V-SURE Summer Experience

January 24, 2017

This summer Hayden Byrd, Liz Gill, Veronica Gordillo-Herrejon, Mark McAlister, and Jackie Spangenberg participated in the V-SURE program. The Vanderbilt-Sewanee Undergraduate Research Experience (V-SURE) allows pre-medical students to gain valuable research and shadowing experience. Students participate in two summer experiences, one in the summer following the sophomore year and one in the summer following the junior year. During each eight-week experience, students select a mentored research area in either clinical or biomedical research. They are also paired with a physician and round with general medicine residents once a week. Interns attend weekly meetings to discuss the patients they observed, health care issues, and medical education. Each week also contains Monday Enrichment Sessions and Wednesday Seminars.  The summer culminates in a poster presentation.

This two-year program allows students to either focus on one research topic in depth or explore two different research areas.  Funded in part by the Billings-Spickard and Stoney-Merrill Internships, the V-SURE experience is a truly unique opportunity.  

Hayden’s Experience
Hayden Byrd, C’17, was recently accepted into medical school and attributes much of his success to the V-SURE Program.  

V-SURE offers the opportunity for students to get a firsthand look over two summers into the careers of medicine and medical research at a world-class institution. Under the umbrella program of the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy (VSSA), V-SURE participants are placed into a lab to conduct research and given the opportunity to shadow physicians around the Vanderbilt hospital. As part of the VSSA, participants have weekly lunch sessions to discuss research progress, as well as weekly seminars informing participants about anything from graduate/medical school application process and strategies to the emerging practice of personalized medicine in cancer patients. The more physicians I have shadowed and specialties I have seen, the more I have begun to understand how the different medical perspectives work to form a cohesive whole. I saw this broader, cohesive view of medicine more fully in my second summer while shadowing in pathology. Where my previous shadowing experiences have shown me surgery to remove a tumor as well as physicians consulting with patients on a plan based on biopsy and genotyping findings, pathology shadowing provided me with the knowledge of how a diagnosis is made before a treatment plan is even discussed. 

I will always be thankful for the months I was able to spend either in the Lovly lab or shadowing at the Vanderbilt Hospital. I feel that I would be hard-pressed to find another internship that could fulfill as much as this one did for me. While it does take up two summers and the work is definitely not easy, I still had plenty of time to train for lacrosse, practice my violin, visit beautiful nearby hiking and swimming locations, as well as see a number of rock concerts. Most of all, I believe this experience helped me stand out in the sea of applicants in the eyes of medical school admissions committees. For this reason, I am fortunate enough to be attending the McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas in the fall of 2017.

Liz’s Experience
Liz Gill, C’18, worked in a neurology/cancer lab and shadowed a dermatologist.  Now Liz wants to go into dermatology.

My first summer as a V-SURE participant was an amazing learning experience. I am a pre-med student and this opportunity was great because it provided me experience in both the research and clinical sides of medicine. I worked in a neurology/cancer biology lab and gained knowledge not only in their field of research but also in basic to complex lab techniques that will help with research in future lab settings. I worked closely with a graduate student and research assistant who guided me throughout the summer as I gained independence and skills in the lab. One of the main takeaways I had from the research side of the internship was that science doesn’t always go as planned and that is ok.  The poster presentation at the end of the summer was very helpful in teaching me how to present research to others with varied knowledge about your studies.  

For my shadowing experience I got to work with Dr. John Zic in the Vanderbilt Dermatology Clinic. This was a great learning opportunity because I not only saw how a doctor examines a patient, but also how a medical student does and then how that student reports to the physician. Dr. Zic was a great teacher and very interactive in helping me learn about the field of dermatology. I especially enjoyed the patient interactions in dermatology as well as the variety of the field. The shadowing aspect of this internship really helped me secure my interest to attend medical school as well as to likely study dermatology after my undergraduate career.

All together this internship was a great way to spend my summer and I look forward to the opportunity I have to participate again next year.  

Veronica’s Experience
Veronica Gordillo-Herrejon, C’17, researched with the Director of the Ingram-Cancer Center.

The Vanderbilt-Sewanee Undergraduate Summer Experience has given me countless opportunities to explore in depth what it means to be a physician as well as a researcher. During one summer at Vanderbilt University I did research with Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol, the director of the Ingram-Cancer Center. I also shadowed various pediatricians and dermatologists who have all given me a deeper appreciation for doctors' innovative ways of extending the lives of their patients and providing quality care. Conducting research on triple-negative breast cancer has also given me profound knowledge of the current advances in skin cancer and the innovative ways of treating patients with aggressive forms of skin cancer. While this experience helped me understand the importance of medical research, it also challenged me by pushing me out of my comfort zone and kept my inquisitive mind engaged. I was given the opportunity to present my research to two labs at Vanderbilt and to the rest of the campus during the Vanderbilt Science Summer Academy Poster session.  

Jackie’s Experience
Jackie Spangenberg, C’18, worked on a transgenic line of zebrafish with fluorescently visible hearts. 

For me, this was a summer filled with “new”: a new place, a new experience, and a new story. My story begins in an auditorium filled with other pre-medical students with the same dreams as I. To be honest…I was scared. Luckily, my Sewanee friends were constantly encouraging to me put one foot in front of the other.

With a little push from Mark, a fellow Sewanee student, I made my way towards Dr. Jason Becker’s laboratory. My next eight weeks were spent with my eyes glued to a microscope, and I loved every second of it. I worked with a generated double transgenic line of zebrafish, essentially producing a line of zebrafish with a fluorescently visible heart. I was able to visually analyze the zebrafish heart development. With lots of practice, we established a suitable protocol for documenting the zebrafish hearts using a fluorescent dissecting microscope and digital imaging. In class, you’re given protocol that is known to work, but in reality, it’s the scientist’s responsibility to produce a suitable protocol. Thus, from working alongside real scientists, I was able to learn about the real medical world.  

From just an eight-week experience in a lab, I gained a valuable understanding of how a lab works. One very important lesson surfaced throughout my research: time flies.  It takes a very long time to accomplish small projects. Thus, I learned about true patience. I also noticed that discoveries in science are made due to collaboration with others: other members of the lab, other scientists and other animals. Needless to say, from learning simple lab protocols to how a lab works, I learned a lot in just my eight weeks at Vanderbilt.

I found the most significant memory from my experience to be the excitement from witnessing a project from start to finish. In class laboratory, everyone is doing the same project as you. It was an amazing experience to be responsible for a project of your own. That’s why I am very grateful to Sewanee: The University of the South and Vanderbilt University for establishing V-SURE. This program allowed me to gain a foundational understanding of the medical world - something I have been seeking to do throughout my career at Sewanee.



Programs of Study

Medicine in the Peruvian Amazon

October 3, 2018

Gil Horner, C’20 Hippocrates Fellow and Biehl Fellowship recipient, spent the summer in Peru investigating the intersection of ethnomedicine and biomedicine.

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