Overlook program: How unique pre-med internship is still going strong — but slightly differently — in age of COVID-19

Gina Verrone appreciates the authenticity.

“This program lets you see medicine raw,” she said. “The doctors don’t have any time to baby you, and the patients aren’t shying away from their priority — their health. So, you really see everything as it is.”

Jerry Kong agreed.

OSIP intern Julia Wickman watches as urologists Dr. Alon Mass, left, and Dr. Andrew Bernstein operate.

“I’ve probably met more doctors in this program than I’m going to meet for a long time,” he said. “And I’ve gotten to see how each doctor’s unique experiences and backgrounds influence the way they approach patients and medicine.”

Kaycie Elifani is just happy for any experience — taking place in any format — this summer.

“A lot of us didn’t think this was going to happen,” she said.

The three pre-med students are part of the 2020 Overlook Summer Internship Program — a one-month program overseen by Atlantic Health that is intended to give pre-med students an inside look at the profession through hands-on shadowing and mentoring with a variety of medical professionals.

The program has had to limit its activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic — Zoom calls replace in-person meetings and the regular trips to hospitals are now visits at private practices. But that hasn’t stopped it from providing these students, among the cohort of 17, with valuable perspectives on a career in medicine.

“As a first-gen student, I’m grateful for any exposure,” Elifani said. “And I think we’re all so thankful for these daily meetings with doctors, especially in these times.”

The program was started at Overlook Hospital in Summit in 2010 by Dr. Clifford Sales, a vascular surgeon from Westfield. Sales said the program always has been about more than just medicine.

OSIP intern Cara Fogarty looks on as Dr. Samantha Pozner of Summit Springfield Family Medicine, conducts a checkup.

“This program isn’t about students figuring out what type of surgery they want to do,” he said. “This program is more to see, ‘Can I be a dad and a rheumatologist and coach Little League? Can I be a mom and a neurosurgeon and get to dance recitals?’”

OSIP students said they learn the lifestyle and pros and cons of medical careers through daily morning meetings with mentors, and they participate in one-on-one shadowing experiences with a variety of doctors. The program has 17 students and the interest was still high. Sales said he received more than 250 applications.

Students in the 2020 program said they were shocked, but are extremely grateful, that the OSIP Program persevered during the pandemic. This year, it will run from June 1-26.

There have been changes. While the students do not shadow at Overlook Medical Center, they are still provided one-on-one shadow experiences at private practices. There are 25 mentors this year instead of the usual 80. And students shadow two days a week, instead of the usual four.

The students, however, said they still soak up information during daily morning meetings and Friday lectures by Sales. Topics range from dealing with patients who are dying to medical school applications.

More than anything, Sales said the program is about figuring out if there is a fit. He said he’d rather students find out in this one-month program that they don’t want to be doctors, rather than find out one year into medical school.

OSIP intern Danny Liggio observes as neurologist Dr. Gary Belt assesses a patient.

Caroline Burley remembers the program well. She lived in Summit when she participated in 2015.

Burley said she didn’t have family in medicine and appreciated the insights.

“It’s rare to have interactions with doctors where you can just pick their brains and see what led them to where they are,” she said.

The hands-on shadowing experience was a game-changer, she said.

“I showed up to the OB/GYN’s normal office and was told, ‘Oh, he’s been at the hospital since last night and had a bunch of deliveries, you should just head there,’” she said.

Burley didn’t just watch well checkups — she got to witness multiple baby deliveries. She was hooked.

This spring, she finished her first year at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Danielle Mahon, who participated in OSIP in 2014, also shared the excitement of hands-on learning — but she was more amazed at how far the program extends beyond the actual month.

Originally from Union, Mahon is in her fourth year at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. She said the program made a difference.

“Dr. Sales really cares,” she said. “I’m still very close with him, and he helped me a lot, especially this year with getting rotations for my third year.”

Sales agreed.

“The best part of the program is seeing all that students accomplish after its completion,” he said.