With an ultrasound probe held tightly in one hand and a needle in the other, Leah Hawkins carefully watches the screen as she navigates her first simulated ultrasound-guided biopsy.
As soon as the “lesion” appeared on the screen, Leah effortlessly drew out some of the liquid that would typically be sent off for testing.
“That was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be,” she said. “Up until now, I have only observed it being done, so being able to use the biopsy tools myself was an amazing first time experience.”
A medical student from Cardiff University in Wales, Leah is one of 443 international students currently enrolled in the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Vancouver Summer Program in Medicine (VSP Med) – a four-week academic program that welcomes undergraduate students from around the world to UBC each summer.
Over the course of their time in the program, the students have an opportunity to take courses in everything from biochemistry to physical therapy.
The ultrasound biopsy simulation workshop is part of the Faculty of Medicine’s Course Package C: ‘Anatomy and Radiology (Medical Imaging) – Interactive Learning to Enhance Understanding,’ and was designed to simulate a breast biopsy. VSP Med students spent the morning scanning trays of dark gelatin containing hidden cocktail onions (representing tumours) and balloons filled with fluid (representing cysts) – two entities encountered in breast imaging.
Once a “cyst” or “tumour” appeared on the screen, the students either extracted the fluid using a needle or collected a tissue sample using a biopsy gun.
“This is a great opportunity for students to build their clinical skills, as well as practice aspiration and core biopsies,” said Samuel Marleau, a second-year medical student at UBC and volunteer instructor for VSP Med. “It also gives them insight into the Canadian medical system and a better idea of what they might like to try in the future.”
For Leah – who plans on becoming a surgeon – the experience sparked a new interest.
“I enrolled in the VSP Med program to gain more exposure and education in anatomy because it’s a key subject if you want to become a surgeon,” she said. “But now I am definitely contemplating radiology.”
The VSP Med program, which started in 2014 with just two courses and 85 students, has steadily increased, attracting students from around the globe.
This year, the program saw its largest enrollment yet, with 516 students over the course of two sessions, and with course packages tailored to include areas such as clinical medicine, biochemistry and biology, major mental illnesses and psychotherapy, and population and public health.
“The material that we are teaching is state-of the-art and covers a wide spectrum of medicine and health professions,” said Roger Wong, the Executive Associate Dean, Education. “Students get a lot of hands-on experience to help them learn the material, but we also learn a lot from them in terms of culture and how they learn and incorporate things so quickly.”
“It really is about diversity and inclusion, and learning from each other…It’s social accountability working at the global level and recognizing that the Faculty is part of that global community.”
All of the programming is delivered through various faculty departments and taught by volunteer faculty members, graduate students, post-graduate students, residents and medical students.
Aside from the lectures, labs and workshops – the students are also encouraged to experience Canadian culture and explore the natural beauty that makes British Columbia unique.
Whether it was a trip to Victoria, a tour of the Museum of Anthropology, a walk in Stanley Park or a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge – many of the VSP Med students commented on the number of attractions Vancouver has to offer and how easy it is to get to them.
“You have the beaches at your doorstep and you can go skiing up at Whistler – you really do have the best of both in the space of one city,” said Leah.