The top mentor at the nation’s top children’s hospital—clinical education doesn’t get any better

She was so close to her achieving her dream.

Cidney Moscovitch had been admitted to Northeastern’s Physican Assistant program with the condition that she meet the required clinical hours. While reviewing the program’s “prerequisites” page, she came across the university’s one-year graduate certificate in Exercise Science for Clinicians. It was the perfect opportunity.

Exercise science student Cidney Moscovitch (right) with her mentor at Boston Children’s Hospital, Tracy Curran. Photo by Bill Ibelle

“I could have just gotten a job for a year, but Northeastern’s program gives you access to the best clinical placements in the country while also exposing you to the rigor of graduate-level coursework,” she said. “While I was taking a course on EKGs, I was able to apply what I learned to real patients at my placement.”

That placement was Boston Children’s Hospital, which is ranked as the #1 pediatric hospital in the nation.  Moscovitch earned this prestigious placement based on her academic performance and a rigorous interview process. When she began work at Children’s, her mentor was Tracy Curran, the hospital’s senior exercise physiologist.

“I’ve worked alongside Tracy since I began here,” said Moscovitch. “She walked me through every step of the way so that I could perform an entire cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET) independently. But she also believes that at some point, it has to be sink or swim—you have to do it on your own. Her approach really built up my confidence.”

Supervised by experts

Since graduating from Northeastern’s exercise science program in 1997, Curran has risen to a senior position in the Heart Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She co-developed the center’s first Cardiac Fitness Program and recently earned her PhD in Health Professions Education. She also developed and directs the Exercise Physiology Internship Program and has trained more than 50 Northeastern students since launching the program.

One of her proudest achievements has been the creation of the nation’s first cardiac rehabilitation curriculum for children with congenital heart disease.

“There are only six identified programs for children in the country, and we are unique because we are also focusing on mental fitness,” said Curran. “Our message is, ‘You can do it; you can achieve anything you set your mind to.’ We’re not just training the body, we’re also training the mind.”

Just a decade ago, the medical community still believed that for children with congenital heart disease, rigorous exercise was too dangerous. But in 2005 and 2006, Curran co-authored two studies, published in the journal Pediatrics, the challenged the prevailing wisdom.

“We believe that many of these children are often inappropriately considered to be excessively fragile and may be unduly restricted from participation in physical activities,” said the authors of the 2005 study. That study established that a carefully designed exercise program produced dramatic improvements in the vast majority of children with congenital heart disease.

The next year, Curran and her colleagues retested the participants and found that these improvements were not only dramatic, they were also enduring. In addition, the 2006 study demonstrated that the exercise program also produced “sustained and significant improvements in behavior, self-esteem, and emotional state.”

Based on those findings, Curran help launched a pilot project in 2016, that is now being honed into a permanent program for children and their parents.

“We’re now in our second year and our referrals continue to grow. We’re getting calls from all over the U.S.,” she said.

Evolving ambitions

Moscovitch’s interest in medicine came from her experience as a soccer star. She was a four-year starter and a three-year captain for her high school team in Coral Springs, Florida, and scored the opening goal for the Brandeis University team during its 2014 run in the NCAA tournament.

But success came with serious setbacks. She blew out her ACL twice—once in high school and the second time at the height of her college athletic glory.

“The experience was eye-opening,” she said. “I saw how the medical professionals treated patients and I knew that I wanted to help people in the same way they were helping me.”

As an undergraduate, she planned to go to medical school, but shifted her ambitions to physician assistant when she realized that doctors often get locked into a narrow specialty, which would prevent her from pursuing her diverse healthcare interests.

Her ambitions took another turn during the exercise science program.

“This program has made me more interested in exercise science because it’s allowed me to recognize the effects of exercise on patient health,” she said. “I haven’t decided exactly which field I want to specialize in. During the second year of the PA program, I intend to do several clinical rotations to gain plenty of experience. This will help me choose my future calling in the medical world.”

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