Date August 16, 2023
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Gabriella Vulakh: Serving the local community, gaining experience through medical scribing

To acquire clinical experience as part of her journey to becoming a doctor, the rising Brown University senior is working as a medical scribe in Providence emergency departments this summer.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As midnight approached on a recent Tuesday, Gabriella Vulakh finished documenting patient notes and got ready to head home.

Her busy shift in the critical care unit at Rhode Island Hospital included transcribing notes for the treatment of patients contending with a variety of ailments and crises, from injuries sustained from motor vehicle accidents, to falls with head injuries, to people suspected of suffering from strokes — all for which Vulakh channeled her training to painstakingly document their medical history and medical examinations at the hospital.

Vulakh, a rising Brown University senior concentrating in neuroscience, is working as a medical scribe this summer on rotation in the triage and critical care departments of Hasbro Children’s Hospital, the Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence — a set of experiences that is helping her fulfill a lifelong goal.

From a young age, Vulakh knew she wanted to make a difference by working with underserved populations. Her parents and extended family came to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union, seeking refuge from religious and political persecution.

“My family’s experience ingrained in me the importance of understanding other cultures and working with refugee communities,” she said.

Vulakh got her start as a medical scribe last summer at the Rhode Island Free Clinic on Broad Street in Providence. There, she engaged with different patient populations and developed a better understanding of how a clinic operates. In search of additional hands-on opportunities to supplement her pre-med classes, she discovered the scribe program at Brown Emergency Medicine, a physicians group affiliated with Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School.

“It seemed like a wonderful way to take the scribing experience that I had gained from the free clinic and expand that to an even broader range of patient populations,” said Vulakh, who aspires to attend medical school after graduation. She also works as a student researcher during the academic year in the Huang Lab at Brown, where she assists in investigating neurodevelopmental disorders such as Angelman syndrome.

The Brown Emergency Medicine scribe position was more involved than her previous role at the free clinic, and Vulakh was eager for the challenge. Once she was admitted to the program, she began an intensive onboarding process that included a month-long training on each body system, electronic medical records, patient encounter etiquette and common vocabulary used in medical notes. Along the way, she passed a series of required quizzes that new scribes must master before advancing to the next training block. She and the other trainees also participated in “shadow shifts” that were led by a scribe mentor in the emergency department, she said.

“The whole onboarding process was a pretty rapid learning curve to the program, but by the end, you’re able to go through an entire patient encounter with the provider on your own, which is rewarding,” Vulakh said.

She began working as a scribe in September 2022 and has continued to learn through hands-on experience. This summer, she is working 16 hours per week at the hospitals.

“I work with different doctors, residents or physician assistants during each shift,” she said. “Each provider has slightly different ways in which they approach their care or interact with their patients, so while I have to be prepared to adapt, it is also a wonderful way to see different styles.”

Rotating through the different hospitals in the program has given Vulakh the opportunity to learn the various hospital systems and units. The facilities are also teaching hospitals for Brown, which has given her the opportunity to interact with current Brown medical school students. Vulakh said she is learning a lot by interacting with a variety of different practitioners rather than shadowing one doctor.

“Our shifts are pretty balanced between locations, which is nice because you’re able to see the intensity of critical care and also the lower acuity cases of triage,” she said.

Putting coursework into real-world practice

The fast-paced work environment demands a deep understanding of medical terminology and concepts. Vulakh said she thrives on the intensity and has appreciated the opportunity to see concepts she has learned about in the classroom play out in front of her.

“A doctor may be calling out a particular joint or other body part and you’re expected to know what is being referred to in order to accurately capture their exam in the notes,” she said. 

Bearing witness to patients’ vulnerability in the emergency department has also been eye-opening for Vulakh. Initially interested in pursuing a more neuro-related field such as neurology, neurotrauma or neurosurgery, Vulakh is now considering combining these interests with emergency medicine.

“We’re providing care for a patient in a time of medical crisis, which can be really meaningful,” she said.

Vulakh has noted that emergency patients are accepted regardless of whether they have health insurance. Besides treating patients for medical issues, she also sees the team’s impact in helping patients access social services and other public health resources.

“We’re taking care of all aspects of the patient, not just their medical care,” she said.

As Vulakh prepares to embark on her senior year and take the Medical College Admission Test, she feels excited about a future in medicine. 

“The experience of scribing has really reinforced my desire to go into medicine,” she said. “I have really enjoyed being in the hospital — learning from incredible providers and being part of the treatment team for patients.”