For 22 years, public school teacher Lenora Young worked a second job on weekends posing as someone with an illness, instructing medical students to become comfortable treating “patients” before they encountered any actual ones. A self-described “people person,” she’s known as highly observant and ready to assist anyone in need.
Through this unique side job, an opportunity arose last year for Ms. Young to work full time in UT Southwestern’s Standardized Patient Program (SPP), one of the oldest in the nation, in which “standardized patients” follow detailed scripts that convey symptoms and life stages to train the newest class of future doctors. The SPP is located in the Simulation (Sim) Center on West Campus where adult learners experience one of the earliest rites of passage in their crucial first year of medical training. She began her association with the University as a standardized patient, transitioned into becoming a Standardized Patient Educator, and is now a Clinical Simulation Educator.
When colleagues told her she would miss teaching children, she responded that she had to follow her heart. She began her new career June 6, 2022.
Her first inkling that she had chosen well came when she encountered UTSW medical student Dhruv Nandakumar during his first visit to the Sim Center that August. She remembered him from a decade earlier when he was a fifth grader at Stinson Elementary School in the Plano Independent School District.
Ms. Young, who taught at Stinson for six years, said she didn’t recognize Mr. Nandakumar when he was sitting in the learner orientation classroom that starts each simulation session. However, the moment he started down the stairs to the Sim Center outpatient exam rooms, she did. “It was his walk. Even at 10 years old, he walked like a little man: chest out, shoulders and head up. I remembered that I admired his walk when he was in fifth grade,” she said.
Mr. Nandakumar said, “I was a little nervous because it was my first time in the Sim Center. I caught a glimpse of her when I walked in and thought I recognized her. She was waiting for me outside after I finished my [patient] encounter, and I remember thinking, “Oh my! Fifth grade at Stinson Elementary.’”
He added: “I’m not surprised that she recognized me because I was very high energy as a kid. It felt really good to hear her tell me how she wasn’t surprised I made it here and was really proud of all that I had and would accomplish. That encounter is honestly a core memory of mine in medical school and really helped me get through our crazy first semester.”
One reunion after another
For Ms. Young, that day was the first of multiple close encounters of the reassuring kind. The second one – with Anoop Gurram – occurred on a busy day in October 2022 when so many students had arrived for a simulation session that they filled three orientation rooms. At the end of each presentation, she would scan the room and ask if anyone had questions.
For the SPP exercise, each medical student practices taking the standardized patient’s medical history and physical exam. The objective is to gather information from the history and conduct a target physical exam to generate a plausible diagnosis of the mock patient’s condition.
“Looking around the room, I saw these eyes that reminded me of this kid from Stinson Elementary who had the most beautiful eyes. Even with his mask on, I could tell he was smiling under his mask because I could see it in his eyes,” she said. Then, she noticed the name on his jacket, and she introduced herself. Mr. Gurram was amazed that she still recognized him and even remembered the name of his fifth grade homeroom teacher. “I remember you because you were so sweet and so polite,” she told him. “You said thank you all the time for any little thing. You were just so amazing.”
Mr. Gurram said, “I was a little nervous going into the Sim Center for my standardized patient. I kept mentally reviewing the checklist for all the physical exam steps. I was quite shocked to run into one of my former teachers at UT Southwestern of all places, but it was a very pleasant surprise. Ms. Young is still the warm and lovely person she was back in elementary school.”
Mr. Gurram had a surprise of his own. He told Ms. Young that another Stinson graduate, Koshma Eswaramoorthy, also made it into medical school and was attending the SPP that day. Ms. Eswaramoorthy, who attended Stinson from second through fifth grades, was surprised to be recognized by Ms. Young after a decade apart.
“I think it was almost surreal encountering her here on campus, like two worlds that had been very separate were colliding,” Ms. Eswaramoorthy said. She added that it was a strange feeling to meet one’s former teacher as an adult. “I felt very nostalgic all day after that.”
She’s got your back
“Even though I wasn’t their homeroom teacher, I did have to interact with them during lunch or recess or even just sometimes in the hallway. And I always wanted to be that one teacher that kids know that, ‘Hey, you can come [talk] to me, if your teacher’s not available,’” she said. “I didn’t even have to introduce myself; there were kids who would come to me or come to my room just to be in my company when I was at Stinson Elementary. My friends said that I had that light.
“I used to resist the idea,” she said, adding, “but now I think maybe I do.”
Medical school is easier if you’ve got someone in your corner. For first-years across campus, that would be Ms. Young.
Ms. Young now volunteers a couple of days a month at a middle school and high school. Undoubtedly, she still treats each child as an individual, offering to have their back if necessary, the same way she goes the extra mile for UTSW students in her full-time job.