P&S Hosts Visiting Tulane Students

TULANE MEDICAL STUDENTS DISPLACED BY HURRICANE KATRINA found lab coats, scrubs, stethoscopes, supplies, substitute education, supportive faculty and medical students — even housing — when they arrived at P&S
Martin Moehlen, a fourth-year Tulane student (left), and Pranav Diwan, a third-year student at Tulane, were among the visiting students.
Martin Moehlen, a fourth-year Tulane student (left), and Pranav Diwan, a third-year student at Tulane, were among the visiting students.

for clinical rotations after the August 2005 hurricane. Four of the five students earned credit that transferred back to Tulane. The fifth student, Deshdeepak Sahni, was accepted to P&S as a third-year transfer student.
      Two of the five students are third-year students. Two others are in their fourth year, and the fifth student is an M.D./Ph.D. student. The medical center library found laptops for them to borrow. The student affairs office found lab coats in their sizes. P&S Club provided scrubs and T shirts. P&S students collected bed linens, towels, toiletries, school supplies, and pagers.
      The acceptance of Tulane medical students into medical schools throughout the country was coordinated by the Association of American Medical Colleges. First- and second-year Tulane students were accommodated by a consortium of medical schools in Houston, but most third- and fourth-year students were left to final alternative educational venues.
      Susan Seo, a fourth-year Tulane student, spent her time at P&S in sub-internships in dermatology, medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, ophthalmology, and radiology. Like most fourth-years, she also devoted time to pursuing residencies. “Because the Tulane.edu mainframe was flooded, it was difficult to contact professors for letters of recommendations and to ask them to resubmit grades that had been lost. As the students dispersed all over the country, the professors did too. This delayed the residency application process.”
      All five of the students from Tulane had some connection to P&S. Ms. Seo graduated from Barnard and received a master’s degree from the basic sciences graduate program at P&S. Her brother, Philip Seo, is a 1997 P&S graduate. Ms. Seo, who still has an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, completed an away rotation in dermatology at P&S in May. David Bickers, the Carl Truman Nelson Professor of Dermatology and chairman of dermatology, and Donald Landry, professor of medicine, are both long-time mentors to Ms. Seo, and they encouraged P&S to make room for her.
      Ms. Seo spent several days at Tulane’s hospital following the hurricane and flooding. She was a resident assistant in Tulane housing so she had stayed to help evacuate students and others staying in the dorm. She had an airplane ticket to leave New Orleans on Sunday, Aug. 28, but her flight was cancelled. She and a third-year medical student helped with hospital patients who were unable to be evacuated before the hurricane. When the hospital lost emergency power, she helped triage patients, scrounged for water to give to pregnant women in an attempt to stave off preterm labor, thought to triage the 400 ambulatory people for diabetes, seizure disorders, hypertension, asthma and other medical conditions to prevent them from becoming patients, and provided aid to physicians, nurses, patients, and family members. She helped carry several patients down stairwells for the first two days. To persuade one agitated patient who for more than a day refused to leave the seventh floor without her heavy motorized wheelchair, Ms. Seo wrote a receipt for the wheelchair on a paper towel. On the way down the stairwell, her questioning of the patient’s medical history revealed her need for dialysis and explained the mental status that had made her evacuation so challenging. Airlift evacuation of patients from the hospital was slow because medical helicopters could take only two patients at a time — 20 each day (nighttime evacuations were stopped when gunfire
This is the first picture Tulane student Susan Seo took on the Monday morning after Katrina struck New Orleans. “Looking out the window, it was a beautiful day. But when I looked down onto the street, I saw this.” The photo was taken from a window in Tulane University Hospital, looking down on Tulane Avenue.

This is the first picture Tulane student Susan Seo took on the Monday morning after Katrina struck New Orleans. “Looking out the window, it was a beautiful day. But when I looked down onto the street, I saw this.” The photo was taken from a window in Tulane University Hospital, looking down on Tulane Avenue.

made helicopter landing impossible) — and because more patients from the nearby Superdome, University Hospital, and Charity Hospital were arriving by canoe to replace the patients that were being evacuated.
      While most hospitals prepare to respond to emergencies, they rarely are part of the emergency in the way Tulane’s hospital was. Being able to move patients to a nearby parking garage with ample daytime light proved helpful. Ms. Seo recognizes the educational importance of her experience — “You couldn’t ask for a better clinical experience than that” — but she also gained newfound respect for the tools doctors have available under ideal circumstances. “After five days, all we could do was ambubag people and give fluids.” The X-rays, labs, dialysis were gone. The flashlight became an indispensable tool, not just for seeing but for getting the attention of hundreds of people when triaging and evacuating them.
      The experience also raised her awareness of the importance of planning for disasters: Some kind of “human kitty litter” is the No. 1 priority. Medical professionals need to be identifiable, so scrubs, in the Tulane experience, identified the people who were there to help. Doctors should be able to grab in a short time the five or six most important medications to have on hand to help the largest number of people. (“They may have only an instant, so it has to be automatic, like ABCS for airway, breathing, etc.,” Ms. Seo says.) If medicines are kept behind electronic locks, a backup system should allow access by key if the power goes out. “Now when I go on interviews for residencies, I think about how many flights of stairs I would need to carry down patients in an event of an emergency and where a helicopter could land if there is no landing pad, where medications are kept, is there access to locked drawers.” She also values the buddy system that enables people to keep track of others and provides combined resources. “The other medical student and I kept track of each other, and we found that two half-dead brains are better than one.”
      Ms. Seo was airlifted from the hospital by the Chicago Police Department on Saturday, Sept. 3. She is interviewing for dermatology residencies in the New York area.
      Deshdeepak Sahni, the third-year Tulane medical student who is now a third-year P&S student, had connections

Columbia helped provide some semblance of stability to my life during these difficult times.”

to Columbia through his wife, a graduate student at Columbia’s Business School. Mr. Sahni was in New York City visiting his wife when the hurricane struck. “It is a real privilege and an honor to be a part of the P&S family. I cannot thank Dr. [Andrew] Frantz [dean of admissions] and Dr. [Lisa] Mellman [dean of students] enough for allowing me to be here and reuniting me with my wife and parents. The students I have met have been very supportive and helpful. Not a day goes by where I am not inspired by their excellence and compassion for their patients.”
      The other third-year student, Pranav Diwan, says, “Columbia helped provide some semblance of stability to my life during these difficult times. I enjoyed my pediatric radiology rotation. It is quite evident why this institution is so well respected. Everyone affiliated with Columbia is so brilliant and compassionate. It is a true honor and privilege to be studying here.”
      Charla Poole, the last Tulane student to arrive in New York City, is a Tulane M.D./Ph.D. student. “As an M.D./Ph.D. student, I’m all too familiar with that puzzled expression of someone attempting to categorize me: Are you a medical student or a graduate student? Well, dealing with the logistics was especially trying following Katrina,” says Ms. Poole. “When it soon became obvious that my research was on hold (I had just started my Ph.D. work after having completed the first two years of medical school), I decided to set up some rotations that would count toward my fourth year of medical school. I also hoped to secure a rotation within one of five cities that interested me for future residency options. Not only was Columbia my first attempt, it also emerged as a “no-hassle one-stop-shop” -- something a refugee finds appealing. I e-mailed Wendy Chung M.D., Ph.D., [assistant professor of pediatrics] because of her genetic interests (my research focuses on stem cells) and exactly 12 hours later the ball was rolling.”
      Ms. Poole was the only Tulane student who requested housing, and she was assigned a room in Bard Hall. “I only had a couple of friends living in New York City at the time so, needless to say, my social skills came in handy.”
      As of early January, Ms. Poole was back in Monroe, La., preparing to return to New Orleans — “back into a new apartment, back into my lab, and back into a life I knew for the past six years. Am I fearful because I don’t know what to expect? Yes. However, I think I survived not only Katrina, but New York City as well. (I’ve heard that if you make it there, you’ll make it — boom! boom! — anywhere...)”

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