Doctors, Nurses Get their Start In Queens
New nurses take part in a traditional candle lighting ceremony at Queensborough Community College.
By Matt Hampton
In a borough with 11 hospitals and countless medical centers, it would be easy to take for granted the medical care that thousands of people receive in Queens County on a daily basis. From dentists to physical therapists to surgeons, the borough of Queens has a substantial number of medical practitioners, all lending their Hippocratic Oaths to the purpose of keeping Queens residents healthy.
Even as the controversy of hospital closings and a lack of beds drags the medical community into a debate about the nature of care, the care providers and practitioners within the borough comprise a massive professional community.
With so many doctors, it begs the question: Where did the numerous medical degrees come from? Does the task of training doctors, nurses and other health experts fall on the shoulders of institutions strictly within our borough, or is the Queens medical community more representative of the diverse borough in which it resides?
Queens, as it happens, can take future doctors nearly the entire course of their journey from high school to professional in their chosen medical field.
Long Term Plans
High school students in the borough can sate their medical fascination very early, especially with the help of the new program “Bridges to Medicine.”
“Bridges to Medicine” was profiled in a recent issue of the Tribune. The program, which offers a handful of high school students the opportunity to take college-level courses, is aimed at high-school students already interested in medicine. The students take classes four days a week at York College, training for intensive medical programs that they will encounter when they enroll in pre-med programs, and later, medical school.
“It’s a unique, little hidden jewel,” said recruiter Beth Shafran. “How many programs do we have that target high achieving minority students?”
The students themselves, a dedicated group working longer hours than their peers, understand the value of the program, and appreciate the doors that it opens.
“Ever since I was little girl I knew I wanted to be doctor,” said participant Edlange Philistin. “This program absolutely helped me.”
The 22-year-old program has already aided a huge number of students, according to founder Elisabeth Iler. “Bridge to Medicine” has guided more than 1,200 students through courses of study at various colleges, many of whom are now practicing physicians.
Several colleges in Queens offer programs that run the gamut of the medical profession, allowing future professionals to choose, with a great deal of specificity, the field of medicine that they are most keenly interested in.
Queens College offers undergraduate pre-med programs for students interested in any number of medical fields, including dentistry, veterinary medicine and sports medicine. They also offer coursework towards becoming an internist or family physician. Though the college itself doesn’t have a medical school, it’s one avenue through which future medical professionals can take their first collegiate step.
Queensborough Community College also offers a comprehensive Nurse Training program, a 2-1/2-year course of study, after which students receive an Associates Degree in applied sciences. The Nursing Training program at Queensborough can also act as a jumping off point, as the school is associated through CUNY with a number of other institutions that offer Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing and Medical Technology fields.
Queens presents its own set of unique challenges for teaching. While diversity may be a strength of the borough, it also represents a challenge in the classroom.
“Only 55 percent of the students speak English at home, yet they’re practicing in an English-based medical culture,” said Queensborough Community College Nursing Chairwoman Maureen Wallace, who said that 70 percent of the nursing students at Queensboro were born outside the country. She said the school does an excellent job of conditioning non-English speaking students to work in the borough, and that it is doing a “very good job of putting nurses into the workforce able to cope with the diversity of the county.”
“I think the type of education they get here, to me, is comparable or sometimes even surpasses many private school educations,” Wallace said.
Students listen intently at the Queens Bridge To Medicine program.
To further aid potential doctors and other medical professionals in their quest to receive the very best education they can, several hospitals in Queens function as teaching facilities. Hospitals that offer hands-on training with actual patients, like Jamaica Hospital Medical Center or Long Island Jewish Medical Center, give to the community in a unique way by fostering burgeoning careers in medicine, as well as providing medical care.
New York Hospital Queens is another facility that functions as a teaching hospital, with programs that encourage medical interns to grow their knowledge through personal experience.
“I think what makes Queens different is the ethnic diversity that is Queens,” said New York Hospital Queens Program Director of the Department of Medicine Steven Reichert. Reichert also said that because of the influx of immigration, educational opportunities for medical interns are unique to the borough.
“You’ll see illnesses presenting as if they would present half way around the world,” Reichert said. “The diversity of what they can see is really unrivaled.”
The average day for an intern at the teaching hospital starts at about 7 a.m., with interns participating in patient care, attending lectures and clinics, as well as making educational rounds with physicians. Medical interns carry a caseload of up to 12 patients, usually less.
NYHQ chooses its interns from a massive pool of more than 2,500 applications, whittling the selection down to an interview group of 300, and finally selecting 34 interns on a yearly basis. The entire educational group in training at the hospital, including residents and fellows, is just under 200.
“I view this as an incredible educational opportunity for them,” Reichert said. “Medicine is not just a disease, it falls on the context of a human being and how they deal with disease.”
It’s easy to see that Queens, from an educational vantage point, can stand on its own in the medical community. With programs like Queens’ “Bridge to Medicine,” even high school students with lofty aspirations can embark on the first steps of a career in medicine.
The large number of collegiate resources in the borough allow for a huge number of choices to be made, from nursing to osteopathy to dental or sports medicine.
Finally, the teaching hospitals in the borough give future medical professionals the kind of comprehensive hands-on experience that is so vitally important in medicine above all.
The myriad choices of Queens’s medical professionals are the fuel that powers the hospitals and health centers of the borough. Even in an uncertain climate for hospitals, Queens residents can be sure that the medical professionals that walk those halls received a home-grown education.