'Mini Med School' Fosters Big Dreams

by James Heffernan


What if high-school students were exposed to careers in medicine, developed a better understanding of the link between physical activity and overall health, and along the way gained a sense of purpose and professionalism? Could such an experience put them on the path to success in the classroom and beyond? These questions served as the impetus behind the inaugural Careers in Health and Medicine Program at James Madison University June 14-16. 

blood pressure
Paula Ledezma, left, takes a blood-pressure reading during the first CHAMP program at JMU.

Sixteen “CHAMPers” from Harrisonburg High School participated in the three-day event designed to promote and increase diversity in the health professions. Most of the participants were members of the HHS chapter of Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a national program aimed at boosting students’ college readiness. 

“I’ve always enjoyed working with high-school students, and I thought it might be neat to host a mini med school and invite disadvantaged high-school students to get a taste of medicine,” said the program’s developer, Dr. Erika Kancler, a retired anesthesiologist, JMU assistant professor of biology and a former teacher at the Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School in Augusta County. 

The students explored heart, lung and blood vessel anatomy, participated in exercise regimens and engaged in hands-on medical procedures such as taking blood-pressure readings, using stethoscopes and interpreting electrocardiograms. The event was sponsored by the Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center, the Morrison-Bruce Center for the Promotion of Physical Activity for Girls and Women, JMU’s Office of Diversity, the College of Science and Math, the College of Integrated Science and Technology and the Wells Fargo Foundation. 

Katie Jett, 17, a rising senior at HHS, enjoyed the lesson in the biology department’s cadaver lab. “It was cool –— not what I expected. I thought it would be more like a morgue,” said Jett, who recently completed CPR training through Massanutten Technical Center and plans to become a nurse. 

Paula Ledezma, 18, an AVID member who has been coming to events at JMU since her freshman year, liked the session on suturing oranges. “I’m a hands-on person, so that was fun,” she said. 

Santiago Moreira was a standout on the treadmill in Godwin Hall. The 16-year-old, who will be a junior in the fall, is interested in a career in athletic training. “I’ve learned a lot,” he said of the CHAMP experience, including “how to stitch, how to read an EKG, how to treat a wound and the different jobs that are out there.” Moreira wants to be the first person in his family to go to college. “It’s a lot of work, but being introduced to these things now, I think, is good,” he said. 

Students even received lessons in formal dining etiquette, such as where to place your napkin, which fork to use for a particular course and when to begin eating. “Once you become a doctor, you’re going to go to fancy dinners, so you need to know that stuff,” said CHAMPer Tamara Olguin, 17. 

On the final day on the program, the students delivered a presentation to parents and community members on what they learned. Parents were also invited to attend workshops on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. 

“We’re hoping that being in the college environment and getting that hands-on experience will motivate these students to try and achieve their goals by realizing that hard work and good grades in high school will lead to more opportunities post secondary,” said Gail Collins, differentiation specialist with Harrisonburg Public Schools and site coordinator for the AVID program. 

“I’m here because I’m looking for a brighter future,” Olguin said after a session on cardiac care using a high-fidelity patient simulator. “Before this, I wasn’t sure about a career in health care. Now I’m confident I can do this.” 

Related links: 
• Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center, 
• JMU Health and Human Services, 
• JMU Diversity Web, 

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 2, 2017

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