Connie Vernetti’s first work-study project as an Upstate medical student was to help launch the International Health Clinic, also known as the refugee clinic, at University Health Care Center.
“It was very cool,” said Connie, now entering her fourth year in the College of Medicine. “I got to be involved from the start, and helped shape how it functions.”
Still, she was flattered when the clinic’s pediatrics director, Bradley Olson MD, asked her to help represent Upstate at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting in Boston in April.
Connie and Dr. Olson presented at a workshop along with clinic director Peter Cronkright MD, and Onondaga County Health Commissioner Cynthia Morrow, MD, MPH.
“We talked about what we do here at our clinic, how it came about, the problems we had setting it up and the issues the refugees face,” Connie said.
Upstate medical residents and medical students staff the clinic, which is open every other Wednesday for four hours. In addition to screening refugees for vision, hearing, blood pressure and any potential serious health problems, staff must take into account language and cultural differences. (The clinic has several telephones connected to an interpreter service.)
Connie said her experience at the clinic dealing with a variety of people will translate well to her chosen specialty – emergency medicine.
Connie became an Emergency Medical Technician while an undergrad at SUNY Geneseo and served on the school’s first-response team. She then took a year off after graduating with a degree in biology to work full-time for Rural/Metro ambulance service in Rochester, near her hometown of Irondequoit.
“It was fantastic, and it definitely solidified my desire to go to medical school,” she said of being an EMT. “I’m a doer, not a watcher. I want to see as many patients as possible and help people of all stripes. You see them all in the Emergency Department.”
Connie’s skills as a student clinician earned the respect of her fellow students in the Class of 2013 – she was among 21 medical students elected into the Gold Humanism Honor Society. The society recognizes medical students who are judged by their peers – at the end of their third-year clerkships — to be exemplary student clinicians.
Election is limited to 15 percent of the class. Among the criteria for selection are compassion, maturity, sound judgment and collegiality, as well as mastery of basic and clinical science knowledge and skills.
Connie said there’s a perception that medical students are detached, overly competitive and almost robotic, but she hasn’t seen that at Upstate.
“I’ve met some of my best friends here,” she said. “The people here are so incredibly wonderful. I didn’t expect to be so inspired by the people here. I didn’t realize med school can be a place where you can advocate for what you believe in and do things that matter to you.”