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Med school program emphasizes career possibilities for urban teens

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3 minute read

Shannon North can preach and preach to her students that their aspirations are achievable, that advanced education is attainable.

And she does just that, as the college and career facilitator at Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, Mo. The charter school, at 1221 E. Meyer Blvd., has a student population where virtually all the attendees come from families with incomes low enough to qualify them for a free or reduced-price lunch.

But since talk is cheap, North leapt at the chance to take her students to Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences as part of KCUMB’s Med Student for a Day program.

“It’s one thing to constantly say, ‘You can do this. You can do this,’ and they kind of believe it,” North said. “But if you can’t picture it, if you can’t see yourself on a med campus, if you can’t see yourself holding a heart, if you can’t see yourself with a stethoscope, it makes the dream a little bit farther away. This is an opportunity to make it not a dream; like, ‘This is my reality. I will be doing this.’”

For more than 60 inner-city students, hailing from nine high schools, the day allowed them to learn about pathology and microbiology and perform osteopathic manipulative medicine treatments. They also worked with organs from cadavers.

Initiated in 2011, the most recent Med Student for a Day took place toward the end of school year.

And, North said, it could not have come at a better time.

The students, she said, “were already like, ‘Oh, I’m so tired of school. I don’t want to do this anymore.’ (The day) was just a little bit more motivation to be like, nope, back on track, let’s get started, we are not over yet, let’s finish strong.”

Located on Independence Avenue on the northeast side of the city, KCUMB emphasizes outreach to the economically challenged neighborhoods in the area. Med Student for a Day helps further that goal, said Sara Selkirk, the university’s executive director of community and student affairs.

Serving the community

“Our mission as a university is to train community-minded physicians, and so in doing that, we have the opportunity to reach into areas of high need, and so much of that is here in the northeast,” Selkirk said. “So it’s a great opportunity for us to invite these students onto our campus who may have walked by it as a neighbor but never known what went on inside the building.”

What really made an impact on her students, North said, is that some presenters during the day were physicians who overcame obstacles to get where they were.

“They heard those personal testimonies from other doctors,” she said. “It was beyond measure for me.”

In fact, Med Student for a Day was the brainchild of a nontraditional student — Kameelah Rahmaan, a California native who did not enter medical school until her late 20s. A decade earlier, she was an aimless teen and a single mom.

The birth of her daughter spurred her to turn her life around, according to a 2012 profile on her in KCUMB’s magazine.

Med Student for a Day is a program that Rahmaan initiated and coordinated during her four years on campus. She graduated this year and is now in a psychiatry residency program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

In an interview during this year’s event, Rahmaan said organizers did not necessarily gear the day toward students focusing on a medical career.

Role models

Most important, she said, was showing the students what can happen through hard work.

“How many people get to come to a medical school? How many students get to see things like this? Not many,” Rahmaan said. “So that is just what I want them to have – some type of insight into what they can become.”

Selkirk said Rahmaan worked hard to ensure the program would continue after she left campus. She said two second-year medical students have already started planning next year’s event.

One innovation they began this year was having participating high school students fill out a goals sheet of where they want to be in the next year and the next five years, as well as the steps they planned to take to get there.

Med Student for a Day draws some returning students, and Selkirk said it will be interesting to see the progress made on those goals.

Student reactions

Two participants this year were East High School students Samuel Gutierrez, a senior, and Cito Vickers, a junior.

Samuel said the day opened his eyes to osteopathic medicine, the type of curriculum taught at KCUMB. Osteopathic medicine teaches students to focus on the body as a whole when addressing a particular medical issue, and the training includes techniques to manipulate the body to help alleviate pain and restore motion.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, nearly one in five medical students in the United States attends an osteopathic medical school.

Cito said he learned a lot as well.

“I am really not into medical, I’m into law, but I was thinking about this maybe as a second plan, and I really wasn’t interested that much until I came (for the day),” he said. “I recommend that everyone takes part in program next year and the year that comes after it.”

Major Funding for Health coverage on KCPT provided by Assurant Employee Benefits and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.


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