A Chat with Reece Goiffon, YSP's September Volunteer of the Month
Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer
Peggy Ni: Can you tell us what you do for YSP?Reece Goiffon: My title role is the Anatomy Teaching Team Chair. So primarily the role there is … getting the medical students to volunteer for things [effective since Reece is an MSTP and Anatomy TA].
PN: Just curious, is the Anatomy Teaching Team mostly medical students?
RG: It is by default just because medical students, especially the first years when they're in Anatomy are more interested in honing their skills and they have that more bright-eyed enthusiasm that first year medical students always have. But we don't make any requirements though. I actually encourage a lot of graduate students to join in because most of the stuff we're teaching is basic enough where they've learned it in college biology classes – how does the heart work, understand the heart has two pumps, things like that.
So, going back to what I actually do with that, I kind of coordinate – well, Jen [Mosher] does most of the coordination let's not kid ourselves – but I make sure that the volunteers are doing their jobs smoothly, handle any questions or problems that actually occur on the day of.
PN: And how often do you go out on teaching outings?
RG: It depends on the time of year. The really busy time is coming up soon, late Sept. though Oct. It's generally pretty packed. We have, I would say, on average an event every week or two. But it kind of slows down into the winter break season and then picks up a little bit in the spring. So I would say if you did the whole year average maybe about 1 to 2 events a month. But it's definitely concentrated in certain times of the year. Especially the events we have at the [St. Louis] Science Center. Those are August through November I believe. Every month we have a Saturday excursion called Family Medical School, which is not through any school in particular; it's just a community event for families with kids or sometimes without kids. We get some retired couples who come every once in a while. They're able to come see human organs and experience that in person for the first time in their lives.
PN: Could you talk about what has been your most memorable experience while volunteering?
RG: I would say the first time I did the Family Medical School and saw … this retired couple that came in. They had so many questions, and the husband would come with a little notepad out of his pocket, and he'd say, "I thought of these questions!" and he came every month the whole year, so all four sessions I saw him, and he'd think of questions and come up to me after. And sometimes, he was just overflowing with words. He was so enthusiastic about all these things ("I saw on the news that taking this vitamin will help me live longer, is there anything to that?"). It showed me that enthusiasm for science doesn't fade with age.
PN: Moving on to challenges, have you encountered any while teaching or organizing teams, and could you talk about anything you've learned from your experiences?
RG: Just general organizational challenges that are inherent to any organization, esp. one that is run by people who do other things most of the time. Getting volunteers can be really tough, esp. around key points when the grad and medical students have tests coming up, it's harder. Since the Family Medical School is on the last Saturday of each month, that falls on Halloween weekend every year. So getting that October Saturday is very difficult to get volunteers I need every year. But we do. We never have to cancel. But difficulty with the students is more unique with YSP. A lot of the students that we see, their teacher is trying to get them interested or to foster the interest that exists in a subgroup of the class. A lot of the kids, they don't care, they don't want to be there. So a big challenge with every teaching team event is getting people who think they have better things to do, getting them to get at least anything out of it. Even if it's just "Oh, I didn't know that!" or "Oh, my uncle had a heart problem, that's what a heart looks like when it has heart problems." The solution that I learned is that you have to go there and read your audience, like you’re a comedian or actor on stage. Some of the more diverse classes where they have some kids who are really interested and a lot of kids who just aren't, you have to try to put it in the context they understand and that they care about. And that is tough. That certainly is a great thing to learn through YSP; I've applied that elsewhere too. I teach statistics to people on my floor or in lab, and nobody likes to hear about that. So I've learned how to apply context that people actually care about in order to teach them something they don’t realize is useful yet.
PN: So what about your career plans post graduation? Could you talk a little bit about what your thoughts for that might be?
RG: Since I'm in the MD/PhD Program I have to [decide] to be doing both or emphasize in one or the other. And I think I'm going to do the research/clinician - splitting my time between medicine and research. Which means I'll go into residency, but there are special research residencies where I do my normal residency in medicine or radiology or whatever it is but have extra time allotted to do research –basic research or clinical research. And I want to make sure I'm in a city, an urban environment because I do like to have something outside of just working all the time. YSP is one of those things. I want to be able to do something where I feel like I'm paying back the society that brought me up. A big academic center where I can have a little bit of time to, maybe not run or be in a leadership position, but when I have time, just something there to get me out of the hospital or get me out of the lab.
PN: Regarding volunteering, do you see yourself doing something very similar to what you're doing now with YSP or would you like to branch out and do something different?
RG: I think I'm actually going to stick with science advocacy. Science education and science literacy and science awareness, not just here in St. Louis but everywhere, is falling so dramatically. They have those shocker headline surveys where one out of three people can't tell you how long it takes the earth to go around the sun. It's just depressing. It doesn't take much to get people to do the smallest things to learn something about the world they live in. There's a Science Center in every large city so you can always find something there. YSP is a great example. I hear there are YSP [organizations] happening in other schools from alums that have moved on. So, I'm sure there will always be something I can do. But sticking with science education and science advocacy is my third calling. Medicine, research, and then that. Those are the 3 things that I'll do!