Medical Mentor

Alumnus Dr. Ryan Arnold shows the ropes to Pepperdine pre-med undergraduates.

July 27, 2012  | 4 min read

Ryan Arnold (’98) still remembers his first and only pre-med, undergraduate exposure to the practice of medicine. “I volunteered at UCLA Medical Center, where I handed nurses blankets for patients,” he says, emphasizing that while he was excited at the time to be in a hospital environment, he would have appreciated more direct exposure to the medical experience.

Now an emergency doctor and clinical researcher at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, Arnold runs a program researching infectious diseases and emergency room (ER) treatment. A few years ago he started thinking about ways to give back to his alma mater and realized he was in a unique position to provide current pre-med Pepperdine students with the hands-on mentoring experience he wished he had had. “I saw an opportunity to mentor students and provide incredible exposure for them,” he says.

Arnold sought out internship options at Pepperdine and eventually partnered with the Randall Internship Program—a 14-week program, originally founded by benefactors Jim and Eleanor Randall, that sends interns into their chosen fields with a living stipend, a faculty supervisor, and a course load of assignments (see below). Every summer for the last three years, Arnold has welcomed two pre-med Pepperdine students to his ER and research labs.

“My hours are sometimes not desirable but they get to walk with me, help with interviews and physical exams—all to help them decide on what field of medicine they might eventually choose. This provides incredible exposure for them.”

This year, he mentored recently graduated pre-med student Shane Naki (’12) and pre-med junior Priyanka Shah. “The reality is that medicine is tough, grueling even, with dirty messes, long nights, and difficult conversations. So why do it?” Naki asks, knowing that his future career can be a uniquely visceral profession, requiring a strong stomach, flexible body clock, and an abundance of human compassion. “Well, medicine offers an opportunity to uniquely affect another individual’s life. People who are suffering are often liberated by the assistance of a medical professional.”

Which is why he and Shah jumped at the chance to learn how to navigate the highs and lows of emergency and trauma medicine under Arnold’s tutelage, from learning the medical chart system, to processing blood work, and developing close relationships with patients.

Much of their experience took place away from patients, however, as part of Arnold’s ongoing research project, which examines the effects of acidosis in the blood streams of patients with infection, a syndrome known as sepsis. In the lab and classroom, the two would, with Arnold and his research team, pore over incoming data and blood work of patients who had agreed to take part in the study. During their ER rounds with Arnold, Naki and Shah would find patients with infections that tested positive for acidosis and invite them to join the study in the hopes of registering them and monitoring their specific conditions over time.

“Gaining consent from patients for enrollment in our studies was definitely our main challenge,” notes Shah, who majors in sports medicine at Seaver College. “With the nature of the emergency room, you never know who is coming in and for what reason, and patients in the ER are often under great stress and pain. But clinical research is key for the development of the most effective methods of care, so it was really important for us to keep screening to find patients who met our criteria.”

Because of these challenges, Arnold and the students’ Pepperdine faculty supervisor, Laurie Nelson, associate professor of sports medicine, worked very hard to choose the right Randall interns. “All pre-med students are hard working and smart, but they have to work well with people. It is really a skill to relate to people and get them to sign up to the study, and Priyanka and Shane have both been amazing,” Nelson affirms.

Nelson also helped select the pair for Arnold’s internship based on their complementary personalities and expectations. Naki says that while he valued the research component for its investigative qualities, he was most interested in the clinical practice side of the internship and patient contact. “At the end of the day, I will recall the smiles on the faces of the people that I helped, not the trends in my data,” he explains.

Though a “people person” herself, Shah found that she was more drawn to the clinical research, providing the perfect balance to her partner intern. “Clinical research is where the procedures and practices we use all begin; it allows us to further improve patient treatments and understand different cases,” she notes.

In addition, Shah comments, because their interactions with patients were a product of and contribution towards the research project, it really combined the best of both worlds for the two inquisitive, extroverted, future doctors. “What is wonderful is that I was able to directly involve myself in how the research we are doing affects patients at the bedside—I enjoy the opportunity to work clinically interact with the patients I study,” she says.

For Arnold, who earned a master’s degree in medical science from Boston University before attending the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, reaching out to Pepperdine to create this exclusive internship opportunity—which he only offers to Pepperdine students—is both his way of giving back to his school and sharing his passion for research with the next generation of medical practitioners. His interns are exposed to the gritty realities of medicine, they receive credits in his published research, and, he hopes, they get fired up for a lifetime of learning and growing in their fields.

“There aren’t many people who get into clinical research, but I think it is exciting to answer questions unknown to the medical world,” he stresses. “I got into research to improve the care we give—and I just love to share this inspiring field with such talented students.”


The Randall Internship Program

Founded by former Malibu residents Jim Randall, a Seaver Board of Visitors member and Life Associate, and his wife Eleanor, the program supports dozens of student internships annually.

The program provides a stipend for travel expenses and builds upon the students’ field experiences with seminars, assignments, and peer discussions about professional development.

Most students intern during the school semester for 10-15 hours weekly, with course requirements including biweekly journals, assigned readings, class presentations, and a final project.

Participating employers include Warner Music Group, NBC Universal, UBS Financial, Four Seasons Los Angeles, and Malibu Boys & Girls Club. Many students find full-time work with their Randall Program employers.

Internships are one of the most influential components of a student’s university experience, providing them with real world exposure of their possible careers as well as irreplaceable networking opportunities. Among the Class of 2012, 73 percent of students graduated with an internship on their resume—significantly higher than the national average of 37.6 percent reported in the U.S. News and World Report for 2010.

Read more about the Randall Internship Program »