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As mentors, Keck School students introduce high school students to world of medicine

For many medical students, a priority in studying medicine is to help improve health in their communities. Recently, a select group of Keck School of Medicine students took that mission one step further by promoting medical careers among local children.

Five medical students in their second year partnered with 25 advanced level students from the Bravo Bio-Medical Magnet High School. Over two Saturdays in late February and early March, the medical students served as mentors and teachers during a symposium intended to teach the high school kids about understanding the anatomical basis of specific diseases.

Each day started with a lecture and discussion of a specific disease, such as dry-eye, and the tissues and organs involved. The high school students were then broken into groups with a medical student and taken to the teaching laboratories, where they continued discussions with the aid of technology, such as a transmission electron microscope (TEM) and ultramicrotomy.

“When I got my chance to work it, I was speechless,” wrote Christopher Ortega, a sophomore at Bravo High School, of his experience with the electron microscope. “It’s never crossed my mind that I’d ever use one of those, something that I’d only read about. It was a great surprise, kind of like finding $5 in your washed jeans, but more scientific.”

Ortega wrote about his experience for an essay competition that asked participants to summarize how the symposium improved understanding of how modern day anatomical methods can shed light on disease processes, and how this understanding may have influenced their plans for the future in college and beyond.

Joel Schechter, professor in the Department of Cell and Neurobiology and assistant dean of student affairs at the Keck School, judged the essays. Ortega was chosen as the first-place winner and received $500 to be used for educational purposes. Three other students received $400 for their essays.

Schechter organized the symposium with the help of an Education Outreach Grant from the American Association of Anatomists. He has a long history of working with students from Bravo, many of whom come from underserved communities and have a strong interest in medical or health-related careers.

“The high school kids were really excited because they had never had this level of instruction before, i.e., demonstrating to them how structural biology is linked to clinical disease,” said Schechter. “They loved interacting with the medical students and the medical students, in turn, really enjoyed being role models, guiding and inspiring the kids.”

Ortega said their guidance paid off. He reported in his essay that while he was once on the fence about going to medical school, he now sees himself as becoming a doctor.

“The med students, most of all, cemented my choice,” he wrote. “I learned a lot, but more importantly, I learned I want to continue learning.”

As mentors, Keck School students introduce high school students to world of medicine

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