Shelby Wilhite ’22 engages in a high-impact internship with physician Sandra Esparza ’96.When Sandra Esparza ’96 was a premed student at Southwestern, she knew that she wanted to be a pediatrician. “It wasn’t until medical school and I was getting to follow on rounds that I realized I didn’t really want to work with kids,” she says.

Esparza eventually decided to specialize in family medicine, and while in medical school, she met her husband, who is a pediatrician. Together, they now operate ABC Family Medical Center in Round Rock and for years have hosted premed shadowing students from the University of Texas at Austin. “I would have loved the opportunity when I was a student at Southwestern,” remarks Esparza, so she approached Southwestern around two years ago to begin a shadowing partnership for SU premed students.

During the fall and spring semesters, four SU students each shadow one day a week at ABC Medical Center, allowing them to see what practicing medicine actually looks like and getting a chance to ask questions of the doctors. “It’s an experience they wouldn’t get otherwise, and I want them to understand what they are getting into before paying for medical school,” says Esparza.

“It’s an experience they wouldn’t get otherwise, and I want them to understand what they are getting into before paying for medical school.”

Sophomore Shelby Wilhite ’22 participated in the shadowing program during the fall 2019 semester, and it reaffirmed her interest in a career in medicine and the health professions. “It’s fun to watch her [Esparza] figure out what’s going on. You can see her going from a wide range of possibilities and then doing a process of elimination in her head based on what the patient is reporting and [what] she is seeing. It gives me insight into the process that a doctor goes through,” says Wilhite.

Getting to spend time at a medical practice also has made the goal of working in medicine feel more attainable and real for Wilhite: “The interaction between the doctors and the patients [isn’t] as formal as I pictured, which makes the whole process feel less scary.”

The biology and kinesiology double major isn’t sure exactly where within the healthcare profession she will end up, but getting to experience a family practice has opened her eyes to an area she hadn’t previously thought about. “I’ve liked with the family practice that she gets to see patients frequently over their life and gets to know them and play a role in helping them,” Wilhite says. “Family practice also sees such a variety of issues. There are so many different concerns that patients come in with that it’s like a puzzle trying to figure out how to best help them, whether it’s a certain medicine or connecting to a specialist.”

For Esparza, having the premed students around adds to her experience as a medical professional. “Having the students here makes you as a doctor look at everything with fresh eyes. It’s easy to forget about the newness and novelty of the profession, so seeing it from the students’ perspective is enjoyable,” she says. There are also opportunities for her to talk with the students about medicine and healthcare more generally, which adds knowledge and value to the experience. Wilhite observes that she has learned about other aspects of the industry, such as insurance and new research, through conversations with Esparza. “We talk about other areas in the health field and what’s going on, which adds to my understanding of healthcare,” she says.

While the Southwestern–ABC Medical Center shadowing partnership gives students the opportunity to learn and observe the medical profession in action, both Esparza and Wilhite note that to get the most out of it, the student needs to ask questions and engage in the experience. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions like ‘what do you mean?’ or ‘what are you looking for?’ It’s OK not to understand every part of the process, but you learn more when you ask follow-up questions,” says Wilhite. Esparza adds that she will let students know if she doesn’t have time to talk in between patients but encourages them to communicate with the doctors to make the most out of shadowing. “Be open-minded and ask questions,” she advises. “Use doctors as a resource. The more you engage with us, the more you will get out of it.”