My name is Colleen Toorongian. I am currently a graduate student at Purdue University Northwest (PNW), in the Biological Sciences department. I will be graduating this summer from PNW, and will then be moving to New York to start the Cardiovascular Science and Perfusion Medicine program at Hofstra University.
Exploration at Michigan Tech
I graduated from Michigan Tech in 2020 with a BS in Exercise Science and a minor in Bioethics. Going into college I didn’t have a specific career in mind. I just knew I wanted something in the healthcare field. I began exploring my options by getting involved in research in the Clinical and Applied Human Physiology Lab, volunteering in hospice, working as a Student Athletic Trainer, shadowing various healthcare providers, and assisting with outreach projects. I was also able to gain invaluable hands-on experience in classes and labs. Through these diverse opportunities, I was able to explore different careers in healthcare and network with people of all different backgrounds.
Shadowing Helps Colleen Decide on a Career Path
During the summer before my fourth year at MTU, I was able to accrue ~150 hours of shadowing a plastic surgeon. Although I ultimately decided against pursuing surgery, I found I really enjoyed the operating room (OR) environment. I began researching career paths that involved the OR, which is how I stumbled upon Cardiovascular Perfusion. A perfusionist is a member of a cardiac team, responsible for placing the patient on cardiopulmonary bypass. During surgery, a perfusionist is responsible for an array of duties that are typically managed by the heart and lungs such as blood pressure regulation, organ perfusion, and acid-base balance to name a few. This career seemed like a great fit for me, as it combined my research focus (cardiovascular physiology and autonomic regulation) and my love of the OR. I then connected with several perfusionists to gain a further understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
Graduate School Adds Beneficial Experiences
Graduating from Michigan Tech in 2020 was difficult no doubt, however, it reinforced my ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. In March 2020, I was offered the opportunity to attend Purdue University Northwest to pursue my Master’s degree with Dr. John Durocher, who I worked with as an undergraduate student at MTU. With little known about the future due to COVID-19, I decided this would be a great opportunity to expand my skill set, instead of staying stagnant and “waiting it out”.
At PNW I’ve assisted in setting up a new laboratory, submitting IRB proposals, applying for grants, training fellow students, and conducting research. Although this may not have been in my original plan, I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity, as I’ve been able to further my education and clinical skills, while working as a member of a team. I have also gained a deeper understanding of evidence-based medicine, which I believe is vital for all future healthcare professionals.
As of right now, there are 18 schools in the country offering programs in Perfusion, with class sizes of 4-14 students. Many programs require coursework in physiology, biology, chemistry, math, and pharmacology. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, although most have several years of experience working in the healthcare field as an EMT, Respiratory Therapist, or in Cardiac Rehab. I was hesitant to apply due to my limited direct patient care experiences, however with the encouragement of family, friends, and advisors, I applied and was accepted. I truly believe that without my eclectic experiences in research, shadowing, and volunteering throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I would not have been accepted.
Advice for Pre-Health Students
My biggest piece of advice would be to seek out as many opportunities as you can and leave as many doors open as possible. While some students know exactly what they want going into college, it’s totally normal to be unsure of your future and goals. Try to maintain an open mind at all times and gain new experiences, as you never what opportunity may present itself to you next, or how far that could take you!