Dr. Barbara Pettitt ’72, M.D., a member of the Central College board of trustees, had a strange package in her carry-on luggage as she boarded her flight in Atlanta on her way to Iowa: 20 pounds of pigs’ feet.
Once safely through TSA, Pettitt could breathe easy and prepare for her busy weekend at Central College: several important meetings and a suture lab for students interested in medical school.
Blake Hale, a pre-med junior with a major in biology, was eager to attend the workshop on Saturday, April 20. “To get the chance to talk to and learn from a current pediatric surgeon is nothing anyone who is serious about medical school should pass up,” he says. “Gaining a resource in the medical community, especially a Central grad, is never a bad thing.”
Pettit is chief of surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at the Hughes Spalding Campus and director of medical student education for the department of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. She conducted the suture lab at Central exactly the same way she does for her medical students.
After making a laceration with a scalpel in their pig’s foot, each Central student learned how to place interrupted sutures. They also learned how to tie a knot with their instruments instead of their hands and to tie a knot one-handed.
“Hands-on skills, especially basic ones like knowing how to suture, are important to every physician,” says Pettitt. “Technical skills are critically important to learn well if you enter a surgery specialty. But even primary care doctors need to have basic technical skills; many do procedures in their offices like suturing uncomplicated lacerations, removing ‘lumps and bumps’ or draining abscesses. They need to have skills to do those things.”
Pettitt has been conducting the suture workshop at Central for several years, ever since she met a group of pre-med students and heard about their desire for an interactive lesson—getting to perform a procedure doctors actually do (without patients, of course). Suturing turned out to be the perfect topic, though it’s not as easy as doctors make it seem.
“From the experience, I learned that suturing is a lot more complicated than it looks, but it is fun and exciting to finally accomplish the correct technique,” says senior biology major Rachael Barrett, who came to the workshop to help prepare for a career in health care.
Between sutures, Pettitt gave advice about applying to medical school. She advised students to perfect their standardized test-taking skills. The MCATS are essential for medical school, and board exams are routine in a doctor’s career. Pettitt herself is on the fourth round of the recertification exams that take place every 10 years in her three specialties.
As a member of the admissions committee for Emory’s medical school, Pettitt is also appreciative of the breadth of knowledge a liberal arts education provides. She even points out that a science major isn’t a must. “Choose a major that you love and pursue it passionately. As long as you fulfill the requirements for medical school, you can major in almost anything,” she says.
“We admit people all the time with majors in business, the classics, dance. They’ve all taken the biology and chemistry that’s required, but they’ve pursued other fields that ultimately will give medicine a lot of diversity, help them deal with patients and advance the medical field with perspectives that are very different.”