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New Programs Expose Secondary School Students to Potential Careers in Medicine

More than 75 students from Madison Middle School and Booker T. Washington Senior High School spent their academic year immersed in the medical field, thanks to new programs launched by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Mayada Elshiek, Touri White and Greeshma Venigalla at Madison Middle School.

(From left) Mayada Elshiek, Touri White and Greeshma Venigalla at Madison Middle School.

Through a memorandum of understanding with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Future Docs and the Health Careers Collaborative Program give adolescents from historically excluded communities the tools and experience they need to pursue careers in medicine.

“Providing students with access to STEM courses as early as middle school increases their interest in pursuing these careers,” said Touri White, M.P.S., program manager in the diversity office. “It goes a long way in capturing their imagination and keeping them interested in science, technology, engineering and math jobs.”

Future Docs’ Interactive Approach

The agreement with the county school system has provided a framework to expand pathway programs and allow Miller School students to offer in-person instruction. Through Future Docs, 50 students from Madison Middle School became part of a collaborative and interactive experience in medicine.

Greeshma Venigalla and Mayada Elshiek, first- and second-year medical students (respectively) at the Miller School and Future Docs coordinators, led lesson plans on various medical concepts such as organ systems, physiology and general science.

“When we first started, some students felt a health care career was out of reach for them, while others didn’t seem interested in the field,” Venigalla said. “As the weeks went by, we were able to see their enthusiasm build and watch them develop a genuine interest in learning more about medicine and science.”

Through monthly meetings, the students could begin to envision themselves as belonging in a health care setting. The interactive approach was a favorite among the participants, who applied learned concepts in activities such as using stethoscopes and diagnosing common medical issues.

“It was amazing to see the students’ faces light up as they solved cases and asked questions about becoming a doctor one day,” Venigalla said. “Moments like these show us that the program makes a real difference in the lives of these students and inspires them to pursue their dreams of becoming future health care professionals.”

Sparking Interest in Medical Careers

Thanks to a $25,000 award from the Miami Foundation, the diversity office was able to focus on high school students in grades 10-11 through the nationwide Health Careers Collaborative Program. For the inaugural course, the program took place at Booker T. Washington Senior High School, with supplemental health sciences courses, mentorship and academic support services offered to 25 students.

Like Future Docs, the Health Careers Collaborative Program uses case studies and interactive activities to get students excited about the various career paths in medicine.

William McGonigle and Sonia Singh of Future DOCS at Booker T. Washington High School.

William McGonigle (left) and Sonia Singh of the Health Careers Collaborative Program at Booker T. Washington High School.

“I enjoy going through the cases with the students and seeing their interesting viewpoints and questions,” said William McGonigle, a Health Careers Collaborative Program teaching assistant and first-year, dual-degree medical student. “I also feel like it is a great opportunity for me to practice explaining medical concepts in a way that makes sense even if someone does not know much about the topic beforehand.”

The course also includes college preparedness sessions. Inquiries about educational finances, choosing a major and even research and shadowing opportunities were among the many topics McGonigle and his colleagues discussed with students.

“I am pleased the students are enjoying the program,” McGonigle said. “It’s cool to see them gain an interest in medicine and gain exposure to the medical environment for this interest to grow.”

Program Expanding to Younger Students

To wrap up the course, the diversity office will host 75 students on the medical campus for a day of immersion. Students will tour the campus, work with simulations and hear from current medical students from diverse backgrounds.

Further plans from the diversity office include expanding their pathway programs to the elementary level. Still in the planning stages, the Doctors of Tomorrow program will target students in grades three through five.

“As part of the Miller School of Medicine Task Force on Racial Justice recommendation, expanding pathway programs into medicine is a key focus area to increase the number of physicians in the workforce,” said Nanette Vega, Ed.D., assistant dean for diversity, equity and community engagement. “Through hands-on learning, these programs are focused on developing the next generation of physicians representative of the diverse communities we serve.”

Tags: Department of Medical Education, diversity in medicine, Dr. Nanette Vega, Future DOCS, Greeshma Venigalla, Health Careers Collaborative Program, Mayada Elshiek, Miami Foundation, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Office of Diversity Inclusion and Community Engagement, Task Force on Racial Justice, Touri White, William McGonigle