicants do not have the opportunity to have. I believe medical schools look very favorably upon the scribing experience because we’re with the Emergency Department physician for the entire shift, documenting charts, and witnessing the patient-physician relationship.

BTC: Did you and the other scribes have to “prove” yourselves to RMH?

I don’t think I or any other scribe had to “prove” ourselves to RMH per se. We were selected from a large group of applicants based on GPA, extracurricular activities, essays, and interviews from schools ranging from JMU to Shenandoah to Virginia Tech to UVa. We came into the job qualified and with training, and we are able to do exactly what is expected of us.

BTC: What was the learning curve like?

The learning curve was steep at first, but there is a built in training time that allows a scribe to acclimate and become sufficiently prepared to work with each ED physician. Training to be a scribe includes learning the ins and outs of the Emergency Department, how to work the electronic medical system, medical terminology, and how to write shorthand. After the training block, we are still constantly learning to improve our documenting skills.

BTC: Anything else that you think prospective students or alums would like to know about the program?

If any prospective student is able to become a scribe I would recommend it because the learning experience you will receive cannot be taught in a classroom. The on the job experience will not only help you excel in medical school, but it will provide you with the foundation to become a more effective clinician. You will learn to better communicate with your patients in an empathetic manner. You have the opportunity to converse with the entire medical team including physicians from various backgrounds and medical specialties. Scribing has been a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am very grateful to have received, and I thank Dr. Claire Plautz for bringing me on to the team. I know I will benefit from this experience in medical school and beyond.

Read another story about a successful program that has come out of the JMU-RMH Collaborative: “Partnership helps fill void in treating voice, swallowing disorders,” by Jim Heffernan (’96).



About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to Hands-on, up close, real life ed

  1. Anonymous says:

    Way to go, Matt!!! \,,/ \,,/
    Nice interview Martha!


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