An innovative internship approach during COVID-19

A year ago, Jenae Vancura joined an elite group of college and high school students for a unique and innovative summer internship program at CHOC Children’s. The interns shadowed physicians, joined doctors on their rounds and attended meetings with a wide range of professionals in the medical field.

The days were long. The work was challenging.

And Jenae, a 21-year-old biology major from UC Santa Barbara, is back again this year, now serving as a lead intern for the Sharon Disney Lund Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute  (MI3) summer internship program. She now helps guide a new group of students through the rigorous program.

“But this year is a little different,” Jenae says.

Now in its eighth year, the internship has been effectively reimagined as a virtual program, a pivot quickly executed at the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis emerged just as CHOC leaders and physicians were gearing up for this year’s internship program. That meant that the 63 participating students would not be able to work directly with hospital staff or go on rounds to interact with patients as in years past.

A look at the virtual model of the Medical Innovation and Intelligence Institute summer internship program.

Cancelling not an option

While many internship programs have been halted worldwide due to COVID-19, canceling the MI3 internship was simply not an option, organizers say. The experience was much too valuable and too many young had worked too hard to get this far.

“Many of our interns look to our program to affirm and motivate their decision to apply to medical school,” says Debra Beauregard, director of MI3. “Nearly all of the interns aspire to become physicians.”

So, with just weeks to go, the decision was made to recalibrate the program and put the whole curriculum online.

“The easy thing would have been to postpone or cancel,” says Dr. Anthony Chang, CHOC’s chief intelligence and innovation officer who launched the program eight years ago. “We wanted to give the students the same level of opportunity. To their credit, the team stepped up and made the internship rotation on par with previous years.”

Dr. Chang started the internship because he wanted to give young people an in-depth experience of the medical field.

“I felt like no one was really doing something like this,” he says. “The students were staying with one mentor doing one assignment. That sounds like a research assignment, not an internship. I wanted to give them access to something that gave them access to a hundred mentors.”

A rigorous pace remains

Even though the pandemic has restricted access to the hospital, it hasn’t slowed the  interns’ pace. Their work schedule starts early and, with a few breaks between, doesn’t end until the evening.

“We set up a lot of Zoom meetings,” Debra says. “Our interns have a full schedule. They participated in rounds and shadowed our physicians virtually. They were even able to remotely view multiple surgeries. This was a challenge, but everyone pulled together to provide what turned out to be a great summer program.”

A small group session during the internship

Dr. Chang says that while the interns are receiving the same level of instruction, what’s missing are some of the personal interactions that come with face-to-face contact.

“Not having one-on-one time in person and not having more intimate moments in small groups is difficult for us,” he says. “For instance, in past years they’ve had one-day retreats where they come to my house for breakfast and lunch. I wasn’t able to do that this year.”

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a little fun.

“Our directors and lead interns made sure that all interns felt connected,” Debra says. “We included team-building exercises, interactive small group sessions, and even a virtual graduation ceremony. The leads even organized a virtual talent show and Zoomie Awards, in addition to a competitive team competition. Our leads have gone above and beyond to ensure that our interns had a meaningful and memorable experience.“

Dr. Sharief Taraman, internship co-director and pediatric neurologist at CHOC, has been part of the program almost since it started. He’s confident that this year’s group is better off than students anywhere else.

“They’re way ahead of their peers in terms of experience and what they can get out of the summer,” he says. “We have a lot of moving parts, so we had to pivot very quickly.”

And to ensure the interns get all the experience they can, they are being invited back next year when they are hopefully able to receive hands-on work.

“We have offered guaranteed spots for our interns next year, so they can have an in-person experience,” Debra says. “We are confident that most will be coming back.”

Student gratitude abounds

The interns themselves are grateful for the chance to continue their internships during these difficult times.

“When I thought it wouldn’t happen, I got very upset,” says 20-year-old Julia Keating from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University. “It’s such a competitive internship.”

For Jessica Octavio, a 20-year old San Diego State student majoring in microbiology, going online was positive experience.

‘’We’re lucky,” she says. “They’ve been more than flexible. The biggest thing was learning this online interface, but as far as programming goes, it’s almost advantageous for us.”

While working on site would have been ideal, Luke Arnold says he appreciates all the work the health system staff have put into making this year’s program a success.

“It’s not ideal and obviously we’d like to have this in person,” says the 21-year-old biology major from Chapman University. “But being in quarantine has given us opportunities to work in group settings. We’re all in this together.”

Interns will be invited back for the 2021 session in hopes of a hands-on experience.

For intern Nicole Fraga, working from home has had some surprising benefits.

“It can be a very rigorous process,” says the 22-year-old recent graduate from Brown University. “But ironically, I think they’re getting closer to the interns online because we are meeting in small groups. We are able to communicate on Slack and share memes. We have a smaller community.”

Dr. Chang calls the internship a “circular experience.” The health system staff, he says, learn as much from the students as the students do from the physicians.

“We’re grateful that the interns are even more inspired to go into medicine despite the pandemic,” he says. “It’s very heartwarming to hear. The future of medicine is in good hands. I see the interns push back against the temptation to give up. They have the idealism and no fear of failure.”

Learn more about the Medical Innovation and Intelligence Institute summer internship program.

Acute and Chronic Headache Management in Children and Teens

When child and adolescent patients complain to their parents about a headache, it can be anything from a plea to stay home from school in hopes of avoiding a test, to a sign of something more serious. Dr. Sharief Taraman, a pediatric neurologist at CHOC Children’s, offers advice to the referring community on acute and chronic headache management in children and teens, including headache hygiene, non-medical intervention options, and referral guidelines.

Dr. Sharief Taraman, a pediatric neurologist at CHOC Children’s

Types of headaches often seen in children and adolescents

Migraine symptoms in kids

  • At least 5 attacks that meet the following criteria:
  • Headache lasting 1 – 72 hours
  • Headache has at least two of the following features:
    • Pain on both side or one side of the head
    • Pain is pulsating
    • Moderate to severe intensity
    • Aggravated by routine physical activities
  • At least one of the following:
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Chronic migraines are indicated by 15 headache days per month over a three-month period, and at least half of those are migraines.
  • About 1 out of every 20 kids, or about 8 million children in the United States, gets migraines. Before age 10, an equal number of boys and girls get migraines. But after age 12, during and after puberty, migraines affect girls three times more often than boys.

Tension headache symptoms in kids

  • Headache lasting from 30 minutes to seven days
  • Headache has at least two of the following characteristics:
    • Pain in two locations
    • Pressing or tightening feeling (not a pulsing pain)
    • Mild to moderate intensity
    • Not aggravated by routine physical activity such as walking or climbing stairs
  • No nausea or vomiting – many children experience a loss of appetite
  • Either sensitivity to light or sensitivity to sound
  • Tension headaches occur most often in children ages 9-12

Cluster headache symptoms in kids

  • At least five headaches that meet the following criteria:
    • Severe pain in one location: within the eye, above the eyebrow, or on the forehead, that lasts from 15 minutes to three hours when left untreated
  • Headache is accompanied by at least one of the following symptoms on the same side of the body as their headache:
    • Conjunctival injection and/or lacrimation
    • Nasal congestion and/or excess mucus in the nose
    • Eyelid swelling
    • Forehead and facial swelling
    • Droopy eyelid and/or small pupil
    • A restlessness or agitation
    • Cluster headaches usually start in children at around 10 years old

Post traumatic headache symptoms in kids

  • Acute post traumatic headache: lasts less than three months and caused by a traumatic injury to the head
  • Persistent post traumatic headache: lasts more than three months and caused by a traumatic injury to the head
  • Both acute and persistent headaches develop within one week of: the injury to the head, regaining of consciousness following injury to the head, or discontinuing medicine that impairs the ability to sense a headache following a head injury
  • Extended recovery risk factors:
    • Prolonged loss of consciousness or amnesia
    • Females
    • Initial symptom severity
    • Premorbid history of ADHD, mood disorders, and migraines

Sleep apnea headache symptoms in kids

  • Typically a morning headache
  • Pain is present on both sides of the head
  • Lasts more than four hours
  • Not accompanied by nausea, nor sensitivity to light or sound

Medication overuse headache symptoms in kids

  • Headaches on 15 or more days per month
  • Takes over-the-counter medication for headaches more than three times per week over a three-month period
  • Headache has developed or gotten worse during medication overuse
  • Pattern of headaches resolves or improves within two months after discontinuing the overused medication.

Remind parents of headache hygiene tips

There are a number of things parents can do to prevent headaches, says Dr. Taraman. Remind parents to practice headache hygiene:

Non-medical interventions

A variety of non-medical interventions can be helpful for children who are suffering from headaches, including ice packs; warm baths; taking a nap in a cool, dark room; neck and back massage; and taking a walk.

Medication as treatment for headaches in children

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, should be limited to no more than three days per week, with no more than two doses per day, in order to avoid medication overuse headaches.

Triptans are often used to treat moderate to severe migraines or cluster headaches, but should not be prescribed to patients with cardiovascular disease, uncontrolled hypertension, basilar migraine or hemiplegic migraine.

Encourage patients to keep a headache diary

Encourage your patients to keep a journal of their headaches so you can identify a pattern. Patients should keep track of:

  • Headache start date and time
  • What happened just before the headache?
  • How much did your head hurt, on a 0-10 pain scale?
  • Where did your head hurt?
  • What did you feel just before and during the headache?
  • What did you do to make yourself feel better?
  • Did you feel better, on a 0-10 pain scale?
  • Headache end date and time

When to refer cases of headaches to pediatric neurologists

Dr. Taraman offers the following guidelines on when to refer headaches to a pediatric neurologist for imaging:

  • Diagnosis of neurofibromatosis of tuberous sclerosis
  • Immunosuppressed child
  • If the child is awoken on a regular basis by headache pain or vomiting
  • Headaches beginning shortly after arising from bed in the morning (i.e., positional headache)
  • Syncope
  • Chronic progressive headaches
  • Persistently posterior headaches
  • Chronic headaches in patients less than 3-5 years old

When patients have a history of the following symptoms during headaches, Dr. Taraman offers the following guidelines on when to refer headaches for imaging and possible neurology consultation:

  • Double vision
  • Abnormal eye movements and/or nystagmus
  • Unilateral ptosis or complete 3rd nerve palsy
  • Motor or gait dysfunction or hemiplegia
  • Hemisensory disturbance
  • Confusion
  • Vertigo

CHOC is the only specialized imaging facility in Orange County just for children, and we only use board-certified pediatric radiologists and specially trained pediatric radiology technologists, nurses and child life specialists.

Parents should immediately be sent to the emergency room for headaches when:

There are some clear instances of severe headaches that warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room, says Dr. Taraman. These include:

  • Thunderclap headache: severe, sudden onset of pain that occurs anywhere in the head, and grabs your attention like a clap of thunder. Pain usually peaks within 60 seconds to a few minutes.
  • Any headache that comes with acute focal neurologic deficit.
  • Changes in vision due to papilledema, which can include blurred or double vision, flickering, or complete loss of vision.
  • If the child had a shunt placed for a condition such as hydrocephalus, and it becomes obstructed or infected, they can show symptoms of untreated hydrocephalus.

Learn more about the Neuroscience Institute at CHOC Children’s.

 

Patients Say the Darndest Things – Happy Doctor’s Day!

In celebration of Doctor’s Day, we asked a few of our physicians what’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek

Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek, emergency medicine specialist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A:  Kids say funny things all the time. One of my favorites was a little 4 -year-old girl who had ingested coins and they were stuck in her esophagus. When I asked her what happened she shrugged her shoulder and with a mischievous look in her eyes said, “I ate the money, I’m not supposed to eat the money.”  Also recently a patient told me I looked like Snow White (which I don’t) and she called me Dr. Snow White the whole time I took care of her.

 

Dr. Gary Goodman

Dr. Gary Goodman, medical director, pediatric intensive care unit, CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: Just recently, I had a patient, who has a mild developmental delay, call me “the boy.”  I would stop in the patient’s room each morning, at which point I’d get asked, “What do YOU want?”

 

Dr. Kenneth Kwon

Dr. Kenneth Kwon, emergency medicine specialist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: An adage in pediatric emergency care is when a child comes in with a nosebleed, you don’t ask if he picks his nose, you ask him which finger he uses. When I asked this question to one of my pint-sized patients, he answered that he used all of them, and then proceeded to demonstrate by sticking each of his 10 fingers in his nose individually. It was priceless.

 

Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh

Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh, general and thoracic surgeon

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: There was a young child around 8-9 years old and we were going to remove his appendix with laparoscopy. I was standing on his left side because with laparoscopy we make our incision on the left side. Just before he went to sleep he looked up at me and said, “Why are you standing on my left? My appendix is on the right.” I was amazed at how knowledgeable this kid was!

 

Dr. Jennifer Ho

Dr. Jennifer Ho, hospitalist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: “I want to be a doctor like you … but only for unicorns and fairies.”

 

Dr. Andrew Mower

Dr. Andrew Mower, neurologist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: “I don’t eat apples, doctor.”

“Why?”

“Because they keep the doctor away, and I like you, Dr. Mower.”

 

Dr. Laura Totaro

Dr. Laura Totaro, hospitalist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: I was examining the mouth of my patient when he proudly showed me his loose tooth and whispered to me that his family had a secret. He then excitedly admitted that his mom was the tooth fairy!  His mother looked at me quizzically and then burst out laughing when she realized what had taken place. Earlier she had admitted to him that she played the role of tooth fairy at home but her son took this quite literally and believed it to actually be her secret full time job for all children.

 

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer, general and thoracic surgeon

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: A patient asked me what my first name was, and I told him it was Mustafa. He then promptly told me that was the name of his pet lizard!

 

Dr. Sharief Taraman

Dr. Sharief Taraman, neurology

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: One of my patients told me that I look like the character Flint Lockwood from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and another one thinks I look like the character Linguini from the movie Ratatouille, both of which I found very funny.  Apparently, I give off the nerdy guy vibe.

CHOC Children’s Grand Rounds Video: Cognitive Side to Mental Health and the Psychology Behind Concussions

A concussion or mild traumatic brain injury is defined as a transient neurologic change resulting from a biomechanical impact to the head. Given this broad definition, it is not surprising that concussion represents the most common type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions can be complicated and multifaceted, as patients usually present with various combinations of neurologic, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms, Drs. Sharief Taraman and Jonathan Romain said in a recent grand rounds presentation at CHOC Children’s.

Adolescents represent a commonly seen subgroup within the concussion population, most notably because of their frequent involvement in sports and higher-risk activities. Additionally, when injuries do occur at the high school and college level, the impact velocities tend to be at a higher rate than is seen in younger athletes, potentially resulting in more pronounced concussions. Further complicating the situation is that adolescents tend to have busy schedules and multiple responsibilities throughout the school year (when most concussions occur). Thus, when a concussion is sustained, the student athlete not only needs to deal with the immediate symptoms of the injury, but also the potential for academic and social derailment during the recovery process. Combine these issues with a strong body of literature suggesting adolescents tend to have slower resolution than do adults, and you have the recipe for a very bumpy recovery.

The doctors explain that cognitive symptoms manifest as slower processing speed, feeling foggy, and occasional forgetting or transient confusion.  Psychiatric symptoms often include irritability, liability and sadness. A child may have one or many of these symptoms, although more often these symptoms overlap. The patient and their family may not recognize how persistent symptoms of headache and dizziness, for example, can contribute to memory problems and difficulty concentrating, irritability, and feelings of depression and hopelessness. Children with prolonged symptoms also can feel isolated from their peers while they are sitting out of play and school.

Learn more about CHOC’s Concussion Program.

View previous grand rounds videos.

Stroke in Pediatric Patients: Occurrence, Intervention and Beyond

By Dr. Sharief Taraman

Many might picture a stroke patient as middle aged or elderly, but

Dr. Sharief Taraman, CHOC Children's pediatric neurologist
Dr. Sharief Taraman, CHOC Children’s pediatric neurologist

the reality is that the ailment occurs across the lifespan.

A stroke affects one in every 3,500 live births and six to 13 per 100,000 children per year.  At CHOC Children’s, that translates to one or two patients per month outside the newborn period.

Among many risk factors, the largest for stroke in children include cardiac disease (19 percent); coagulation disorders (14 percent); and dehydration (11 percent). Multiple risk factors are present in up to 25 percent of pediatric stroke patients.

Atherosclerosis and modifiable risk factors that dominate adult stroke mechanism and treatment were nearly non-existent in pediatric stroke. However, in the past decade and a half, traditional cardiovascular risk factors for stroke in people ages 15 to 34 have been steadily increasing.

Placental diseases can cause perinatal arterial stroke, and perinatal stroke accounts for a large proportion of pediatric stroke morbidity. The first week of life carries the most risk for stroke and the majority of survivors have lifelong morbidity, most typically, hemiparetic cerebral palsy. Cognitive or behavioral disorders and epilepsy are also common.

Acute ischemic stroke (AIS) lesions are often multifocal, even in the absence of overt cardiac disease, which lends support to proximal embolic source. Many neonates with AIS have risk factors and presentations that overlap with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, and the two can co-occur.

Delayed diagnosis

Despite these occurrences and the inherent dangers, a lack of awareness prevails and diagnosis of childhood stroke is often significantly delayed. One study found up to a 28-hour delay in seeking medical attention from the onset of symptoms and a 7.2 hour delay after presentation before any brain imaging occurred (Lenn, et al, 2002).

Further complicating matters is that presentation can be subtle, varied and non-specific, and often occurs in the setting of a systemic illness. One study found the median time to diagnose AIS in neonates was 87.9 hours and 24.8 hours in children (Mackay, et al 2009). Another study saw that 19 of 45 children with a stroke did not receive a correct diagnosis until 15 hours after initial presentation, and in some cases, up to three months afterward (DeVeber, et all 2006).

Also, many other diseases mimic a stroke: A fifth of children presenting for evaluation of suspected acute stroke have a “stroke mimic,” rather than an actual stroke (Shelhaas, Pediatrics, 2006). Stroke mimics include migraines and delirium, as well as seizure and tumor.

Intervention

High-powered clinical trials that guide adult stroke management – including antiplatelet and anticoagulant strategies; chemical and mechanical thrombolysis; stroke unit care; and many others – do not yet exist for children.

Of 687 children enrolled in the International Pediatric Stroke Study (2011), 15 patients received tissue plasminogen activator (tPA): nine underwent intravenous tPA and six underwent intra-arterial tPA. The median time to treatment from onset was 3.3 hours for intravenous alteplase and 4.5 hours for intra-arterial alteplase.

Of those patients, four had intracranial hemorrhage (non-symptomatic); one died from brainstem stroke; one died from massive stroke with herniation; one was discharged without deficits; and 12 were discharged with neurological deficits.

Intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) needs more study for safety, dosing and efficacy before it can be fully applied to pediatric patients. Dosing in children cannot be extrapolated from adult data or existing pediatric data.

Limited pediatric safety and effectiveness data also exists around neurointerventional techniques like intra-arterial tPA and mechanical thromboectomy. Early intervention results in better outcomes, though success rates depend heavily on the operator’s experience.

Rehabilitation, recurrence

Similar to the adult stroke population, rehabilitation is multifaceted and comprises neuropsychology; developmental monitoring; educational intervention; and physical, occupational, and speech therapies. Most of the functional recovery occurs in the first two to three months. The quality of functional recovery is better in the pediatric population; however, the prognosis worsens as the lesion size increases.

The risk of recurrence following a stroke is up to 25 percent and highest in the first three months of onset. The lowest risk of recurrence is in perinatal and cryptogenic stroke.

Like any other condition, prevention of pediatric stroke is important and many patients will be placed on antiplatelet or anticoagulation. Interestingly, children with some, few or no vaccinations are shown to be at risk of stroke seven times higher than those who received all or most vaccinations.

CHOC has a collaborative team with protocols in place to recognize and treat pediatric stroke aggressively. Learn more about the CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute.