A Jewish outreach organization at Rutgers University is offering pre-med Jewish students the opportunity to shadow physicians and learn more about Jewish views on medical issues.
Run under the auspices of Rutgers Jewish Xperience, the Jewish Pre-Health Professions Network, or JMed, pairs students with physicians and includes debates and lectures on Jewish ethics, as well as Shabbat dinners.
“These doctors volunteer their time to become Jewish role models showing how Jewish ethical teachings influence the way you treat your patients,” said Esther Lewis, who developed and runs the program. “As busy as they are, it’s their way of giving back to the Jewish community.”
The students, who carry a demanding course load and have little time to socialize, benefit from having a mentor and interacting with “likeminded students in a Jewish setting,” said Lewis, whose husband, Rabbi Yehoshua Lewis, is a director of the Jewish Xperience. Although its faculty is Orthodox, the Xperience is open to Jewish students of all backgrounds.
“If you want to be a Jewish physician you need to look at not just the way you treat a patient medically, but the way you treat them spiritually,” said Lewis. “You must take time and treat them with kindness. You must talk to them and treat patients respectfully.”
Since the program began almost six years ago, Lewis has taken personal satisfaction over the number of women who have participated and taken leadership positions on its student board.
“My mother and grandmother were doctors,” she said, “so I particularly feel young women should have role models.”
One of those students is Maria Abramov of Monroe, a former JMed president who just completed her first semester of medical school at St. George’s University in Grenada.
During a recent summer study session hosted by Young Israel of East Brunswick, she stopped by to visit with former classmates and the Lewises.
JMed “is quite a special organization because of the number of clinical and medical things you become involved with,” she told NJJN. “Everything is based on learning about Judaism and the role Judaism plays in the clinical world. Everything I learned has been relevant and applicable now that I am in medical school.”
JMed also helped inspire Abramov to become more religiously observant. She opted to work in Israel before starting medical school.
“The shadowing and clinical exposure has been invaluable, and JMed has helped me in terms of my personal development in the way I see myself as a Jew in the medical field,” said Abramov. “It has first and foremost taught me the value of life. We studied Halacha [Jewish law] and the tremendous value it places on human life. We talked about things like how we should deal with being on call on Shabbat.”
She cited Dr. Alan Heidemann, a radiologist she shadowed at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, as “one of my biggest mentors.” She has been able to sit in on conferences with residents, discussing pertinent material for his cancer patients, and accompanying him to outpatient clinics.
“I’ve been to his house for Shabbat, and he’s been there for me when I had personal struggles,” said Abramov.
Incoming JMed vice president Alan Meskin, a junior from Sparta, said the organization provides “a much more intimate Jewish experience” for students whether they are secular or religious.
“I find the Halacha, the law, fascinating,” said Meskin. “There is such detail about various aspects of medicine. It really opened my eyes.”
Meskin shadowed Dr. Daniel Rosenblatt, clinical director of critical care at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison. Operating in a team environment with “people just holding on to dear life” in the intensive care unit was “a humbling” experience, said Meskin, who is now shadowing a psychiatrist.
Rosenblatt — who told NJJN he found the program “compelling” — has taken approximately 15 students along on rotations and appeared at JMed programs.
“Whatever exposure they get they really soak it up,” said the Highland Park resident. “Because I work in the ICU, they see a lot of ethical issues surrounding end-of-life issues and family dynamics, which many kids have never been exposed to. I don’t preach to them, but I try to get across the message that everything I do is from a Jewish point of view.”
Former JMed president Ryan Richstein of Colonia recently submitted his medical school applications and is compiling documentation for physicians at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick. He feels the JMed experience will give him an edge in medical school.
“From all the different experiences I had, I have a better idea what to expect,” said Richstein. “I met other enthusiastic medical students and great doctors, and I know what’s expected from Jewish doctors.”