Upstate medical student Matt Valente spent a good part of his fourth and final year learning about the field of child abuse.
Matt volunteered and shadowed at the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse as part of a unique elective under the guidance of Ann Botash, MD, professor of pediatrics and a national expert in the field of child abuse.
Matt gave a presentation to fellow medical students Tuesday, coinciding with April’s designation as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“It can be heavy,” Matt said in response to a question about how he and other caregivers cope with seeing children who are neglected or abused. “A lot of the cases are very, very sad.”
Matt said he did a lot of “internal processing” of his experiences and talked regularly with Dr. Botash, who also is the medical director at McMahon/Ryan and director of the Child Abuse Referral and Evaluation (CARE) program at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.
He discussed the role of Child Protective Services, outlined some common signs that might indicate child neglect or abuse, and went over definitions and statistics of neglect and abuse.
Nationally in 2012 there were 1,315 deaths attributed to child abuse, Matt said. More than 70 percent of the children who died were younger than 3 years old, and in 80 percent of those cases a parent was involved.
Medical students in their clerkships should tell an Attending physician if they suspect a child is being neglected or abused, Matt said, even if their suspicions turn out to be incorrect. Students should know the basic signs of abuse and make good use of the time they have with patients, he said.
“Practice documenting everything now,” Matt said. “When we’re physicians, that documentation becomes part of the medical record so it’s good to start developing good notes now.”
Matt will begin his medical residency in June at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, specializing in pediatrics. Pittsburgh was his first choice for residency because it will allow him opportunities to continue his work in the field of child abuse.
“If there’s something you’re passionate about, this institution is good about letting you pursue it,” Matt told the students at his presentation in the Setnor Academic Building. “If something’s not on the electives list, find someone who will back what you want to do, like Dr. Botash. The possibility is there for you to follow your dreams.”