Step Up to Leadership
Meet Dr.ErinN Coe
Many leadership donors began supporting former students like Dr. Erinn Coe during their first-year. Upon hearing Erinn’s story in 2016, donors realized that their continued support would help make Erin’s dreams come true. Throughout, Dr. Coe has continued to share her story with us.
Read her year-by-year account below.
First Year: She Knows in Her Bones
At age 21, Erinn Coe probably knows more than the average M1 about bones and orthopedic surgery. After helping her father manage two total hip replacements and managing her own bone condition, Erinn developed a deep interest in the field. In her first year at NEOMED, she has already set her sights on a career in orthopedics.
A native of New Middletown, Ohio, a farming community near Youngstown, Erinn is the first in her family to pursue a career as a physician. Her parents couldn’t be more proud: “When my mom goes to the grocery store, she’ll tell anyone about me,’’ she says. However, it is up to Erinn to fi nance her medical education, which she is doing through significant loan debt. She is extremely grateful for NEOMED’s Blue Fund scholarship, which eases the burden. Erinn appreciates the hand up that NEOMED offers hardworking students like her.
Erinn’s own compassion extends to orthopedic patients. Her parents are divorced, and she was the one who helped her dad get through his hip replacements when she was just a teenager and also managed household chores. “My father was a difficult patient in some ways, but he was determined to get better. He was out shoveling snow very soon after the surgery,’’ Erinn says. She admires his tenacity and has needed her own to deal with a rare bone condition, osteochondritis dissecans, with which she was diagnosed when she was participating in track and field events in high school.
Early on, Erinn had an interest in science. The chance to travel to stay on The Ohio State University campus in middle school for a hands-on workshop in watershed pollution opened her eyes to options in bioscience. As a B.S./M.D. graduate of Youngstown State University, Erinn has felt comfortable at NEOMED from the start because she already knew some students in her cohort. Living in the Village apartments on campus increases a feeling of community. So does the emphasis on team-based learning at NEOMED, and a group of students who embrace friendly competition but stick together.
“We’re all in the same boat and we all rely on each other,’’ says Erinn. It helps tremendously to have faculty members like Dr. Dana Peterson in Human Development and Structure (HDS): ”She is so cool. She’s not intimidating at all. She’s very approachable and it’s nice to see how much effort she puts into helping students and even sitting in on other people’s lectures.’’
NEOMED is a place where Erinn Coe feels right at home.
Second Year: Building on Experience
There are times when a new medicine student just can’t wait to set aside the books and start seeing patients — but the waiting pays off. Serving on a medical mission trip after her first year helped Erinn Coe realize just how much she had learned as an M1 at the NEOMED College of Medicine.
Last summer, Erinn was part of a medical team providing tests for patients living on Native American reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. “The children are required to have medical screenings to be eligible for Head Start programs, but they live two hours away from the closest doctor and their families can’t get them there,’’ she explains. “Once we did the screenings, they could immediately get help from Head Start. We really made a difference.’’
Each experience — in the classroom or outside it — takes Erinn closer to her goal of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon following graduation in 2019. She noticed that as a second-year student, she was able to deeply appreciate the relevance of this year’s Watanakunakorn Lecture, at which Louis Rice, Ph.D., of Brown University spoke about antibiotics to which people have developed resistance. “We had studied antibiotics in our infection and immunity class, so I understood the importance of the topic, and it was exciting to hear from such an expert in the field,’’ she says.
Participating in the Orthopaedic Interest Group at NEOMED has brought Erinn in touch with NEOMED alumnus Kim Stearns, M.D. (’85), an orthopaedic surgeon who also serves as the team physician for the Cleveland Indians. “Orthopaedics is a competitive field,’’ she says. “It’s nice to talk with people who are interested in the same thing, and it’s nice to have an “in” with people in the field, like Dr. Stearns.’’
Second-year students develop their clinical skills by working with standardized patients (community members who play scripted roles of patients for student training) in the Wasson Center for Clinical Skills Training, Assessment, and Scholarship. Erinn has grown from that experience, and her eyes light up when she talks about going to a physician’s office, where she was allowed to interact with an actual, unscripted patient. Who knew that taking someone’s blood pressure could be so exciting?
Erinn is grateful to NEOMED’s Blue Fund for helping her pursue her dream of being an orthopaedic surgeon. And she’s happy to be at NEOMED, where her hard work brings that goal closer every year.
Third Year: Preparation for Practice
Hands on. That’s what the third year of training means when you’re in the NEOMED College of Medicine, and Erinn Coe couldn’t be happier. Thanks to solid preparation, she is confidently stepping into a series of clerkships in eight different clinical areas. An experience during her first, a nine-week internal medicine rotation, was a touching reminder of what makes all of the hard work worthwhile.
Coe was working with a pulmonologist who performed a special procedure on a man in his thirties who had suffered for years from persistent, severe asthma. When the team went into the waiting room afterward to tell his mother that the procedure had gone well, she started crying and told the doctor she felt like he had saved her son’s life. “It was…,’’ Coe stops to search for words. “It’s why you go into medicine.’’
She shares that initially, she was a little nervous about interacting with patients, but soon realized that she has the preparation she needs, thanks to experience with Standardized Patients at the Wasson Center for Clinical Skills and Assessment. As first- and second-year students complete classroom work in anatomy and physiology, they also begin to take patient histories, and then do physical exams, which paid off when she got to an actual hospital setting, says Coe.
“In the patient interactions I’ve had so far, it’s amazing how often I find myself going back to, ‘If I were in the Wasson Center, what questions would I be expected to ask this patient?’ The questions we learned to ask were all clinically relevant and information that we should be gathering,’’ says Coe.
In the Wasson Center, which receives ongoing support from the Blue Fund, faculty provide feedback from training sessions. Such feedback has taught Erinn not to diagnose a patient too quickly, but rather to ask enough questions to rule out all relevant possibilities.
The aspiring surgeon also found it gratifying to help patients during a three week session with an orthotics and prosthetics company—fulfilling a NEOMED requirement to work with an allied health care professional—that makes many of the devices for their patients in their own workshop, housed in the back of the office. “I liked the hands-on aspect and going back into the workshop to figure out a solution for the patient,’’ says Coe.
She has tucked away the knowledge gained of how prosthetists and orthopedists interact with physicians.
When she’s a physician treating a patient with a specific need, she’ll be well prepared to refer them.
Fourth Year: Empathic Concern
Connecting with patients — that’s the best part of practicing medicine, if you ask Erinn Coe, a fourth-year student in the College of Medicine. While doing clerkships in her third year, she realized just how much it meant to her.
Working in a plastic surgery clinic, Coe recalls, her favorite thing was seeing the patients for their post-op visit. “They would come back to the clinic and say, ‘I’m so happy,’ or ‘I feel so much better because of what you did.’’’
Seeing compassion in progress
And an experience with the clerkship director for her internal medicine rotation made an indelible impression: “He’s an amazing physician and the relationship he had with his patients — they adored him. “I think when you’re a patient it’s very easy to feel vulnerable and intimidated by physicians and he’s not like that. He’s very personable and approachable,’’ says Coe, who has a disarming warmth of her own.
Coe had planned to pursue a residency in surgery; all of her fourth-year rotation choices were based on that goal, and so were her choices of residency programs. But when she realized that being a surgeon could mean many more hours in operating rooms than with patients, Coe decided to make a course correction. With the help of a student advisor, she regrouped for a Plan B that will put her on track for a medical specialty rather than a surgical one.
Reflecting to better understand
Learning more about all the specialties — and which one suits you best — is part of the growing experience that happens during the third year of medical school. Coe also learned about what it’s like for a family member when their loved one needs medical care. During her internal medicine rotation in her hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, her grandfather fell ill and was admitted to the hospital where she was working. Coe noticed that sometimes there were differences in the way that physicians on the team would speak about her grandfather, depending on whether they knew the two of them were related.
“It sounds cliched to say you should treat a patient like they’re your family member. Emotionally, obviously you can’t do that with every single patient. But in that scenario, when my patient literally was my grandpa, I saw that it’s one thing for a physician to say something like, “It’s time to withdraw care,’’ and another for the family to hear that advice,’’ says Coe. “The experience gave me a chance to see things from both perspectives.’’
Residency: Resonant in Residence
Not even five years ago, Erinn Coe was a first-year medicine student, eager to find
These days, you’ll find the 2019 College of Medicine graduate striding through the
halls of Summa Akron City Hospital, offhandedly referring to a “cabbage” (a coronary
artery bypass graft) as she describes her work as a resident. In the cardiac critical care
unit, says Coe, a resident is expected to make morning rounds with attending
physicians and participate in consults from the Emergency Department in the
afternoons. She feels at home, well prepared by her NEOMED training.
Coe matched into a three-year residency in internal medicine, which means that
she will be trained in a sequence of different hospital departments and settings.
Halfway through her first year, she had served in pulmonology and rheumatology
and a resident-run clinic for outpatients. At that clinic, Coe built on what she had
learned at NEOMED about the social determinants of health and working as a
team with other providers, such as a social worker. “There can be so many
roadblocks — social determinants — to treating patients,” observes Coe.
When she started medical school, Coe thought she’d like to be an orthopaedic
surgeon, because of her family health history. As she progressed, she realized
that it’s the patients and their stories that connect her most closely to the practice
of medicine, so internal medicine sounded like an even better fit. Coe treasures
the connections she makes with patients and their families, even when she has
to deliver the worst news. “That’s an unfortunate but necessary part of the job.
It’s also an opportunity to be there for the family,” notes Coe.
The four year of Human Values in Medicine (HVM) training that Coe received
at NEOMED focused on themes arising from the areas of humanities, bioethics
and reflective practice. These educational experiences prepared her for tough
conversations with patients and families – and managing the emotions that can
surface after her workday has ended. “I don’t know how you could get through
those kinds of things without a coping mechanism,” says Coe, a runner who
recently completed her first marathon.
Reflective practice courses at NEOMED are designed to help students identify
and process their feelings. In her first three years in school, “I was not a fan,” admits
Coe. But that fourth year, when she was doing her rotations, she came to believe
that such reflection was key to providing patient-centered care. “It’s how you learn
to recognize and relate to a patient’s specific needs. And when you reflect on positive
patient encounters, knowing you had even a small positive impact in someone’s life
makes all the hard work feel a little less hard.”