Directed by LILAC (Bryn Mawr’s Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center), the Extern Program provides an opportunity for students to explore their desired field/s and get a firsthand look at the world after undergrad. During winter or spring break, externs shadow professionals (usually Bryn Mawr alumnae/i) in their workplace and throughout their normal routines; they have the chance to experience a regular workday and the opportunity to receive advice and guidance from sponsors and their colleagues.
For Toni Ekerdt ’19, a winter externship was her first step into a career that was largely unknown.
Even as a pre-med biology major, Toni explains, hospitals often feel like a foreign environment to her. “I really want to be a doctor, but that decision is based entirely on this kind of romanticized idea of what I think a career in medicine is like,” she laughs, “and I can’t base a life decision solely off of what I’ve seen on Scrubs!”
Toni shadowed Bryn Mawr alumna Melanie Cree Green ’99, who works at the Children’s Hospital in Denver as a physician in the endocrinology department. Because it’s a research hospital, Green splits her time between clinical research and seeing patients. During the week of the externship, Toni went on rounds with her, went to appointments she had with patients, attended speakers’ research talks in individual departments, and got to sit in on one of the hospital’s clinical trial screenings.
“Just the fact that I got to be there and see what she was doing was amazing, in and of itself, because I came in not knowing anything,” says Toni. “But everyone I met was so smart and so kind and so excited for me to be there… even though I was just shadowing, they drew me into their conversations and asked me about what I was doing and talked to me about their life experiences.”
For example, Toni recalls sitting in on a speaker’s talk, attended by a small group of faculty members.
“They all went around at the beginning to introduce themselves—they did their names, their titles, and the research they were doing at the moment. And when we got to where I was sitting, one of the people there pointed right at me and asked who I was. I was a little flustered and really intimidated, because all of them had their doctorate and they were published and they were all amazing, and so I said something like, ‘oh, I’m just a student, I’m shadowing Dr. Green.’ But all of them immediately responded with, ‘You’re not just a student, students are so important to what we do, and what you do is difficult and inspiring and impressive,’ which was incredibly sweet. And one person came up to me after the talk was over and said, ‘Don’t sell yourself short! You have just as much right to be in this room as everyone else.”
In addition to the mentoring that occurred during the day at the hospital, Cree-Green and her family also opened up their home to Toni.
“Dr. Green is amazing; she’s one of those people you can tell loves to mentor [others]. We would have great conversations: not just about the medicine she was doing, but about how Bryn Mawr has shaped her life, how being a mom and balancing her career choices has worked out.”
Toni credits the week-long experience with reinvigorating her passion for a career in medicine; a passion that can be hard to maintain amid the challenge and workload of being an undergraduate pre-med student at Bryn Mawr.
“The program was so good and so affirming… it just brought the reality of my choice much closer to me, in a temporal sense.”
Not only that, but it’s provided her with new opportunities; Dr. Green invited her back to do a research internship at the Denver hospital over the summer, and she’s thrilled (she’s hoping to make it possible through LILAC summer funding). “This is the fifth year that Melanie [the sponsor] has done this program, and I’m the third person she’s offered to bring back for a summer internship. It’s amazing.”