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By LeAnn R. Ralph
Editor’s Note: During Megan Schleusner’s medical internship in Vietnam with FutureDocs Abroad, she kept a journal. The first day of her journal and the last day are published elsewhere in this edition of the Messenger
COLFAX — Megan Schleusner donned her first stethoscope when she was two years old.
Of course it was a plastic stethoscope, but still.
Schleusner, a 2017 graduate of Colfax High School and the daughter of Craig and Brenda Schleusner, heard her first “code blue” at a hospital when she was a youngster while waiting for an appointment with an ear-nose-throat specialist and told her mother, “Mom, I can picture nothing better than running down these halls to save someone’s life.”
While she was growing up, Schleusner says she might have also tried to “intubate” her sister by taping a straw in her mouth — with her sister’s permission, to be sure.
And now, in her second year at UW-Eau Claire as a biology major and a pre-professional health minor, Schleusner went on a two-week medical internship to Hue, Vietnam, last summer at the Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy.
Schleusner hopes to attend medical school and become a trauma surgeon or a plastic surgeon.
“People ask me all the time, ‘how do you know you want to become a physician?’ And for me, it was just my own experience and little moments in time where I actually enjoyed going to my doctor appointments and getting my shots as a kid,” Schleusner said.
“When I think of a physician, I see a very smart, driven, kind, professional and understanding individual and that is everything I want and see in myself. I have always loved learning, and education is something no one can ever take away from you, so for me, the eight plus years of schooling has never fazed me. I have only seen it as an opportunity to learn even more,” she said.
“I say ‘driven’ because the path to becoming a physician is very long and hard. There have been testing days for myself where I question if I am good enough to get into medical school, specifically the day I got my first B ever … everyone must go through them because it forces you to take a step back and ask if this is what you really want. Kindness is key and a goal I have for each day,” Schleusner said.
In addition to the medical internship in Vietnam, Schleusner also has already completed many other achievements to help her advance toward her goal of becoming a doctor.
At the age of 15, Schleusner says she set her personal business aside to pursue her passion in medicine. She attended medical camps and the Congress of Future Medical Leaders.
At the age of 17, she quit high school sports as a four-sport varsity athlete to take a Certified Nursing Assistant course in the evening after school.
At the age of 18, she obtained her Emergency Medical Technician license.
And before she was 19, Schleusner obtained her Advanced EMT license and began working on an ambulance.
“Currently I am doing paid genetics research study on polycystic kidney disease on campus and work as an RA [resident assistant] with the residence halls [at the university],” Schleusner said.
“In all I have five part-time jobs. I describe my life by just saying the alphabet because currently I am an RA, CNA, AEMT [advanced EMT], CCT [computerized tomography technician], and a Competitive Events Lieutenant for an organization called HOSA [Future Health Professionals, formerly known as Health Occupation Students of America],” she said.
Schleusner says she encourages anyone who wants to pursue a career in medicine, either as a physician’s assistant or a physician, to get a CNA license.
“Though my CNA license is not required to get into medical school, it has provided me with valuable experiences that I will be able to carry with me not only into my interview, but into my future career,” Schleusner said.
“As a Certified Nursing Assistant you truly learn the foundations of all patient care, something that is not covered in any other classes. Getting my CNA license taught me compassion, sympathy, understanding and patience. Before working as a CNA I thought I knew all of this already, but no one truly does until you are placed in a situation where you are holding the hand of a very ill patient or assisting someone with eating their dinner, something we all take for granted,” she said.
“One common misconception is that you can only work in a nursing home as a CNA,” Schleusner said.
“In fact, there are countless positions available in a hospital setting for CNAs that I encourage people to look into,” she said.
High school sophomore
The journey to Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy began when Schleusner was a sophomore in high school going into her junior year.
“I was nominated by staff from previous medical camps to attend the Congress of Future Medical Leaders based off my passion for medicine and my GPA/academic success,” Schleusner said.
“At the congress, I met with Google Science Fair and Nobel Prize winners, doctors of breakthrough discoveries and the patient of the first full face transplant. It was at the congress that they announced the opportunity for high school students to travel abroad and explore medicine further, but it was something that I could not afford at the time,” she said.
Schleusner stayed in contact with the admissions team and learned they were starting a new program specifically for college students.
“After working really hard arranging my academic schedule, I enrolled into their college program for Hue, Vietnam. Since this was their first college program, there was only one location available,” she said, adding that next year, FutureDocs Abroad will have a program in India.
The programs for high school students are in Mexico, Poland and India, she said.
As an alumni of the program, Schleusner can now nominate and enroll other students based on their interest and academic achievement.
“Personally, for me, it was the best decision I have made thus far in my career. I know moving forward that this experience alone will separate me from my peers during the application process to medical school, and it has provided me with a cultural experience I won’t ever forget,” she said.
While the Congress of Future Medical Leaders has a grade point average requirement, the FutureDocs Abroad program does not have a GPA requirement.
“Spots fill quickly, and it is mainly on a first-come, first-serve basis with priority given to students who enroll through a delegate or alumni,” Schleusner said.
The program in Hue, Vietnam, was two and a half weeks long from the end of July into August.
The days were divided into two different rotations for morning and afternoon.
“They were long, hot, exhausting days but totally worth it. I saw everything from neurosurgery, total hysterectomies and natural births. Every day was structured in this way. In the afternoon we spent the day at the university in the research labs instead of the hospital,” Schleusner said.
During the internship program, Schleusner kept a journal.
On Day 3, the afternoon rotation was in the Department of Internal Neurology and Stroke and Toxic Management.
The doctor conducting the afternoon rotation gave case studies to each of the students, and individually, each student had to make a diagnosis.
“Mine was a 61-year-old male who had presented with partial paralysis, but CT and all other scans were negative. Right away, I knew it was ischemic stroke based off my training as an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician and was the only one in the group to diagnose the patients in our case studies correctly. Later on, he taught us the differences in seizures and helped us to determine when someone needs medical attention,” she wrote in her journal
In the evenings, the students had free time to shop, go to a spa, swim, eat and hang out.
“On the weekends, we had fun planned excursions that were included in our tuition cost, so on one weekend we went to the beach, and another weekend we toured the ancient tombs and palaces,” she said.
The last day of the rotations, the students made the long journey into the rural villages in the mountains of Hue.
Each group was placed at a rural clinic with a practicing physician, and in the rural communities, the physicians would often go to the patient’s house. In other cases, the patients would travel more than one hundred miles on a motorbike to see the doctor, because it was the closest health care facility.
“The acceptance from the community in Vietnam astonished me. Yes, because I was blonde, I had people asking to touch my hair, but I also never felt scared or out of place. So many people spoke English, and they were all willing to tell you about their life in Vietnam. We were often invited into homes where they would serve fried frog legs and green tea,” Schleusner said.
According to the Schleusner’s journal entry for the last day of the internship, “The bus ride took a little less than two hours, but then our placements at the rural health centers and clinics took even longer than expected. Each small group of five students was dropped off at a different clinic, and for ours, the bus could not travel down the narrow road, so we had to hike in about two miles.”
Schleusner says the most valuable thing she learned while in Vietnam with FutureDocs Abroad is what she does not want to do.
“I found out the area of specialties that really did not interest me that much such as pathology and endocrinology,” she said.
“The experience as a whole was so educational. The physicians I worked with were so knowledgeable of their field of study, with many of them having studied in Europe or England. The oncologist I shadowed had won countless awards from Johns Hopkins and was recognized nationally for his work,” Schleusner said.
“Each physician was very patient and willing to teach us. It truly is a different experience compared to the U.S. I got to listen to patients’ lung sounds as the doctor specifically guided my placement of my stethoscope and told me what to listen for. I got to hold a new life in my hands as I washed and dressed a newborn baby. It’s experiences like these that cannot be replicated, and it has taught me so much about myself in the process,” she said.
Schleusner said she also learned about herbal medicine in Vietnam.
Herbal medicine “is just as popular, if not more, than traditional medication usage. It was very educational to see how doctors work directly with their patients on their care plans with homeopathic medicine, something you do not see a lot of here in the United States. I also watched as physicians took patients to the hospital garden to get samples of natural herbs and flowers,” she said.
In addition to being a useful learning experience, FutureDocs Abroad was a life-changing experience for Schleusner.
“After my first year of undergraduate classes and very hard general entry biology classes, I truly began to question if I was good enough to become a doctor and if this was the life I truly wanted to live,” she said.
FutureDocs turned out to be a re-energizing experience.
The internship “allowed me for the first time to put on a white coat and work alongside doctors as if I was already a medical student. This program made my dreams into a reachable and achievable goal. By the end of the program, I had no doubt in that moment that no matter how hard classes got, or no matter what challenges I would face, I would not give up until I reached my dream. Experiences like these remind you of why you started in the beginning,” Schleusner said.
The culture lessons also were life-changing.
“As Americans, we take a lot for granted, and healthcare is one of them. The people of Vietnam made me truly appreciate and value the littlest things in life such as the shoes I am wearing and the home I live in,” she said.
Schleusner says the people who attend the FutureDocs Abroad program all come together with one common interest in and passion for medicine and that she left the Vietnam internship having made lifelong friends.
“One of the most memorable experiences in Vietnam was that I was nominated by my internship director as Queen for our final closing dinner. As Queen, the King and I, dressed in traditional Vietnamese gowns, were guided to our table with a parade of drums while everyone made a toast as we ate dinner to a ‘long and happy life of king and queen,’” Schleusner said.
Megan Schleusner’s dream would be to attend Mayo Clinic Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota.
“But I also would be very satisfied if I got into Madison’s Medical College or MCW in Milwaukee. In many cases, you do not get much of a choice, and I would be happy to get into any school, especially a Wisconsin or Minnesota school so I can stay close to family,” she said.
The journey to become a doctor is not a journey that is taken alone, Schleusner said.
“Support is huge, and anyone looking to pursue a career in medicine needs to have close friends and family that you can fall back on during the tough days. My family is my strength and the only reason I am where I am today,” she said.
Many individuals have supported Schleusner as well, and she says she is especially appreciative of her teachers, the Colfax school district and the Colfax community.
“My driving force is my family, and I hope to serve as a positive role model to my two younger sisters, showing them to never give up on your dreams,” Schleusner said.
Upon her return from Vietnam, Schleusner’s flight home landed in Los Angeles.
Schleusner’s mother, Brenda, and grandmother, Ruaine Gullickson, met her at the airport, and then the three of them spent a week in California on vacation.
“We were fortunate enough to get tickets to the ‘Price is Right’ and ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ The Price is Right already aired in October. However, be sure to tune in February 18 to Let’s Make a Deal on CBS at 2 p.m. You may see someone you recognize,” she said.