Preceptorship Pairs Student with Doctor


Northern Michigan University pre-med student Nicole Perrier scrubs in and puts on a gown before entering the Neonatology Intensive Care Unit at Marquette General Hospital. She is there to observe and learn from her mentor, Dr. Julia Frei, who will conduct careful examinations of the unit's newborn patients.


"I am so amazed at what they can do in the NICU,” Perrier said. “Dr. Frei is a very good teacher. She gave me a briefing and then I started going on rounds with her. She points out things to me during examinations, introduces me to the families, and lets me sit in when she discusses issues with them. She also introduced me to the nurses, who've been very receptive to me being there. I'm just there to observe, but it's nice that Dr. Frei allows me to be involved in so many aspects of her profession."


Perrier has been matched with Frei for more than two years through the "preceptorship" component of Northern's pre-med program. She said it has been invaluable in affirming and guiding her future career goals.


"I was always interested in pediatrics, but I didn't know if I wanted to specialize," said Perrier, who hails from Marquette. "Initially, I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle seeing babies who are off to a rough start. But this experience has convinced me that neonatology is definitely the direction I want to go. It will mean an additional three-year residency after my pediatrics residency, but I know it will be worth that investment.”


Frei has a first-hand appreciation for the value of a preceptorship. As an NMU pre-med student in the early ‘80s, she observed activity in the MGH emergency room and worked with Dr. Allan Olson. “It’s rewarding that I’m now in a position to give back what was given to me,” she added.


Perrier is the daughter of Rick Perrier (Plant Operations). She said she was grateful for the opportunity to enroll in a quality program close to home.


Dave Lucas (Physics), pre-med coordinator at NMU, said the university’s relatively small size and proximity to MGH offer several advantages.


“The opportunities we can provide are uncommon in most programs,” he said. “Those enrolled at other schools have to find their own physician to observe and do that work over the summer. We help students find a mentor at MGH and they’re able to get that observational experience year-round. Our undergrads also get the type of research experience that is normally reserved for graduate students at other colleges. We have about 170 pre-med students total while the University of Michigan has more than 2,000. Our size benefits the students. The level of guidance here is very strong and we do a lot of things for students that most other programs don’t or can’t.


Other opportunities available to pre-med students at NMU include clinical conferences at MGH, which typically involve lunch and a presentation by a physician; an operating room volunteer program; a patient attendant program in which students help take care of at-risk patients who require supervision; bi-annual seminars for freshmen and sophomores that introduce them to dentistry, oral surgery, chiropractic care and other fields in the event that they want to consider other careers besides a medical doctor; MCAT study groups and practice tests; an advisory board that interviews qualified candidates and generates letters of recommendation from the university on behalf of selected students bound for medical school; and a tour of each medical school in Michigan.


“All of these optional activities are in addition to the things students can do on their own to prepare for medical school,” Lucas added. "A lot of programs may have some of the same pieces we do, but not the whole package.”


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Updated: February 15, 2006

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