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Virginia High School Students Explore Health Care Careers at VCU

Twenty-six of Virginia’s brightest and most promising high school students interested in pursuing health care careers recently completed an intensive Governor’s School program hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University. For four weeks, students ate, slept and studied at VCU and the VCU Medical Center as part of the Summer Residential Governor’s School for Life Sciences and Medicine (GSLSM). “These teenagers work harder for no grades than any student has worked for a grade during the regular school year,” notes Jeanne Minetree, GSLSM director.

“While these high school students are all unique and from diverse backgrounds, they share the common attributes of gifted intellect, academic excellence, self-direction, intrinsic motivation and a zeal for learning.” Minetree says the opportunity for students to work alongside medical and scientific professionals is “the magnet that draws the best science students to apply … It’s the portal to real life medicine that high school students often cannot enter individually without the backing of a program such as GSLSM.”

Hooman Azad, a student from Vienna, Virginia explains the importance of the program as “exposing us to different professions in health care to help us expand our perception of the health care field. It is not just the doctors; there are scientists, counselors and many other people who are integral to the field but who are often ignored when we speak about health care.”

One of the doctors involved, Imran Farooq, M.D., VCU Department of Internal Medicine chief medical resident, worked with the Governor’s School students as they shadowed his teams for several days. “It is an inquisitive field with lots of interesting patients, lots of fun procedures, great teamwork in action as role modeled by our excellent residents and interdisciplinary teams - why not share this experience with future doctors and scientific scholars,” said Farooq.

Minetree stresses the uniqueness and importance of in-hospital shadowing. “Without exposure to actual hospital clients and the diagnostic/treatment process, all learning would remain merely an academic exercise,” she said. Students also shadowed doctors in the School of Dentistry. Alan Booth, a GSLSM student and Hampton High School rising junior, says he wants to become a dentist because he likes the idea of working with his hands in a world of computers, citing the “dexterity and spatial skills the job requires.”

The shadowing portion of GSLSM is just one of four week-long phases. The remaining three weeks make up the program’s curriculum, which connects the triad of modern health care: 

  • the person (patient, family, and health care provider),
  • the scientist (clinical laboratory scientists and researchers)
  • and the community (epidemiologists and environmental scientists).

Andrea Nguyen, a rising senior at Hickory High School in Chesapeake, noted that the scientist portion of the program was particularly useful because it allowed her to see the way lab science is translated and applied to patients’ health.

Learning in the program is based on the case study method, which requires students to obtain medical histories, develop differential diagnoses, select diagnostic tests, interpret medical laboratory results and examination findings and create treatment plans. “My impression before entering the program was that it would be classroom, traditional assignments and tests,” said Nguyen. “However, when I came it was case studies and hands-on work, which was more effective.”

Hans Carlo Rivera, another GSLSM student, agrees. “Instead of just being an educational experience as I thought it would be on my first week, I have now found that it has the ability to impact our futures and what possibilities we have available after school,” he said.

Check here for more information on the Governor’s School for Life Sciences and Medicine.

Go to the Virginia Department of Education If you would like to know more about Summer Residential Governor’s Schools in Virginia or wish to apply.

Article by Eric Peters, VCU Office of Public Affairs

Photo credits: Jeanne Minetree

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