Scrubbing Up

Caroline B. Apreku, third from left, stands with members of the surgical team at Nanjing Medical University in China.

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 3, 2017) – A UAlbany junior found herself in the operating room this summer, but instead of being the patient, she was scrubbing up to participate in surgery.

Caroline B. Apreku, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Ghana, shadowed surgeons and medical students during a three-week internship at Nanjing Medical University in China.

After watching several laparoscopy surgeries, said Caroline, “the head female surgeon instructed another doctor to prep me up for surgery.”

Her task — an important one — was to insert the laparoscope (a long tube-like surgical camera) through the patient’s navel into the uterus so the surgeons could begin a hysterectomy.

“I did that successfully with their verbal guidance,” she said. “During surgery, I had to aim the laparoscope towards the section of the uterus as they were operating.”

The surgery lasted about two hours. Caroline assisted in one other surgery and observed many more.

As a Collegiate Science Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) student, Caroline took part in UAlbany’s Summer Research Program in 2016 and the CSTEP Conference in April 2017. She has served as a calculus tutor and now she is an office assistant at CSTEP.

Through her CSTEP research presentations, Caroline made connections with her current mentors, Provost Jame Stellar and Professor JoEllen Welsh of Environmental Health Sciences. She aids the provost on finding ways to increase opportunities for undergraduates — especially students of color — to enter graduate schools.

UAlbany's Caroline Apreku in the operating room in Nanjing

Caroline Apreku assists in the operating room in Nanjing.

“Caroline is not only very able, she is also highly self-motivated,” Stellar said. “Students like her often do very well with these remarkable experiences outside the classroom, and having such a human surgical experience in Nanjing, China certainly counts as a remarkable experience. We are proud of her and I am very happy to have her as an intern in the Provost’s Office this year.”

Caroline has also worked with Welsh, a prominent researcher in the area of Vitamin D and breast cancer, and is now conducting research with Gabriele Fuchs of Biology at The RNA Institute.

“Being mentored under these renowned researchers motivated me to follow my goals as they also guide me towards that path,” Caroline said.

Caroline was originally planning to conduct research at Columbia University this past summer. However, her sister was earning a master’s degree from Nanjing University in China, and Caroline did not want to miss her sister’s graduation. “Family comes first,” she said.

She told her mentor, Provost James Stellar, about her dilemma.

“He said I could do the research another summer, but I may never find a good opportunity to visit China. I am so glad I followed his advice,” she said.

Her sister mentioned Caroline to a friend who is an OB/GYN in China, and the friend offered Caroline the chance to shadow her in the hospital.

For Caroline, whose long-term goal is to become a surgeon, the experience was priceless.

“I want to work with women and children who are more vulnerable back home in Ghana,” said Caroline, who was born in Accra. “The plan is go back home, build a modern state-of-the art hospital, and improve the health care system of my country.”

Her passion for science and medicine helped her to succeed in this internship.

“Every morning, I would follow a team of surgeons, residents and rotating medical students to visit patients in the wards,” she said. “They would ask me questions about the prognosis and treatments of patients and I believe if I were not a pre-health student, I would be clueless.”

Back in the U.S., Caroline credits the CSTEP program with giving her a strong support system. “Caroline’s medical work abroad is a great example of what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” said Mayra Santiago, director of CSTEP. ”We’re proud of her growing accomplishments and very fortunate to have her as a role model for future students to follow.

Outside the classroom, Caroline volunteers at Albany Medical Center and is a member of the Minority Association of Prehealth/Medical Students.

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