Irina Schiopescu, MD, mentors Yale School of Medicine (YSM) MD students through the school’s Medical Coach Experience (MCE) Program, but her commitment to the students extends beyond her formal responsibilities. This includes having them gain experience presenting on medical issues, enabling them to join her one-on-one with patients during the summer, and inviting her mentee group over for a home-cooked dinner.
Schiopescu, a hospitalist at Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) who focuses on internal medicine and infectious diseases, got involved with MCE seven years ago, soon after starting at YNHH. Schiopescu, who is Romanian, explained that a Romanian colleague was interested in helping with the program and was looking for another clinician to partner with in mentoring students. Schiopescu volunteered to do it and has been participating ever since.
MCE runs from mid-April of the MD students’ first year, through mid-December of their second year, right before they begin their clinical rotations. Four students are paired with each MCE coach, who they meet with once a week throughout the program. The main goal of MCE is to prepare students to successfully perform history taking and physical exam assessments and provide students opportunities to engage with patients to develop the skills they will need on clerkships.
Schiopescu cites several reasons why she enjoys being an MCE Coach and keeps signing up to participate including, “I enjoy seeing students evolve over the course of the program.” In their first year, students are focused on learning history taking and the physical exam; by the second year of the program, they are able to play a bigger role developing a plan for patients.
She also finds it rewarding to coach because the students are “very enthusiastic, have open hearts, and are like a sponge, ready to absorb all.”
Additionally, serving as an MCE coach helps Schiopescu continually learn. She describes the risk of getting in “autopilot” mode over time. However, the students always challenge her with questions, causing her often to have to read up on an issue to provide a response. Schiopescu has created a presentation requirement for the students, which also expands her knowledge base; in the second year of the program, students research and present on a topic they have come across during MCE that is of interest to them. Schiopescu selects a topic as well, and they take turns presenting to each other.
Schiopescu also points to how grateful the students are as a reason she continues in the role. She notes that when she was in medical school in Romania, there was a program similar to MCE in her third year, where for a few hours each day she had the opportunity to practice history taking and physical exam. She describes her mentor as thoughtful, and says he gave her a good start on her career as a doctor.
After medical school, Schiopescu did her residency in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and a fellowship at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, before spending seven years practicing in an underserved area of Tennessee. She returned to Connecticut in 2014, to begin her hospitalist role at YNHH.
While the MCE coach role increases her responsibilities, she has developed a system for how to manage everything, which works well for her. As a hospitalist, she works seven days straight, from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, and then has seven days off. During her “on” weeks, she incorporates her MCE coaching into her work, for example, having her students join her as she admits a patient. If it gets particularly busy, she leads a shorter MCE session that week, and makes up the time with students during her “off” week.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, students could not join her in the hospital. Schiopescu particularly enjoyed engaging with the students again starting in January 2021, when the restrictions were loosened as students got vaccinated. Vaccinations also enabled Schiopescu, who enjoys cooking, to continue her tradition of inviting her MCE students over for a home-cooked meal, providing them with the opportunity to connect with her and each other in a less formal setting.
Schiopescu’s commitment to mentoring is evident in her offering her four MCE students opportunities to learn after MCE ended. She invited them to join her over the summer, one-on-one, at the hospital, and get more exposure to patients. She explains they were all staying in New Haven to conduct research, and she believes the additional clinical time complements the research hours and will strengthen their evolving clinical skills.